There are only a handful of conversations in my life that I would consider memorable or even intimate. Most of my life is spent debating the merits of one thing over another, complaining about trivialities that hardly matter, or engaging in the banal back-and-forths of, "What do you do for a living?" and the always evocative, "How're you doing today?" That's not to short-sell the merits of these forms of communication or even my responses to them. "Doing great, and you?"
These exchanges are a necessary part of the tapestry of our lives and yet they are often hollow and lacking in intimacy. My strongest memories surround the moments in my life that are rich with real intimacy. I don't mean physical intimacy per se, but something far more essential to what makes us human.
For example, I remember the instance of my first kiss but I couldn't tell you the details of the moment or really how "good" of a kiss it was (although I would venture to guess that it was not particularly titillating.) Yet, I can tell you every detail about the afternoons I spent with my platonic high school crush discussing life and all our hang-ups and fears. To look back on these conversations now would probably cast them in an all-new light. They were probably full of half-truths and inflated dramatic rhetoric, the kind that teenagers are known for, but at the time they felt real.
For me, true intimacy comes through the unattainable quest to know and understand another human being. During many of the fleeting interactions in my life I hide behind these previously mentioned conversation starters as a way to safeguard myself from becoming too intimate with those I don't think have quite earned it. Then there are the people in my life that I allow myself to bear my soul to. There's no real way to define the intangible connection that comes with this choice or who we choose to share these moments with.
I think the most successful works of art are the ones in which an artist chooses to bear his/her soul for an audience. For me, film is the most effective and powerful medium that an artist can use to do so, but often the most difficult. There are times in my life that I have felt a lack of intimacy, seeking a true human connection, and film has often provided a solution. Film can present characters that reveal themselves in ways that I might never get a glimpse of in my life. I get to hide, almost voyeuristically, behind the lens and see an honesty that is untarnished by social hang-ups and intimacy barriers that I encounter in almost every second of my life.
Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and now Before Midnight are everything that I look for when I escape to the cinema. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's performances as Jesse and Celine, along with the naturalistic and outright genius writing throughout this series, have convinced me that these characters are actual people. Their conversations and actions are the height of honesty in cinema, creating actual moments of intimacy between both the characters and audience.
After all this time, I feel like I know these people in a way that I know few friends and family members. Jesse and Celine's conversations have always been about two people connecting and sharing an intimate moment of discovery and I've always felt like I was right there with them. However, unlike intimate moments in my life that have occurred in carpeted bedrooms and riverside marinas these moments of intimacy are set against the backdrop of Vienna, Paris, and a Greek island. This creates a potent mix and an unbreakable spell.
Jesse and Celine's love is perhaps the most intimate in cinema because of its simple honesty. To say anything about the mechanics of Richard Linklater's new and masterful Before Midnight would be to ruin the experience of getting to know these characters more intimately for yourself. I will say that this brave and fully-revealed portrait of two people's quest to know and love each other perfectly reflects the reason I find cinema so evocative and alluring.
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