I watched the original Before Sunrise movie back in 1995, it was good and different than most films. It was held up entirely by dialogue, and in that way was more similar to Pulp Fiction than most romantic comedies. About 10 years later, my wife and I rented Before Sunset; the sequel (which like most movies, my wife has no recollection of seeing – either she blanked it out which is common, or fell asleep, which is also common). More of the same though; great dialogue and takes the couple’s short time they were together in movie #1 to another level, setting up for something more. Finally, another nine years later the trilogy is concluded in Before Midnight which I watched over the holiday break. This Post has a good, albeit brief, summary if you want to catch up in short on what the deal is, but not spoil any surprises.
While the first two are pretty reminiscent of early conversations many had while dating in the fast and furious period of “getting to know you,” the last hits really close to home for many married couples. Like most, the Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy characters carry some baggage from past relationships into the marriage. For Hawke (Jesse), he’s got a kid who’s nearly a teenager and a discussed ex-wife; for Delpy (Celine), she is a feminist, job hunting, relationship jumping, average woman who finally settled down and started a family with Jesse. They’ve both aged from the first movie, but are pretty dang good representations of the typical couple who is doing their best to make it. They are likely admittedly better looking than average for early 40-somethings, but not super ripped or anything.
Now [SPOILER ALERT AHEAD] this movie is about the most accurate re-enactment of real marital complications. Most of the movie is dialogue, so if that’s not your thing, move along. They start out carrying some baggage with the family, finally get away just the two of them for a weekend away at a hotel. They start out on the right path, what you would expect, with some great conversation and connections at the hotel, happy to have some time away from the kids. Getting hot and heavy, with ample display of Delpy’s breasts (full on kissing them by Hawke), Delpy takes an off-topic phone call and things unravel quickly. Conversational notes are taken the wrong way, and instead of connecting skin-to-skin like originally planned, it turns into a knock-down, drag-out, gunnysacking fight to end all fights. Most of us have been there in some way, shape or form.
I can’t count how many times this has happened to us. We’re on the right track for some sexy time, a few random words about some off-topic subject that doesn’t matter, and one party takes offense. They start chipping at the edges of all that they don’t like about the other, then one person, maybe not even the initiator, takes the first big bite out of an elephant. After an elephant is in the room, usually others follow, and then there is no going back.
Hurt feelings are guaranteed. Most times voices are raised (though in the movie, they both remained fairly calm) and olive branches are often offered, or at least the trap door to shared face-saving can happen with one person acquiescing a little. My How to Fight post is a good one if you haven’t read it. When we’re seeing red though, we can often miss the olive branches and trap doors, and just continue punching, trying to hurt the other as much as possible. This happens a lot during the fight in the movie. Hawke continues to bury himself with some of his statements (and his likely infidelity), but tries to redirect to positive ground. Delpy wants answers, dammit, and wants to be the martyr for the family – the rock that holds the whole family together, while Hawke supports them financially and won’t admit to wrong-doings. Neither side see eye-to-eye. Sound familiar?
When you’re in this state of mind, and fighting and not seeing eye-to-eye, it is really fucking hard. It usually all takes place within a span of a minute or five. The movie extends this, but still, it seems to happen faster than what is really happening. Their whole marriage is on the line, and it’s amazing how fast two stubborn individuals can butt heads so hard they’re willing to end it versus somehow figuring out how to let hurts fade to background and fix things.
Without ruining the ending for those still reading, while the subject matter may vary, I think we all need to remember that sometimes apologizing even when you aren’t in the wrong (at least in your own head) is the right thing to do in a healthy marriage. As long as it isn’t always you, and you only apologize once, you’re probably on good ground. In the movie, both sides lay out the olive branch, and they both shit on it and accept it at various times. We’d all be much happier if we admitted we’re all flawed, admit we’re part of the problem, take our medicine and not lay too much blame on the other party when we’re trying to put a conclusion to a conflict. An “I’m Sorry” can sometimes take the marriage from the brink of disaster to the brink of success, but you have to be willing to be humble and swallow your pride, which are admittedly hard to do.
Good luck out there!