Before Midnight has just come out in theaters. I was lucky enough to see it during SXSW. If you like the other Before movies, you should see this one. I don’t want to tell you more than that. Go see it, then come back and read this.
You saw it? Okay great. Let’s continue.
Now that Before Midnight in wide release, I have been reading a lot of the coverage of the series. A lot of it mentions on how in the first movie, when they are in their twenties, the characters are naive and young and too into philosophizing and navel-gazing. What is implied is that this is somehow less than. That their current state reflected in Before Midnight, stressed out and fighting and angry, is wiser and more real. Maybe it is more real. I know that we don’t all stay in lala-falling-in-love-land forever, and that there is depth and the good kind of weight that comes from the more day-in-day-out kind of love and relationships. But why isn’t the first movie, the feeling of it, something to admire instead of something to tilt our head patronizingly at? Why am I supposed to like the last movie, which made me feel like my heart had been ripped out, thrown on the ground and then jumped up and down upon, more than the first one, which makes me feel hopeful and light and airy? The last movie is great, undoubtedly. But better? I’m not so sure.
I am a believer in the wisdom of youth. I don’t really feel smarter or better now than when I was young. In fact, sometimes when I make decisions, I try to think of what a younger me would think or would do. I just feel…older. I feel more distance from the strength and power of my adolescent emotions, but that actually makes me sad instead of proud. I feel a little more jaded, more cynical, more intractable.
Intractable is the exact right word for adulthood, I think. It means, according to Merriam-Webster, both “not easily manipulated or wrought” and “not easily relieved or cured.” Being an adult means that I get to do what I want and not give two figs what other people think about it. I get to be me, fully, and to hell with the rest of it. Which is undeniably great. But it also means I am less moved by moving things, less open to new possibilities. Plenty of works of art or songs or moments still make me feel deeply, but they have to maneuver through more “No, I am strong and do not need you, new feeling” obstacles that I have put up in their way. I watched a movie with my pre-teen nephew recently, and the movie was terrible in my estimation–way too obvious in its pathos–but he loved it. I could see why, I remembered loving movies just like that, and I was uneasy realizing that I was now unable to connect with it.
I don’t mean to advocate that all adults should start going back to their emotional selves at sixteen–I hate to think how our economy might suffer–but just simply to recognize the sixteen-year-old emotional experience as valid. As no less valid or real or good as our current emotional selves. More time has passed, yes. But being a twenty six year old is not better than being sixteen. It just is.
It’s comforting to think we evolve in a positive direction as we get older. It fits with all of our narrative tendencies. But I’m not sure that we do. I think we just…change. Plain and simple. We probably cry less. Should we really should congratulate ourselves on that, though?