Last night Drew and I did something we haven’t done in almost two years since before Jackson was born: we went to the movies together. We’re usually pretty good about getting out together — we go out on dates maybe twice a month or so — but have a hard time justifying the cost of a babysitter to go sit in a dark theater and not talk to each other, which we could just as easily do for free at home. But “Before Midnight” the new movie in the “Before” trilogy, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, was one I really wanted to see in the theater. I saw the first two movies, “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” in theaters when they were first released, 18 years ago and nine years ago, respectively, and I wanted to continue the tradition. Luckily, our friend Mary offered to babysit, so we got a free night out (well, the movie tickets and drinks afterwards weren’t free, but you know what I mean).
I’ll talk a little more about the movie itself tomorrow, which was great and one I highly recommend (but see the other movies in the trilogy first!). What I wanted to talk about here is the weird, sort of out-of-body sensation I experienced for just a few seconds while watching the movie last night. Because the whole trilogy spans 18 years (in real time and in movie time) and because it’s the same actors playing the characters, you get to essentially see them age and evolve while you yourself have aged and (hopefully) evolved. The characters begin to feel like people you’ve known for a long time or like people you once knew and are getting to know again on a different level. Maybe in some sense, for me anyway, they represent parts of myself — both parts I like and parts I don’t like — and their life trajectory is pretty close to my own. In a way, the line between reality and fiction becomes a little blurry, at least while sitting in a darkened theater watching this couple whom you’ve come to know over the span of 18 years bicker about some of the same stuff you and your husband bicker about. And, for a few seconds, I actually forgot not only which movie in the trilogy I was watching, but where I was, both in terms of physical location and my own timeline. Like, it could have been 1995, the year “Before Sunrise” came out, for all I knew. For a few seconds, I honestly lost track of time and place, and I remember having this moment where I was trying to quickly orient myself in reality and I had this thought: Just enjoy not knowing.
It only lasted a few seconds — ten seconds, max — and I was back. I was me, 36, married, a mother, sitting in a movie theater in Manhattan on a rainy Tuesday night in May, Drew by my side. Always by my side.
After the movie ended we ducked into a little bar down the street with dim lighting and leather booths. I had a glass of wine and Drew drank two beers. We talked about the movie — about what we liked and didn’t like about the characters. We both agreed that Celine, Julie Delpy’s character, had grown increasingly unlikeable since “Before Sunset” nine years ago. I recognized that some of the things I don’t like about Celine are some of the things I don’t like about myself. I could see that, if I continue to let the stupid shit her character gets worked up about get to me too, I might be like her in another five or six years (maybe sooner) — bitter, tired, on edge. She doesn’t like that she spends so much time taking care of her family, which includes a set of twin daughters, and never does the things that used to nourish her soul, like play guitar and sing.
I thought about how I’ve been making more of an effort to take care of myself lately — riding my bike some mornings when Jackson is with his babysitter, taking pilates class once a week even though it means leaving Drew to put Jackson to bed on his own. As a wife and a mother, it’s hard sometimes to justify taking time for yourself — time you could be running errands or cleaning or cooking or tackling the never-ending to-do list — but watching a movie like “Before Midnight” is a good reminder that investing in yourself — doing things that nourish your soul (like going out to the movies with your spouse) — is also an investment in your marriage and your family. It keeps burn-out at bay so that, when you do have a night out alone with your partner, whether it’s meandering through a village in Greece or losing track of time while watching a movie in a theater in New York, you can enjoy yourself — and each other — without built-up resentment threatening your good time.