A Feminist’s Perspective: Before Midnight
Director: Richard Linklater
Before Midnight is a film that struggles to find its purpose. It is the logical happy-ending conclusion to Before Sunset (2004).
Celine and Jessie find a way to stay together, he divorces his wife and they now are both successful, living in Europe with two beautiful daughters. However, no one wants to watch a feature-length film about two people being happy, so there has to be a conflict that arises, but unfortunately in this case it feels rather forced. This conflict is essentially that Jesse feels disconnected from his son who lives in the States and he is considering moving there to be closer to him, but Celine wants to take a job opportunity that would require her to stay in Europe. In a normal relationship this would be a fight or a serious discussion that would require both partners to really have to work to make compromises. In the Before world, this means making Celine\'s character act irrational and start a huge fight.
This is frustrating, not so much because it is unrealistic (who hasn\'t started an irrational fight with their partner?), but rather that it allows the characters to fall into stereotypical gender roles. There is a point where Celine asks the no-win question to Jesse about whether, if they had met for the first time now, he would still be attracted to her. On their special night together at a hotel room, she stomps out of the room a few times, slams the door, and tells him they should break up. Meanwhile, Jesse is relatively calm, rational and sweet, even going so far as to write a silly letter to make Celine feel better. This unfortunately places the characters into the normal hysterical woman versus rational man trope. This trope is characterized by portraying women as "less rational, disciplined, and emotionally stable than men, and thus more prone to mood swings [and] irrational overreactions....as a result female characters may be coddled." Indeed, Celine must be coddled by Jesse who reminds her of all the reasons they are together and why they should stay together. In the end, he is the one who brings rationality back to the conversation and allows to them to continue together as a couple.
Reinforcing the male and female gender roles is not just an issue on the level of promoting a form of sexism, but it is also a problem for the filmmaker who is trying to make his characters connect with the audience. While there were moments of the film that were enjoyable, I was constantly annoyed by the character of Celine and I kept wondering why Jesse was still with this incredibly irrational woman. As these films are marketed primarily to a female audience, alienating them by making the male the rational one and the female completely irrational not only reinforces negative stereotypes within the audiences’ minds, but also can serve to make the film less enjoyable.