Spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, read no more.
Jesse wears a manky greyish T-shirt with the word Neptune written across the body of a blue whale for about half the movie Before Midnight. Considering he’s an acclaimed writer of big, fat, sexy — yet high-brow — love stories, it’s a good choice.
Neptune is the planet of art, illusion and imagination. It’s the planet of movie-making, gossamer and art.
Jesse is the romantic American blue-eyed dreamer, whom we first met back in 1995 on a train to Vienna, when he was younger, fresher and more innnocent. He struck up a conversation with a beautiful French girl in his carriage. Celine is funny, fast-thinking, quick-talking; he is poetic, imaginative. They talk about sex and dreams and the world in an exhilirating, freewheeling conversation that ends up taking all night. Before Sunrise is the heart of Europe, in Vienna, one of the best cities in the world for a midnight stroll.
Before Sunrise was a song of being young and footloose and curious about life, with the world to explore and a eurail pass. It was an American movie made in the European style: all talk, little action — plot: not really — attractive characters; old stones: and one of the most romantic movies ever made.
Before Sunrise ends with Celine and Jesse parting.
Nine years later, Celine and Jesse meet again in Before Sunset. This time it’s Paris. They are in their 30s, but both remember the chance encounter on the train and the night roaming Vienna, drinking wine in the park. In fact, he’s written a best-selling book about it. She comes to the signing. By this time, life has started to rub off the shininess of their youth a little. He is unhappily married. She is still independent, feisty, exciting. This is post-Saturn Return and the reality of adult life has arrived. Jesse misses his plane back to America, and this movie has a happy ending.
Now astrologically, a nine year gap alerts us to the cycle of destiny. And these films are about just that. Are we destined to meet “the one”? And what happens if we lose the moment? Can we ever get it back? Before Sunset is about getting back the “one that got away”.
And the final part of this trilogy, Before Midnight, takes place nine years later. The cycle of the nodes is complete, since it takes the nodes of the Moon 18 years to make a circuit of the zodiac.
You won’t be surprised to read then, that Julie Delpy, who plays Céline, and director Richard Linklater have a nodal conjunction across the signs of illusion and film, Pisces, and craft, Virgo. Despite seeming casually slung together, these films are highly polished, thoroughly scripted and rehearsed. Delpy and Linklater were born nine years apart, but their nodes are just a degree off partile. Hawke, Delpy and Linklater workshopped and collaborated on the scripts for this trilogy; it’s a group effort.
Ethan Hawke, who brings emotional intensity and sincerity to the piece through Jesse, has a Sun-Jupiter-Venus conjunction in Scorpio that both trines and sextiles, that nodal axis. When Before Sunrise was being shot in 1994, the North Node was transiting through this stellium; during Before Sunset, it was the South Node.
When we meet our lovers nine years later in Before Midnight — another turn in destiny’s wheel — they are a couple, they have made angelic twins, and it seems as if their life together is working — sort of.
I have to admit that Before Midnight is my least favourite of the trilogy so far, mainly because of an immensely boring al fresco supper party in the style of Eric Rohmer. Gosh, when a bunch of middle-aged intellectuals gets together is this the best they can come up with? They’re still talking about penises. That was cute 18 years ago, but now it just seems sad. Maybe that’s the point. If you’re watching this at home, you can go make a cup of tea, you won’t miss much.
At first in Before Midnight, it’s hard to have any sympathy with Celine’s prickly dissatisfaction. Their life looks pretty good: they have astonishingly cute children (who are seen but not heard), careers they believe in, enough money to take six weeks off in the summer and hang out with someone uncannily like the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. Not only that, she’s with an intelligent, sensitive, whimsical man who clearly loves her. What’s she so cross about? Does she have to be so mean? And as for representing the frustrations of women everywhere: no.
Jesse’s written two best-selling novels and both have been about his relationship with her. So her real life and emotions have been turned into his art, to the extent that everyone who has read the book feels they know exactly what it would be like to have sex with Celine — and apparently everyone has read it. When they check into a hotel for the night, she is even asked to autograph the book alongside him. In other words, he has taken creative ownership of her life and love. Indeed that great whale of art on Jesse’s T-shirt has swallowed her whole.
Now Neptune has been in a different sign for each of these films, as he moves ever so slowly through the Zodiac. In 1994/5, it was in Capricorn, the sign of old stones, establishment and heritage. Imagination blossomed among the cobbled streets of Vienna. In 2003/4, Neptune was in Aquarius, the sign of intellect, internationalism and utopias. At the end of this movie, true love triumphs and we leave them as they are about to build a house of love.
Neptune in Pisces is powerful, overwhelming, large. Moby Dick – that other great American art whale – was written last time Neptune was in Pisces.
And, of course, if we were speculating a little further astrologically. The first encounter takes place when they are 23, just coming up to the year of the second Jupiter Return, often a high point, the second is at 32, after the completion of the Saturn Return, and the third is at 41, at the Uranus half-return, the classic moment of mid-life crisis. Uranus galvananises, irritates, stimulates. Things fall apart, and with Uranus in Aries, the individual needs to be free. Both actors had their Uranus half-return as this film was being made.
What is it like for an intelligent, independent woman to be turned into a muse?
Hawke and Delpy both have the Moon in air signs (and Linklater probably does too). These are signs that have to talk through their feelings in order to understand them — and that is the essence of these films.
And what about the longevity? Part of the intense charm of the Before series is seeing these actors grow and age. All three have Saturn, the planet we’d look to for questions about endurance and aging, in practical earth signs and retrograde. Linklater’s is in its own sign Capricorn, and it gives him a good dose of serious ambition, and the ability to build large. Delpy and Hawke both have Saturn in Venus-ruled Taurus. They need to make art that is beautiful and long-lasting. This is a stubborn, persistent Saturn.
Boyhood — Linklater’s film about growing up — took 12 years to make. Ethan Hawke plays a pivotal role in this quotidian piece too. Hawke’s Aquarius Moon reflects Linklater’s Leo stellium. Leo is quite a common sign for film directors.
With a project this long-lived, we can speculate that Céline and Jesse are aspects of Hawke and Delpy, alternative lives, how things might have turned out in a parallel world.
Jesse and Celine: water meets fire. He has emotional depth, she has enthusiasm, intellect. They share curiosity about life. He needs her to stimulate his creativity, to light the fire. She needs him in order to find her real feelings, to give her stability. If you look at the charts of these actors, you can see how exciting, intellectual and stimulating she is. She is extrovert, scattered, serious-minded, talkative, questing. He is introvert, focused on relationships and what makes people tick. He seeks depth; she seeks stimulation.
The Leo Linklater brings them together and we get trilogy that is a masterpiece. I’m looking forward to watching After… in nine years time.
PS I’ve just caught up with Before Midnight because it’s now on Amazon Prime.