“Before Midnight,” “Free the Mind” on the silver screen this week

"Free the Mind" film subject Will, a preschooler, who has ADHD.
Photo courtesy of TMVFF

"Free the Mind" film subject Will, a preschooler, who has ADHD.

“Before Midnight,” the third installment in filmmaker Richard Linklater’s fictional trilogy about romantic love, and “Free the Mind,” a documentary about consciousness research, top the on-Island independent movie schedule this week and next.

“Before Midnight” returns to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven on Thursday, July 11, and Saturday, July 13, while “Free the Mind” plays once on Wednesday, July 17, as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival at the Chilmark Community Center.

Viewers who have seen Richard Linklater’s popular movies “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” will immediately recognize Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in “Before Midnight.” The couple met on a train, fell in love, separated, and reunited years later. Now they have been together — if not actually married — for nine years and are vacationing on a Greek island with their twin daughters.

One of the surprising pleasures of “Before Midnight” is that the couple looks like 40-something people instead of Hollywood stars. While as beautiful as ever, Celine has gotten a little pudgy; with his patchy chin hair and unkempt clothing, Jesse looks a little scruffy. The setting may be idyllic, but the characters convey real life.

The film opens with the complications and frictions that can quickly strain a romantic relationship. Jesse is sending home Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) his son from the unhappy marriage that happened before he and Celine became permanent partners. As they drive back from the airport with their daughters, the couple begins to squabble. Jesse wants to spend more time with Hank, who lives in Chicago with his mother; Celine wants to take her dream job and remain at their home base in Paris. Can romance survive such dilemmas?

Mr. Linklater is a master at creating dialogue that takes mundane conversation and makes it sparkle, and “Before Midnight” is a movie that relies on conversation rather than action to explore its theme. Celine and Jesse talk with each other; they also talk with the extended family they are visiting. And, most of all, they argue in the painful ways all couples do. Celine flies off the handle, while Jesse twists the knife of reason. Lovemaking dissolves into conflict. Gender roles remain conventional, but the two stay well matched.

When the midnight chimes finally ring, will Celine and Jesse stay together? Mr. Linklater takes the viewer into darker territory than his two earlier films, but it is deeper and more exploratory terrain, more like life itself as it ripens.

“Free the Mind”

Written and directed by Danish filmmaker Phie Ambo, “Free the Mind” examines the fascinating research of celebrated neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin.

The film opens with imaginatively animated graphics of the brain and its nerve pathways that continue to function as transitions throughout the film.

Rather than losing the viewer in abstract discussions of Dr. Davidson’s research, “Free the Mind” zeroes in on the challenges a preschooler named Will faces in coping with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The goal is to see if it is possible to change brain patterns through conscious mental exercises. This behavioral approach provides a potential alternative to drugs like Ritalin. In the case of Will, the immediate goal is to help him overcome a phobia he has developed about elevators.

A meditation advocate influenced by the Dalai Llama, Dr. Davidson applies a combination of meditation and yoga as training devices to see if individuals like Will, whose brains have gone off-track, can change their thinking.

Dr. Davidson has designed similar studies for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The sequences involving veterans enhance those with Will, since as adults, the veterans can articulate the traumas they have suffered. In each case, the goal is the same — to test techniques that might lead to an understanding of consciousness and help individuals change behavior patterns through mindful exercises.

The liability of examining Dr. Davidson’s research through stories about Will and war veterans is that information sometimes seems to emerge haphazardly, leaving the viewer to fill in holes and sort out how the research adds up. Nevertheless, “Free the Mind” offers an exciting and optimistic look at how scientists are exploring consciousness and the workings of the brain.

A discussion following the documentary will include film subject Rich Low, and Willoughby Britton of Brown University’s Contemplative Studies Initiative. Chilmark resident and Brown research affiliate Jake Davis will moderate.

“Before Midnight,” Thursday, July 11, and Saturday, July 13, 7:30 pm. M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $7 M.V. Film Society members. For more information and additional film listings, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

“Free the Mind,” Wednesday, July 17, 8 pm, M.V. Film Festival, Chilmark Community Center. $16; $8 M.V. Film Festival members. For more information on this film and Cinema Circus, see tmvff.org.