It’s been a long journey for Jesse and Celine, the main characters of Before Midnight. An effort of clear dedication and passion from Richard Linklater, his “Before” trilogy has earned a spot as one of the most beloved trilogies of all time. Featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as the main characters, Before Sunrise introduced the two star-crossed lovers' first evening together in Vienna, and nine years later in Before Sunset, reconnecting in Paris. Flash forward to 2013, and we are now able to follow their lives once more in Before Midnight.
I’ll be honest that I hadn’t seen any of these films until a few days ago, but what I saw has made me sorry I didn’t get to it sooner. With each new installment, this series has only gotten better, and with Before Midnight, they've created the ultimate culmination to one of the most realistic portrayals in romance of all time.
It’s been nine years since Jesse Wallace (Ethan Hawke) left his life in America, as well as an unhappy marriage, behind to be with Celine (Julie Delpy) in Paris. When we’re introduced to them again, we see Jesse sending his son on a plane back to America, and then spending one last day on vacation in Greece with Celine, and the couple’s two twin daughters. Looks like a happy ending, huh? Not quite. Jesse, feeling guilt over leaving his son in America those many years ago, considers moving his family stateside, while Celine feels tempted to take a job (a “dream job”) to help provide for her family. As the afternoon and the evening go along, it isn’t long before the couple’s signature long conversations go into great detail of their separate desires, showing a mutual resentment for past events and becoming more heated as the hours go along. Clearly, the days of sweet cakes and milkshakes are well behind them.
One of the defining characteristics of Linklater’s trilogy has been the nature of Jesse and Celine’s numerous conversations, and Before Midnight is no exception. Many of these conversations can feature segments of uninterrupted dialogue for well over five minutes without an edit. Normally, this kind of verbosity would have threatened to go against the “show, don’t tell” rule of cinema, but Linklater’s dialogue, and Hawke’s and Delpy’s performances, have always assured that they feel naturalistic, and that not even a single second feels boring.
Another thing that this movie excels in is furthering the maturation of Jesse and Celine. As individual features, the films are all aces, and as a whole, the three of them provide fascinating context. From Sunset, where the two were without a care in the world that magical evening long ago, the two have now evolved into two people questioning where that same passion has since gone. Love is not easy for the two of them, as their conflicting desires put them at extreme odds with each other. They’ve always been able to use their wits to ease tension, but when accusations are thrown around, and the two become verbally hostile, issues like this are hard to simply laugh off. It places important emphasis on the time they have left together, and over the passion that seemed to fade like a setting sun (even hinted at by one scene featuring the two of them gazing at a gorgeous sunset). It’s not simple for the two of them, and Before Midnight brings that maturity full circle, stripping away the enchantment of the previous films, but in a beneficial way that paints an authentic portrait of modern romance. For this, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy should all be commended for their numerous years of hard work on this series, clearly maturing alongside their material, and creating a trilogy that only gets better with each new entry. If this is their final venture, than they’ve ended on a spectacular note
If not, then 2022, here we come…
As an individual feature: *****
Trilogy rating: ****1/2