It turns out Jesse was very late for that plane.
Following 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset, Before Midnight arrives to dazzle us with another 100 minutes of two people talking somewhere gorgeous in Europe.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) have been together ever since the events of Before Sunset, they are in their forties though not married, and the wife and son Jesse left in New York have caused him no small amount of regret. He and Celine have twin girls of their own now and Midnight takes place mainly in and around a scenic Greek villa and a not so scenic hotel during the tail end of a six week vacation. Jesse is still a writer, Celine is still working to save the world, and both have grown considerably in their views. It’s not surprising; it’s been eighteen years since Richard Linklater’s dialogue-driven romance Before Sunrise and the couple have had much of the romance strained out of them. But before I label the two as cynical I will say instead that after the passion of finding your true love cools – as it will do nine years on – what is left is all of this other stuff that must be attended to.
Through conversations with each other, their friends, and a spectacular dinner scene that covers everything from love and sex and technology to the nature of relationships, a question arises that all couples must inevitably face: How much of the other person is subsumed into the other? A friend of Jesse and Celine’s puts it eloquently when she tells her husband, “You want to colonize me,” then adds, laughing, “I want to colonize you too.”
The film is just as wandering as the last two installments, and the triple writing team of Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater must be commended for once again capturing not only the big topics that fall upon long-term couples but also those bits of minutiae that aggravate and endear them to each other. Jesse is a writer and spends a great deal of his time simply thinking and of course basking in the adoration of fans. Celine is still a strident feminist and career-driven woman who fears being marginalized into a maternal role she neither wants nor identifies with. And while the first half of the film is good, the second half is great, in that the argument that begins in the couple’s hotel room is terrible to behold.
There were times listening to the two actors that set my head to pounding. It was the painful instinct of déjà vu; I felt the coming arguments like a train circling a track inside my skull. And for anyone who has loved or fallen out of love with someone over the course of several years, you too will cringe when Jesse and Celine start going for each other’s throats, and then their weak spots. And unlike any romantic comedy you’re likely to see in this century, the two throw genuine arguments at each other. Like any real couple, Jesse and Celine can both be right and wrong at the same time.
My love for this movie and this series is as obvious as the heart on my sleeve but be cautioned if you are coming to this one fresh: It’s all talking. Not only that, it is long, long single shots of usually just two people talking. The second scene takes place in a car for about twenty minutes of slow driving (we’re a long way from Fast & Furious 6 here, folks).
Watching these films, you can’t help but think on your own relationships, especially how the two leads’ views change over time. The first film I saw when I was still lovesick over some wild thing I met in college, and the endless night and endless possibilities made both the hurt and the hope fresh. All throughout Before Midnight I was torn between enjoying a film I had immense respect for and remembering a long week in Naples I spent with a woman who gave me visions of kids, a home of our own, and retirement. Watching this movie unfold was saying goodbye to her all over again.
As Xenia Kalogeropoulou says, “Aren’t we all just passing through?”
Will we have a fourth Sunset in 2022 with Jesse and Celine in their fifties? I’m not sure I want to know where these avatars of gender end up in the next nine years, the finale of this one so hurtful and hopeful on its own. But who would have thought Before Sunset could be as emotionally fulfilling as Sunrise, or that the feat could be pulled off again so smoothly?
This is a beautiful series with plenty to say on the human condition that only becomes more poignant with time. I’d make a crack about cinematic wine here but I’m sure Jesse could do it much better and Celine would say I’m reaching. So I will say reach out, grab somebody you love, and head on over to a select theatre to get a head start on the rest of your life together.
Before Midnight (2013)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Sony Pictures Classics
*The R is probably for a brief topless scene, or perhaps the language used (a few fucks and shits). It’s a ridiculous rating—unless we consider ideas too mature for general audiences.
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