Watching “Before Midnight” reminded me of the beauty of great conversations; of when you can converse with one or more persons and have them at your complete attention. Granted, this movie’s predecessors “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” made this abundantly clear as well, but this is the best time to be reminded of that as we are usually glued to our iPhones, iPads, Smartphones or whatever electronic devices we ended up buying. What’s going on in the electronic world threatens to rob us of the intimacy we humans should be striving for. No wonder we feel so lonely in this increasingly overpopulated world.
“Before Midnight” reunites filmmaker Richard Linklater with actors and writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy who reprise their infinitely lovable characters Jesse and Celine. Taking place nine years after the events of “Before Sunset,” these two lovers have since become a couple and are now the parents of adorable twin girls. The movie, however, starts on a poignant note as Jesse bids goodbye to his teenage son from his previous marriage, Hank, who has just spent summer in Greece with him and is now returning home to America which leaves him with a heavy heart. While we come into this movie thrilled that Jesse and Celine have become a couple, this opening scene reveals that their union did come with some consequences.
Jesse has since written a second novel inspired by his relationship with Celine, and Celine herself is at a career crossroads as she considers taking a government job. With Hank going back to the United States, Jesse starts to wonder if it might be a good idea for him and Celine to move back there so that he can be closer to his son. It turns out, however, that Jesse and Celine did live in the US (New York to be exact) for a few years before returning to Paris, and Celine has absolutely no desire to return there in the near future. As these two spend the day traveling through some lovely villages in Greece, a conflict brews between them that could very well fracture their relationship.
As with Michael Apted’s “7 Up” series which follows a group of people every seven years in their lives, this trilogy of movies has followed Jesse and Celine every nine. “Before Sunrise” had them meeting in their 20s when they had the freedom to get off a train and tour around Vienna together, and then they reunited in “Before Sunset” when they were 30s and a bit jaded by life. Now with “Before Midnight,” the characters are in the 40s and weighed down by responsibilities any adult or parent ends up facing. They now share their lives together, but they are not on the same page when it comes to certain things.
Whether you have been a long term relationship or not, the emotions elicited in “Before Midnight” ring very true. Anyone who tells you that they never argue with their significant other is a flat out liar because even in the most loving of relationships, there are always resentments that eventually boil over. We see Jesse and Celine going through a major conflict which culminates in a hotel room scene which is charged with raw emotion. This ends up making “Before Midnight” more exciting than a lot of thrillers I’ve seen recently because I have been so emotionally involved in these characters’ lives through several movies, and to see their relationship come apart at the seams is really a terrifying thing to witness.
Then again, Linklater and his fellow collaborators have never tried to make a fairy tale out of these characters’ lives. That’s what I have come to love about these movies; they’re about real people and the messiness of real life. Nothing in Jesse and Celine’s life is ever perfect, and that’s what makes them so relatable. “Before Midnight” and its predecessors have moved me in a way few other films do because they never contain a single character that can be reduced down to a mere one-dimensional cliché, and thank goodness for that.
This film has more characters in it than the last two did, and there’s a great scene at the beginning where Jesse and Celine are having a meal with friends of theirs that represent different generations of lovers. You have a teenage couple who are in the throes of young love, a middle aged couple who have had their share of ups and downs but have come out of it smiling, and you have a widow who still has strong memories of the love of his life. Again, the scene demonstrates the beauty of great conversations in movies, and I loved hearing all these people talk about what they’ve been through in life and love.
I actually got to attend the Los Angeles press conference of “Before Midnight” recently, and Hawke said that many of the dialogue driven scenes in this film would have been thrown out of any screenwriting class. Hearing this makes the film seem all the more triumphant as a result. Linklater, Hawke and Delpy remain incredibly devoted in bringing these wonderful characters to the big screen in a way that feels genuine and full of life, and the results are ever so fantastic to take in.
Hawke has always been an actor who takes risks on roles that interest him deeply, and he rarely (if ever) falters as an actor. The character of Jesse remains very much a part of him as it has over the years, and you can tell that Hawke finds great artistic fulfillment in portraying him in Linklater’s movies. Actually I take that back; Hawke inhabits Jesse with a certain glee, he never just plays him.
The same also goes with Delpy who remains as talented as she is beautiful, but it’s also important to look at how much she has grown over the course of these films. Since “Before Sunrise,” she has since become a filmmaker herself and has directed “2 Days in Paris” and “2 Days in New York” among other movies. Her work in “Before Midnight” really pays off because she never lets Celine become a simple male fantasy. Celine is a woman who doesn’t need a partner in life to keep her going, and Delpy gives an unusually fiery portrayal of the character this time around as she looks to avert a disaster that could forever change her relationship with Jesse (and not for the better).
Linklater remains an adventurous filmmaker in that he has never fully joined the realm of mainstream moviemaking, and for that we should all be thankful. He’s always marched to the beat of his own drummer with such films as “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Bernie,” and it’s great that we still have people like him in the world of cinema. With “Before Midnight,” he proves to us that his keen power of observation has never failed him, and the film he crafts here is every bit as good (maybe even better) than the two which came before it.
I’m thrilled that movies like “Before Midnight” still get made today. It’s still a very depressing time for small, independent films right now as they are constantly overwhelmed by the summer blockbusters which studio executives continue to salivate over. These days, films like these are lucky to find an audience in the On Demand market let alone in theatres. But despite being part of what its makers called “the lowest-grossing trilogy ever,” “Before Midnight” still became a reality despite the odds being against it. What results is the best movie that I have seen so far in 2013.
I also got to add that watching “Before Midnight” will make you want to take a vacation to Greece at your earliest convenience. This location is as much a character to this movie as is Jesse and Celine, and I’m not sure I have seen another movie where it looks as beautiful as it does here. But if you can’t take a vacation to Greece right away, you may instead find yourself cooking a lot of Greek food dishes like pasta and stuffed peppers. Trust me when I tell you that the spirit of Greece will invade you after you have watched this movie.
“Before Midnight” ends just as the other two did, on an ambiguous note. We will spend a lot of time wondering what will become of Jesse and Celine, and we might just get an answer to all our questions in another nine years. I wonder what they will call the next film, assuming that Linklater, Hawke and Delpy are up to making another. The title “Before Armageddon” does come to mind…