Twice before two specific people adorned the screen with their presence, creating a rippling reflection of ourselves, thus fortifying the spontaneity of love and affection. For the third time Richard Linklater comes back to the characters of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), exploring similar, yet creatively unique themes of love and meaning in Before Midnight. In ’95, we saw a journey of circumstance expose the beauty of a love story. In ’04, we saw the strength in the memory of love. Now in 2013, after eighteen years of inducing countless circumstances, eventually becoming memories through time, Jesse and Celine have arrived at their most crucial complication – maintaining their love.
Before Midnight (2013)
I am not the biggest fan of limited releases, especially when it comes to my most anticipated films of the year. It usually means I have to wait a week or drive long distances. In this case it meant doing both. Nevertheless, I finally get to this theater I’ve never set foot in before, and see the black letters forming “BEFORE MIDNIGHT” on the marquee. Knowing the film is actually there, I nervously buy my ticket and walk into the theater. After what I can only hope was a new employee having the most difficult time putting a lid on my drink, I enter theater 1 and confidently strut down the walkway. I turn the corner to the seats and see, to put it simply, a crowd of old people. It seemed Saturdays were field trip days at the retirement home. In fact, it wasn’t until the film was about to start that a couple my age enters the theater and decides to sit right next to me; their expression of solidarity. Frankly though, I prefer being in a movie theater with the older generation. Talking is at a minimum and texting never seems to be a problem. Anyways, the point is I was there. I was finally sitting down and about to watch the film I waited years to arrive. Needless to say, and most uncommon, my expectations were higher than they had ever been.
Before Midnight is made up of about 6-7 main scenes, which quite fortunately makes each scene long, coated in importance, and personal. Not to mention, the heightened sense of humor this film has over its predecessors. Also, unlike Before Sunset Linklater decided against the use of real time, but like both before it, this film echoes the significance one single day can have.
We find Celine and Jesse now committed to one another with young twin daughters, as they approach the end of their summer vacation in Greece. The very first scene shows Jesse sending his son back to the states and back to his ex-wife. This specific action sparks an underlying feeling between Celine and Jesse that controls the rest of the film. Jesse is afraid of losing his son, and worries he is turning into the father he told himself he would never become, while Celine feels the pressure of moving back to the states in the midst of taking a job she thinks is best for her. These two sets of feelings slowly unravel throughout the film, forcing both Delpy and Hawke to realistically display each and every facet of their relationship in the most honest way.
Easily one of my favorite scenes in Before Midnight is the first conversation between Celine and Jesse. Coming back from the airport, Jesse drives with Celine in the passenger seat, as their two daughters sleep in the back. This one continuous fifteen-minute shot in particular gives back to those loyal to the franchise. These characters do not waste our time with exposition of the nine years we have been absent, or rather the eighteen years they have been a part of our lives. Instead, we are given a glimpse of the individual characters, and how they have changed personally, and their comfortability with one another. We are beholding the result everybody wanted since the opening moments of Before Sunrise.
As stated before, this film focuses on the heavy themes of love and life. But there is a strong critique of the fantasies people hold within these themes. Linklater sheds a condescending light on the fairytale ending or “how Hollywood does it” by using his iconic techniques and style. He draws out the scenes in such a way, we grow accustomed to them, never wanting them to end. Personally, I was fully prepared for their first conversation to be the only conversation of the film, turning into one long 100 minute shot. But that is what Linklater does; he writes with honesty and heralds our trust. Whether the subject is young circumstantial love or long-lasting commitment, it is inspiring how I can take worthwhile advice from actors delivering their lines.
The final scenes of Before Midnight are worth the price of admission themselves. Definitely one of the best verbal fight scenes in recent, dare I say all, cinema. However, the moment in the film that stood out the most was within the scene before their verbose clash. The two are watching as the sun sets over the mountains. Celine keeps saying “still there” until finally the sun disappears and she utters “it’s gone.” This clever symbolic gesture shows how the flame between Celine and Jesse was so easy to see and feel in the prior films, specifically Before Sunset. However, once the film ended their flame began to dwindle and somewhere between Sunset and Midnight it was lost, but their love for one another kept them together. Only now, they have to work together, climb the mountain, and find the flame on the other side. Our jobs are work, our lives are work, and Linklater makes sure we know our love is work.
But what do I know, right? What do I know about love, life, and sacrifice? To many, I’m still a kid, green behind the ears, and not sure which path to follow. And frankly, I would agree with you. But I come back to the audience that shared that theater with me. I stayed until after the credits and found myself walking out of the theater behind many of these senior citizens. I heard praises from most of them, as they agreed with what was being said and expressed. Some found it eerie how each character’s words held so much truth. They all held smiles leaving that theater, because they knew this was a film worth watching with a meaning worth their time, which, not to push the point, but is a valuable thing at their age. These are people 20, 30, 50 years my senior, with exponential amounts of experience in these fields. Even with them being complete strangers I have an odd sensation to trust their judgment.
Chances are this is the last time we will see Celine and Jesse. It is weird saying goodbye to something I’ve held dear for so many years, watching them jump from stage to stage, with this last one being the biggest. Yet, even stranger I am okay with where they are and what I am left with, for I believe the “what if’s” of their future do not matter nearly as much as experiences that washed over our thoughts and minds at each interval of their lives. So I say goodbye and farewell, you have inspired me more than you will ever know.
Before Midnight (2013) directed by Richard Linklater