Now in theaters and receiving widespread critical praise, Before Midnight is the third in Richard Linklater’s Before series, previously consisting of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Each film is set nine years apart from the last, and offers us a glimpse into the day (or night) in the interconnected lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy).
The pair first meet on a train in Europe in the first film, Before Sunrise (released in 1995), and soon fall in love after American Jesse convinces the French Celine to spend the night walking around Vienna with him before he boards a plane home the next morning. Before Sunrise is a film that I will forever hold dear–I don’t know of any other movie that could so beautifully make two people walking around and talking so engrossing and insightful. Watching it, you fall in love with Jesse and Celine as they fall in love, and are left with a question at the end: will they ever meet up again?
In Before Sunset, (spoiler alert) they do, though not under the circumstances they had originally planned. It’s nine years later, and Jesse has written a novel about that night in Vienna with Celine. While on a book tour in Paris, Celine finds him, and the two long-lost lovers are reunited. The reunion isn’t without its complications, however–Jesse is caught in a troubled marriage, and Celine in a long-distance relationship.
I was so excited to learn that the third movie in the series, Before Midnight, was coming out, and even more excited when it finally expanded to wide release. Naturally, I rushed to the nearest theater to see it as soon as possible, and I was not disappointed.
This time, Jesse and Celine are in Greece, on holiday with their twin daughters. As always, the dialogue is what drives the whole thing and, as always, it’s a beautiful, natural-sounding balance of wittiness, realness, and depth. The screenplay by Richard Linklater and the film’s stars is brilliant, tackling a wealth of issues unexplored by the previous two films. As aging adults and parents, Jesse and Celine face new challenges and a changing relationship in a changing world.
Their relationship is not untroubled or as simple as it was when they were only two strangers who met on a train; this becomes especially evident in the second half of the film, which is pretty much just Jesse and Celine arguing in a hotel room. In spite of the back-and-forth jabs and obvious unrest, Before Midnight contains the underlying sweetness and deep, undeniable love that marks Jesse and Celine’s relationship throughout all three films.
Before Midnight is, overall, darker than the first two films (although, at parts, also a lot funnier). It tackles real, timely issues through performances that are so natural that the actors don’t seem to be acting at all. It’s easy to believe that Jesse and Celine are real people, in spite of their almost fairytale-like beginnings. But if true love ever existed, it’s here, and it’s not difficult to feel reassured that there is hope for them.
I would rank Before Midnight as my second favorite of the series. I found it to be a bit more dynamic and engaging than Before Sunset (though they’re all great and I love them all a whole lot), but nothing beats Before Sunrise. If you’re a fan of the first two films, rest assured that Before Midnight definitely stands up to them. If you haven’t seen any of the films… GO GO GO!