I was excited to see Before Midnight, the third film in the series directed by Richard Linklater that, in a way, I felt like I grew up with. The characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) have always been so strong in my closet-romantic pseudo-intellectual imagination. I’m not going to pretend for a minute that I’m not a sucker for a good romantic movie, especially ones like the Before series where the characters feel so real and the dialogue is more like a true conversation than a planned script. I couldn’t wait to see what insights and ideas the newest film would bring me.
When the first film Before Sunrise came out in 1995 I was 17 and I felt like I was looking into my future. With an optimistic teenage brain I thought, this is going to happen to me! I am going to meet a gorgeous boy on a train and we will have the best conversation I’ve ever had and truly connect. I watched it many times, and even though I never did meet that guy on a train (possibly because I never took a train across Europe?), but I was still excited to find out what happened to Jesse and Celine when the second film Before Sunset came out in 2004. Here Jesse and Celine reunite after 9 years apart and the spark is still there. I was 26 and already yearning to re-kindle connections lost and these characters helped keep dreams alive of loves and friends that could suddenly appear again. In the future Jesse and Celine showed me getting older just brought good things and new experiences and getting to really know someone.
Fast forward to now, 2013, I am 35 and with three close friends getting married this year while I am eternally single. I am in need of Jesse and Celine again to re-awaken that young dreamer who really believes people can truly connect and that a great conversation can fix everything. But Jesse and Celine are new people in Before Midnight; they have been together 9 years and there are children involved and this is a decidedly darker and less dreamy version of true love.
Before Midnight starts off well enough, we see Jesse with his son and their relationship is real and heartbreaking. It continues this way as a re-introduction to Jesse and Celine, the children in their lives and their new relationship as parents and people who have really loved each other for a long time. We have those great conversations that this series is all about, though this time a lot of them happen with more than just Jesse and Celine. The family they are staying with in Greece is charming and enthralling and their dinner conversation does awaken my hopes and really captures the joy of having a great evening with friends.
Then after dinner Jesse and Celine begrudgingly accept a gift of a night in a hotel away from the kids and this is where the shit goes down. It starts off nice and fun but quickly dissolves into the kind of fight I imagine this couple hasn’t been able to have in front of their children. I have never been in a relationship for 9 years, but I imagine, just like the other films, it is a realistic depiction of how quickly the good times can disappear into old grievances, resentment and anger. The rest of the movie is intense and heartbreaking and not at all dreamy.
Of course it is this sense of darkness that makes Before Midnight the most realistic of the series. I definitely recommend seeing the film, especially if you’ve loved the others like I did. The directing is so personal you feel a voyeur watching a couple’s most private moments. The acting is superb, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke disappear into their characters just like in the other films. You would believe it is a documentary except for the beautiful cinematography, especially of the outdoor scenes. But unlike the wistful hopefulness I felt leaving the theater after Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Before Midnight left me feeling empty and conflicted.
It took a couple days to shake the dark feelings, which really, is the most glowing praise I can give for it. These films really make you feel something and feel connected to the story and characters. Before Midnight might not be a feeling you want to have, but maybe it is closer to a real future for us than the other films ever could be.