‘Before Midnight’ Review
Allow me to mar the sophisticated, near-painterly screenplay of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Midnight‘ with these purple lines from the Steve Miller Band: time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.
Oozing sagacity, melancholia and, if you work at it, hope, the third and best (and hopefully not final!) chapter in Linklater’s ‘Before’ series is more of the same – heartfelt conversation in a beautiful setting at a confident, leisurely pace.
We met Julie Delpy’s independent thinker Celine on a train, when fiery young Jesse (Ethan Hawke) convinced her to get off in Vienna and walk around all night. Nine years later we caught up with them in Paris, Jesse having written a book about the love that got away. That second film ended with one of the finest final moments in all of cinema, Celine dancing in her apartment and Jesse seriously considering leaving his wife and child back in the US. Now it is nine years later and the consequences of that decision are still being dealt with.
Celine, Jesse and their young twin daughters live in Paris but are summering at the invitation of an older writer in Greece. Jesse’s son has stayed with them, and the film opens with him flying back to his mother. In a remarkable sequence with (I think) only one cut, Celine and Jesse drive and talk and, while their love seems strong, one can sense that they both hold some longings.
Some of their grievances are merely against time, but they are too mature to get worked up about that. They don’t whine about their aching backs, they merely observe the changes. Some of this plays out during a brilliant and touching philosophical dinner table conversation with their worldly, multi-generational friends. (One of the biggest changes in this third “Before” film is the inclusion, during the first half, of other characters. Until now we’ve never really seen Jesse or Celine interact with others.)
The fireworks come when they are gifted with a night in a “nice hotel.” With shades of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,’ Jesse and Celine start to scratch at one another. Jesse wants to at least consider moving the family to the US to be near his son. Celine feels that she is a traitor to her young feminist ideals. As the conversation turns to argument and then to conflagration more of the puzzle pieces are filled in – the pair are not married, the twins were unplanned and both characters feel they’ve sacrificed a great deal toward the other party. One gets the impression that the last nine years, while loaded with incident (new novels, kids) have been under the emotional umbrella of “let’s just do this and see how it shakes out.” Now that this is 40, they are realizing that if they aren’t going to fully commit to this life forever, they need to make a change now.
Whoa, that all sounds really heavy, but if you know ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ you know that there is plenty of breezy humor and fun tangent thrown in. (Kinda like life; fights with loved ones always have their natural ebb and flow.) What’s so remarkable is how Linklater and co-authors Delpy and Hawke manage to fit so much into their script. Tick-tocking between whimsy and angst there are insights galore about the contradictions of being in a relationship, of getting older, of being human.
One can’t praise this triumvirate enough. These are some of the most lived-in and three dimensional characters you are likely to find in a modern film. And for each moment where I sat in the audience with horror on my face thinking, “Oh, dear God, I’ve wasted my life!” I was given a complimentary moment to think, “Well, at least I’m not as screwed up as these two!”
‘Before Midnight’ is certainly an emotional workout, but nearly flawless in execution. You can also come direct to this movie fresh, though I strongly urge you to check out the first two beforehand. It is the best of the three, because age brings its problems, but it also brings wisdom.‘Before Midnight’ premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.