(2013 - Director: Richard Linklater Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy)
If there’s ever a movie that embodies what it means to choose to be with someone, it’s Before Midnight. What we get is a spontaneous tale that fits right in with its previous two installments, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, but diverges from what may look like fool’s love and traps itself into an intellectual relationship that’s at odds with itself. Richard Linklater lays a hammer of a movie that anyone who has been in a lengthy relationship can painfully understand.
The way Before Midnight plays with the audience’s expectations is smart. We’re left at Before Sunrise not knowing if the two romantics will ever see each other again. We’re left with Before Sunset not knowing if they will actually stay together this time. Both beautiful, stand-alone endings. With Before Midnight we’re left hanging in balance, waiting to see the status of Jesse and Celine. Once we find out that they are still together, nine years later and parents of two girls, we’re left with the consequences of their choices. And Before Midnight is all about the consequences of choices. The choice to follow through with your dreams and following your heart. Is it logical? Is it worth the pain and heartache to not be madly in love with someone you once were? There’s no romantic encounter here to counterbalance all of the character’s flaws. It’s a much riskier film. But it weaves through the mud to end on an emotional beat that outweighs anything these two characters have had in the past.
Before Midnight is an experiment in many ways. It follows many of the same formulas that the previous two films do: Long steadicam shots, pages and pages of dialogue and great storytelling, brilliant acting by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, gorgeous cinematography, and lush cities that adequately backdrop these two’s relationship. It’s all there. But Before Midnight is as much about the people that surround them as it is about the couple. We see many stages of relationships in this film. The fact that we get breaks from Jesse and Celine’s relationship beautifully shows how maybe their relationship isn’t the focus of their lives anymore. Outside influences dictate what the relationship is rather than making it an internal decision. And that’s perfectly normal. And once the second half of the film picks up and they are alone, the fireworks start to come out.
Where Before Sunrise was about first love and Before Sunset about matured love; Before Midnight is about sustained love. It’s about the work that it takes to make it a priority in your life. The long fight scene in the hotel is beautifully constructed and incredibly fragile. It plays out like theatre with the couple getting intimately close and further apart within seconds of each other. The territorial fighting and determination to get the last word is heartbreaking. We want these two to stay together. It’s been our dream for 20 years. But what if it doesn’t work out? What if love isn’t enough?
And that’s the point. Love isn’t enough. Love is but a feeling that can come and go. This film is capped with a powerful moment of silence (probably the only non-spoken minute in the film) where both characters decide what they want the future to be. That silence is what this movie is about.
All three movies of the Before trilogy never needed a sequel. We don’t need to know what happens next for Jesse and Celine. What I’m most impressed with is how fully realized this movie is. From the supporting characters, to the thought out emotional beats that Ethan and Julie play with ease. It’s scary how good they are. It’s scary how smart this movie is. The characters take on new dimensions with every new line. It takes you on a rollercoaster that most $300 million movies wish they could. It knows its audience so well and plays to its greatest strengths. I wish more movies would be like this.