Falling in love is easy; staying together is hard.
I don’t know who first used that expression, but it has never rang truer than in Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third (and possibly final?) film in his twenty-year saga of young love, happenstance and romance that has defined a generation of wandering souls who believe in the existence of soul mates.
In 1995, Linklater made a film differing greatly from his offbeat cult hits like Dazed and Confused and Slacker. Before Sunrise tells the story of two twentysomethings who meet by chance on a train from Prague to Paris. Immediately taken by each other, American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French girl Celine (Julie Delpy) hop off in Vienna and spend the night exploring the city, talking about their lives, hopes and dreams and ultimately falling in love. But the two must part before sunrise in order for him to catch a flight back to the states and her a train to Paris. Nine years later, after a chance reunion in Paris and just as the two are about to part again, Before Sunset—the second installment in Linklater’s saga—ends abruptly and on an ambiguous note.
In Before Midnight, again set nine years later, Jesse and Celine are still together. Middle-aged and married with two children, it’s not hard to see that love still exists between them. But is it enough to keep them together for the long road ahead?
Before Midnight mirrors its predecessors. The couple once again walks around a European city talking. However, unlike in Sunrise and Sunset, there exists a coldness that cuts through some of their dialogue and seems so realistic at times that I felt like I was watching the most authentic reality show ever produced. I first came across these characters about seven years and instantly fell in love, which is why Before Midnight is at times difficult to watch. With age comes wisdom, but also a whole heap of stubbornness.
It’s difficult to say the acting by Hawke and Delpy is brilliant (though they both are) because it seems like they are not acting at all. They have come to wear these characters like second skins and have infused them with so much life and worldly experiences that it truly feels as if they are actual people. The love they share in Before Midnight and in the previous two films seems so authentic and effortlessly conveyed that it proves all the more heartbreaking when, near the end of the film, they have a vicious screaming match that feels all too real. Anyone who has similar feelings toward Jesse and Celine should come prepared with a couple tissues.
Replacing Vienna and Paris, Linklater sets Before Midnight on the beautiful shoreline of Kalamata in the Peloponnese peninsula. Just as in the previous films, the romantic venue captures a place of magic and wonder that the viewer wishes to enter and never leave. The juxtaposing of the ancient churches and monuments that have withstood war, plague and the natural test of time mirror the turbulent but solid relationship of the central characters. Their major argument takes place in a modern day resort hotel; something that will likely not stand forever. But will their marriage? You’ll have to watch to see.
Like its predecessor, Before Midnight ends on an ambiguous but also oddly complete note. We’ll have to wait another nine years to see if Linklater and company return to make Before Evening (or some other such title). But even if this is the last we see of Jesse and Celine, they have left us with something to cherish. Through three outstanding films, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy (who collectively wrote the script for this and Sunset) have shown us the meaning of love, and they did it the hard way. Before Midnight easily proves one of the best films of the year and a fitting addition to one of the finest trilogies ever produced.