Film Film Reviews

Before Midnight: The Concluding Chapter in the Least Successful Trilogy Ever

In a summer of Men of Steel (and Steel claws), Vulcans, and men in metal suits (and sometimes, men-less metal suits), there’s a quieter, smaller sequel due to hit theatres this summer: Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. The trilogy began in 1995 with Before Sunrise, the achingly poignant, romantic drama revolving around two twenty-somethings, Jessie (Ethan Hawke), Céline (Julie Delpy), who meet on a train and their perfect, intimate evening spent walking around Vienna, Austria.

"There's no way we'll still be doing this in eighteen years, huh?"
“There’s no way we’ll still be doing this in eighteen years, huh?”

There’s little action (or plot, even) to occupy a viewer’s mind. Instead, we meet two characters and proceed to know and understand their inner workings as they connect with and understand each other over one magical night. Jessie and Céline emerge as individuals who are so full of life and hope that the world will work out for them, they make plans to reunite in 6 months, and we root for them to remain as optimistic and trusting in the universe as they seem here.

Hmmm. I didn't remember cell phones being that primitve in 1995.
Hmmm. I didn’t remember cell phones being that primitive in 1995.

Very few probably assumed Jessie and Céline would ever grace celluloid again, but grace celluloid again they did in 2004’s Before Sunset. Now, nine years older, they appear wiser, sadder, and haunted by that one perfect night they once shared.

The more things change, though, the more they stay the same.
The more things change, though, the more they stay the same.

We learn what became of that promised reunion, and that the characters seem more lost and less comfortable in their own skin than they did nine years ago. They’ve become adults, with all the compromises, settling, and disappointment that entails. However, they find each other, in Paris this time, and resume a conversation they began nine years ago. Now, however, it’s a conversation tinged with regret and anxiety over the courses their lives have taken, as well as the fear over the perfect life they may have missed when they lost touch with one another.

Now, another nine years has passed, and the trio that is Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater give us Before Midnight, the third film in the “Before” trilogy, hitting theatres May 24th. Now, we meet Jessie and Céline as a married couple, still engaging in the conversation that began eighteen years earlier. They find themselves coming to a crossroad (again) and questioning the paths their lives have taken. The fact two films that have grossed less than twelve million dollars combined have gotten a concluding trilogy film remains remarkable feat and speaks to the love Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater have for these characters and their conversation. Iron Man 3 probably made this much in about twenty minutes of showtime. Note the disconnect here.

"Can you believe we're still doign this?"
“Can you believe we’re still doing this?”

Ethan Hawke’s still-handsome face seems thinner now, his cheekbones more prominent, and that wrinkle down the centre of his T-zone more apparent,  while Julie Delpy appears mostly unchanged, though perhaps a bit fuller figured that she once did, with eyes that seem more tired than they did before. Alas, they have aged, as we all have.

"Hey, leave Ethan's skeletor-like face alone."
“Hey, leave Ethan’s skeletor-like visage alone.”

I would have been nearly eleven when Before Sunrise came out, though I didn’t see it until I was in high school. I loved the interactions between the leads, though at times their conversations felt so natural and intimate I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation never meant for me to overhear. I saw Before Sunset in theatres, when I would have been nearing twenty, and I’ll see Before Midnight at the age of 28. My age has nearly doubled since I saw the first film, and although I haven’t aged eighteen years between the first film and the third, I notice how different my view seems looking down the barrel at thirty. Like Jessie and Céline, I remember feeling very optimistic in high school, certain that I knew exactly how my life would turn out. Nearly fifteen years later, I find my anxiety level far higher and my mindset far more haunted by choices I maybe should have made, had I only been reading the signs correctly.

If one can apply thematic significance to the films’ titles (and since I’m an English major, I think you can), I’d say you could think of Before Sunrise as a title filled with promise and hope for an awaiting life. After all, a sunrise signals the start of a new day. Since Before Sunset features an older, more cynical, more regretful duo, you can see the title as a signal that the time of optimistic outlooks has passed them by. Days are fading and no longer hold unlimited promise. Sunset signal an end to the day, with no guarantee of a sunrise upon waking. Now, we have Before Midnight, featuring the now married, yet still slightly restless and sad, protagonists, again forced to reexamine the lives they have and the choices they have made, and whether they have made the best decisions they could. Midnight is that interesting time trapped between two worlds (There’s a reason it’s called the “Witching Hour.” It seems to belong to both the ending night and the new day.) It’s a time of transition, and for Jessie and Céline find themselves trapped between the individuals they once were and those they may become. It’s the time in which they must decide to remain in yesterday or pursue new horizons.

Optimism, Loss, & Ambiguity, respectively.
Optimism, Loss, & Ambiguity, respectively.

I love these films (the first two, I mean. I’ll see the third opening day, if I can). They capture so much of the spirit and philosophy that accompanies certain stages of a life. More than that, though, I love Jessie and Céline. Hawke and Delpy share screenwriting credits with Linklater, and their dialogue feels completely natural and revelatory. They’re friends in real life, and their chemistry on-screen is infused with warmth and affection as a result. They emerge as sharp, articulate, funny, vulnerable, endearing, fully realized individuals. Jessie may be a bit neurotic and condescendingly cynical, Céline may be about self-righteous and prone to emotional outbursts, but those traits serve to make the character more relatable, rather than less so. Their flaws make them more human, and the audience actually feels more towards them than they might if they were simply perfect, flawless creations.

Before Midnight has been receiving stellar reviews reviews (far more so than Iron Man 3 or Star Trek: Into Darkness, actually), and though it will almost certainly be seen by fewer people than those blockbusters, seeing Jessie and Céline for me will feel like reuniting with two old friends for whom I feel great affection and who have grown up and changed and evolved as much as I have. As a result, I probably have more anticipation for the release of Before Midnight news than I did Iron Man 3. Cue longing, pathetic “sigh” here.

Check out the trailer to Before Midnight here:

So, what do you think, guys? Are you as excited for this film as I am, or are you thinking I may need some therapy? Let us know in the comments!

2 comments

  1. Definitely has been on my must-see list since I first got word of it. I enjoyed the first two immensely (though like you I didn’t see Before Sunrise in theatres; hadn’t even seen it released anywhere back then) and am looking forward to this one as well.

    So, if you need therapy for wanting to see this film, we should carpool. If you don’t make it on opening day, you’ve definitely got someone interested in seeing it in a couple weeks (even if we’ve both seen it I doubt I’d object to a second viewing; I watched the first film twice in one day when I first discovered it).

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