Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: June 21
Richard Linklater’s 1995 indie darling Before Sunrise introduced the characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delphy), young strangers who in an act of impassioned spontaneity depart a train together and spend the next day walking, talking and falling in love. Its earnest cocktail of young romance and juvenile philosophising was dripping in naivety, though it struck an honest chord for both the inexperienced lovers it portrayed, and the thirty-something filmmaker.
It was on revisiting these characters nine years later in Before Sunset that the true potential of Linklater’s creation became apparent. The innocence was gone, exchanged for a melancholy sense of what could have been. Less philosophising, more regret—the film’s depiction of romance had matured with the characters. And just as the film begins to find its optimism again, morphing from a story of what could have been to what may still be, it ends. The perfect ending; a beautiful, elusive moment of ‘what happens next?’
Like Sunrise before it, the ending felt like a question never meant to be answered, a moment suspended indefinitely. And just like before, nine years pass, time becomes unstuck, questions are answered, and with the release of Before Midnight, Linklater takes his meditation on love and time to even greater heights.
As a summer spent visiting friends in Greece draws to an end, Jesse bids a sad farewell to his son Hank as he boards a flight back to his mother in New York. Jesse has been living contentedly with Celine and their young twin daughters in Paris, though his distance from his son has started to weigh on him. Likewise Celine finds herself having to reconsider her career after her long term plans fall apart.
Like its predecessors, this simple setup lays the groundwork for a series of conversations—some tense and fraught with emotion, some playful, some worldly and probing—that offer a glimpse into the inner lives of these characters and how they feel about themselves and each other. It’s beautiful in its simplicity; many scenes are long single shots, allowing the writing to dictate the mood, with little music except a gentle whistling piano score that ties one scene to the next.
Many of these conversations explore the idea of perception, how we see ourselves and the world around us, and how that perception and our expression of it can lead to conflict.
The greatest act of perception comes from Linklater himself, who transcribes a distressingly accurate model of how men and women can come to blows. The woman’s indifference to emotional tempering; the man’s use of rationality as vehicle for patronising put downs; it’s a dynamic familiar to anyone who’s ever seen or experienced a soured battle of wits in a mature relationship, and it’s gut wrenching in its absolute accuracy.
While the film so magnificently captures the simple high of matured companionship, and the pit of your stomach dread when that comes under threat, it unwittingly captures a less innate feeling; the dinner party you just can’t wait to be excused from. Jesse and Celine’s sit down with a writer friend and his family is painful in its hollowness, failing to achieve the naturalistic banter that flows so earnestly when the pair chat alone. It’s like a dinner date in the uncanny valley, laden with the kind of high falutin philosophising the rest of the film narrowly skirts around.
Hilarious and heartbreaking, life affirming and wistful, Before Midnight holds a mirror up to so much of life—career, marriage, fidelity, children, distance. Where will these characters be in another nine years? More importantly, where will we be?