Eighteen years after Before Sunrise (1995) and nine after Before Sunset (2004), Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight returns us to the ever-evolving relationship between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who shared a single night in the first film, reunited in the second, and now share a life together with two young twin girls.
Each of these films is set over the course of a single day/night. Sunrise details in matter-of-fact fashion how American Jesse, travelling through Europe, meets Celine on a train, and the two share an evening in Vienna…and share something intangible (love?); it was, when I first saw it, the most starkly and effectively romantic film I had seen (my opinion might have changed since then, but I’ll never forget the sheer experience of watching the film for the first time, naively unaware that I could be so moved by a film).
Sunset covers the reunion of these characters – Celine confronts Jesse in France, after he has written a novel featuring a character based on her – and the two reconnect. It is, in its own way, an equally powerful, equally romantic, equally important film. Both are mandatory viewing before watching Midnight.
Midnight… at 40, married with kids, a decade spent together, the romance is no longer there. At least in the same form. Linklater, and Delpy and Hawke, who co-wrote the film with the director, aren’t laboring under the pretense that there’s still the same “magic” between Celine and Jesse; most of the film focuses on the two characters in casual – or even heated – arguments, which seems appropriate at this stage in their relationship.
And yet – and here’s the greatest thing about this film – the romance is still there, we can see that these characters still love each other, even when the dialogue between them might seem to indicate otherwise. The level of communication they’re able to have, how comfortable they are with each other…that magic is still there, in an evolved form, as their relationship is being put to the test. In its own way, this film is just as romantic as its predecessors.
Midnight begins in a Greek airport, where Jesse is saying goodbye to his now-teenage son Hank (The Omen’s Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), from a previous marriage. This key event casts a shadow over the rest of the proceedings: Jesse, feeling guilty that he is all but absent from his son’s life, carefully suggests a potential move to the US. Celine, about to make a big career move, is vehemently opposed.
The couple is on vacation in Greece with their two daughters, staying at a seaside resort with some friends. There’s some friendly dinner table conversation about life and love (with couples from a variety of age ranges) but the film is most interesting when sticking to the relationship between Jesse and Celine, who head to a ‘romantic’ hotel to spend a night, a gift from one of their friends.
The chemistry between Delpy and Hawke throughout these three movies is so strong that I’m almost surprised they’re not a real-life couple. Watching the evolution of their characters through these three films has been insightful, reflective…there’s a level of honesty here that we rarely, if ever, see in mainstream cinema.
Sunrise, Sunset, and now Midnight are three of the most poignant and important films about love and relationships in contemporary cinema. I can’t wait to return to these characters in another nine years, when they’ll be pushing 50.
Before Midnight is dedicated to Amy, the woman who inspired Before Sunrise; director Linklater briefly met her in Philadelphia before losing touch, and only learned recently that she had died long ago in a traffic accident.