Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight
Disclaimer: Because of the nature of the plot and events of the film, there may be a lot of necessary spoilers included in this review in order to pick it apart properly, for those who have seen the previous two and have not seen the third, I would maybe recommend staying away from this review until afterwards and going in relatively blind for the first viewing.
Before Midnight is Richard Linklater’s third film in a recurrent series of a film every nine years since 1995 centring on a couple called Jesse and Celine and the progression of their livelihood and relationship at various stages. Before Midnight takes place eighteen years into their relationship after they have had children together and are taking a family vacation to visit friends in Greece, and centres on the themes of long-term commitment, relationship experience, families and the situation their love has found itself in.
Ever since I saw Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in 2004, I’ve been waiting and hoping ecstatically for the third film to arise, and finally today I was able to see it. There is something unique about Linklater’s series in that it doesn’t follow the formulae for a mushy romance and a grand, mind-blowing achievement of love, but prefers to stay close to the authenticity of love, and uses Jesse and Celine as a vessel to show the progression and path that true love may take on the journey between such a couple. The first film focuses on the naive and unwaveringly optimistic view of love from a love-drunk young couple in a circumstance of grand romantic opportunity; the second shows them both in a state of nostalgia and the realisation that their previous experience together was the best thing they had ever experienced, and the risks they take to continue that kind of living; the third however, expresses the darkest and most poignant truths of long-term commitment, the “ticking time bomb” of the couple realising that the positives have to come with negatives, and the arrival of those negatives is entirely out of their control, as hard as they try to fight it from happening. To see their plight in trying to rekindle what once was is both horrifying and saddening, but the beauty of knowing that they try is all worth it in the end.
The beauty of this series has always been it’s intelligence, that Jesse and Celine are not only a couple that are fortunate enough to find themselves in a position of love, but wise enough to want to question it, and their growth together through it. This film is not so much a family drama as an introspection on the jaded decay of love matured and the dissolution of the romantic spontaneity of what once was into the monotonous habit of what now is. It is tragic to see that even a couple so indebted and bound together as our protagonists cannot escape the inevitability of a relationship out of it’s prime and all of the arguments, fears and regrets that arise from it. At a time when the pilot light feels like it may finally be dying out and the uphill struggle in an effort to keep it aflame, Linklater shows us the deepest abysses of love as well as it’s highest heights, but never strays from the truth, the tough truth of how things are and the general consistency in how it takes it’s forms. Before Midnight is not afraid to show the horrors of how a bad circumstance can burn love to death, but not from wild and naive roots, but from a place that shocks us far, far more, because of how we know we may have to face it one day, and how likely it is for us to meet it. There’s something magical about every film that comes along because of the character progression, where it slowly turns from emotion to logic and the subjects of conversation are changed dramatically through that. Linklater’s ability to keep the idea fresh and pertinent for three films is incredible and a wonderful achievement on not only his part, but on Hawke and Delpy’s as well for helping to write the script.
I enjoy that these films don’t need to go to fantastic locations all of the time (especially so in the later ones), and can get by on one running scene filled with an incredible conversation on one particular part of their circumstances, aspirations for the future or past lives. The chemistry has been building and building since the beginning and it culminates in a fantastic display here of true authenticity, Jesse and Celine’s situation feels so real that there’s a state of awkwardness and horror in how the events play out, and their dialogue together. I remain truly shocked by the immersion that both of the actors instill in me, and while I may not be able to relate personally to most of the situations that they are facing, I understand their plight and their growing wisdom in a way that is immeasurably helpful to the idea of love and commitment, and one that I imagine most people would be the better for having seen.
This film is not like the others, it is similar, but at the same time incredibly different altogether. I love each part for it’s faithfulness to a stage of love, but I feel that Before Midnight may have been one of my favourites out of the three, if not my favourite. To see the interpretation of love through a matured mind and wise eyes makes this stand to be one of the best romantic films of all time, and to see it start from naive and love-struck beginnings makes it one of the best (if not the best) romantic film series of all times. For a long time I have been waiting for Before Midnight, and it delivered on a greater level than even I expected it to. This will likely be one of my favourites of the year, and for all veterans of love, I feel it would be a necessary viewing.