REVIEW: Before Midnight [2013]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 109 minutes | Release Date: May 24th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director(s): Richard Linklater
Writer(s): Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke

“To passing through”

With another nine years gone, true loves Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) return to the big screen to update us on romance and relationship struggles for their current, more cynically pragmatic time. Gone is the ability to shirk responsibilities on a whim and roam European with a cute twenty-something guy or girl. Gone is the normalcy of a career-building trajectory as a thirty-something to create a life hopefully in possession of the vitality necessary to endure. The now includes second-guessing, introspective regret, and an all-too prevalent desire to wonder what more lies ahead. The sun rose and set for this American and Parisian who were destined to spend one night together if not more. And as darkness rolls in with night falling, it’s inevitable to worry whether it was all a naïve mistake.

We all tirelessly work to find that singular idealized soul mate before acknowledging the concept itself is fundamentally flawed. We are individuals—especially now in the twenty-first century—with a wealth of information and opportunity at our fingertips. Those lucky enough to stay together have suddenly become the minority as luck is proven to be less of a friend than enemy. Relationships are hard work full of compromise, sacrifice, and suffering as much or more than love, compassion, and fulfillment. To believe you’ve found someone to share all your shortcomings and annoying habits with sans conflict only shows how much you have to learn. We can find that person, spend the most amazing evening of our life with him/her, decide to take the plunge towards marriage and children, and still end up abjectly alone.

Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is unique to its predecessors because it is the first installment to portray Celine and Jesse as a bona fide couple. We’ve been caught within their chase—that honeymoon period where neither can do wrong as lust and love grow more powerful by the minute. To walk Vienna in Before Sunrise was a random chance encounter leading to an evening of intellectual and sensual passion they would never recreate. To reconnect in Before Sunset was their subconscious refusal to let fate once more decide their future. Whatever constraints they built in the nine years between quickly melted away in a selfish yearning to be as happy as they were that first night. But starting over doesn’t occur without consequence and fantasy can never remain absolutely pure.

So we watch Jesse struggle to say goodbye to his now teenage son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick)—the collateral damage of a loveless marriage’s divorce—after their summer vacation abroad in Greece. We learn the boy’s mother wrested away control when his father and Celine moved to Paris for their twin girls’ birth (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior) as well as the resulting pain. With Jesse now on his fourth novel and Celine still trying to save the world, Hank is but one issue in their seemingly happily ever after despite what their playfully sardonic conversation driving back from the airport may otherwise assume. With one more night in Greece themselves, appearances continue to hold up as he engages their literary hosts and she helps prepare their final feast of couples waxing poetically about the evolution of love.

Beneath this surface of laughter and intellectual stimulation, however, lives a lingering question inferred by Jesse that holds the potential to grow into a catalyst for the couple’s end. Watching his son leave had conjured the usual remorse-tinged emotions, but this time they were accompanied by a notion of discovering a solution to become closer. It’s a hypothetical masking a deep-seeded feeling that Celine quickly sees through, knowing he’s really asking, “Can we move to Chicago?” Being the smitten couple of independents they are that cherish each other as much as their union, the topic is glossed over until an outburst at dinner increases tension. The dark seeds of conflict are planted and the flower of destruction sprouts into a monster once the two are alone from the social constraints of popular perception.

The dynamic between the public and personal becomes an intense juxtaposition once Celine and Jesse are removed from their new acquaintances. Adding extra characters is itself an oddity for the series, but its ability to show us a multi-generational outlook helps flesh out what follows. Words from host Patrick (Walter Lassally) and his equally aged friend Natalia (Xenia Kalogeropoulou) describe love lost; Stefanos (Panos Koronis) and Ariadni (Athina Rachel Tsangari) amicable marriage; and young Achilleas (Yiannis Papadopoulos) and Anna (Ariane Labed) the clinical outlook of living in the present without any anticipated longevity. We’ve seen Celine and Jesse live through the latter to the point of currently existing stuck between the former two. The question remains, however, whether their losing each other’s love will occur through death or disinterest.

A post-dinner walk to a hotel room given as a gift—their first time alone since their daughters’ birth—shows how well they still click, but such things are no match for the importance of figuring out what a continued lifetime together will mean. What transpires is an impossibly authentic sequence of sex, memory, insecurities, and argument that digs deep into the struggles wrought by union until a breaking point arrives to threaten everything. Hawke and Delpy are utterly riveting as they air their equally justified grievances soaked in passive aggressiveness, sarcasm, and snidely constructed verbal assaults. For some love can only truly be calculated in these very moments of release—with an exit staring us in the face if we’re willing to walk through. Our decision in that crucial instance means everything.

We don’t know if they’ve reached this point before, but we can be comfortable guessing they’ll get there again if they last. This is passion, good and bad. Rational versus irrational, emotional versus unemotional—the roles we play constantly in flux as we take turns pushing selfish desire aside to watch our communal whole flourish. We all need an outlet and a say and sometimes the process of letting the other know is explosively volatile. It was foreshadowed when Celine admitted how painful reading Jesse’s first book was in Before Sunset, letting her guard down to speak the kind of truth epitomized in Before Midnight’s final thirty minutes. Many could argue the inherent crazed lunacy of this release is love incarnate and whether Celine and Jesse survive the carnage or not, nobody can say they weren’t completely and truly in love.

[1] Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[2] Left to Right: Panos Koronis as Stefanos and Athina Rachel Tsangari as Ariadni
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[3] Ariane Labed as Anna
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.