Rating: When this film is recognized at Oscar time, don’t be one of those movie fans who says, “Was it really that good?”;
The three interconnected movies done by Director Richard Linkliter and actors/co-writers Ethan Hawke and Judy Delpy over a period of 18 years represents one of the most meaningful trilogies ever to appear on the silver screen. Thoughtful, provocative and at times extremely funny, these films are nothing more than an honest exploration of a man and woman trying to make sense of a personal relationship that frequently doesn’t make sense.
I’ve seen several very good movies this year, but none better than Before Midnight. Here we see Celine and Jesse 18 years after they first met on a train in Vienna in Before Sunrise (1995). There we saw them making love and doing what they do best, talking, in a film that earned our threesome an Oscar nomination for the Best Adapted Screenplay.
In Before Sunset (2004), we see them meet 9 years later in Paris. Hawke’s Jesse is on a European book tour after writing a successful novel about how he and Celine never saw each other again after their time in Vienna. Making eye contact following his last presentation, the two wander together as Jesse had to decide whether he takes this moment to stay with his beloved Celine or board his plane to return to the States.
In Before Midnight, we now see them as a couple with twin daughters on a vacation in Greece. The film begins with Jesse putting his 14-year old son on a plane to return to his rather bitter ex-wife in Chicago, and Jesse is grief stricken over being forced to tell his son goodbye.
What emerges is the incredible strength of Mr. Linkliter’s films, namely an intensely appealing drama with only dialogue, no special effects. You have no super heroes or zombies, only two human beings trying to see if they can sustain a relationship and still be true to everything that they consider the core of the human spirit.
As noted, the discussions between Celine and Jesse, both endearing and argumentative, are just superb. The arguments are really nothing more than exchanges over the meaning of prior mistakes and transgressions when you are with someone who profoundly loves you.
As an example, our stars were dining with several people, including a young couple who weren’t married. The young girl casually predicted that despite her love for the young fellow, she also knew that their relationship would never last. With absolutely no anguish, she noted that regardless of how close they were to one another, they would eventually end up falling apart. All of the older people sitting around the table, including Celine and Jesse, looked at their spouses and tried not to say anything.
Celine and Jesse are both intelligent, extraordinarily strong-willed people with great strengths and weaknesses. As Jesse prods Celine about the possibility of moving back to Chicago where he could play a role in his son’s life, she responds that it doesn’t make sense if all they’re going to do is see him every other weekend.
Additionally, she points out to Jesse the ugly reality that all he was trying to do was foolishly relive the past where he missed his son’s developmental youth, a period that was long gone. In other words, if he felt guilty, then he was going to have to face that guilt and make the most of the years ahead.
Yet she was not without her own shortcomings. She foolishly didn’t understand the significance of receiving a call from Jesse’s son as he landed at various airports, only to conclude the call without giving Jesse a chance to speak. The second time this occurred, they were on the edge of making love, and her insensitivity lit a fuse that she should have clearly anticipated.
The allure of the film is found from the simple fact that the exchanges between Celine and Jesse reflected conversations that occur in any household where both spouses are working. As Jesse points out the difficulty of Celine not getting home until 6:30 every evening, she quickly responds, “It’s 6 p.m., darling.” I don’t know about you, but Monica and I have had that “darling” exchange in our home..
Watching Before Midnight end, we leave Jesse and Celine at a beautiful outdoor restaurant on the edge of the Mediterranean. As she wonders if she still loves him, he pretends to be a time traveler who has just left the future where he talked to her when she was 85 years of age. He tells Celine that he was instructed to tell her younger self that this would be an evening where they would have sex that would transcend the ages.
As Celine responded with an hysterical impersonation of an airheaded bimbo, something she has perfected, you leave them on the edge of ravenous enchantment as every viewer has over the last 18 years. I hope that I live another 9 years to see what happens to them in the future.