I suppose it’s apt that 1995’s Before Sunrise begins with the sound of a middle-aged couple’s petty bickering, much to the chagrin of the other passengers sharing the same train car with said couple. Of course, two of the other passengers on this train were Celine and Jesse, the romantic leads of that film as well as 2004’s Before Sunset and now Before Midnight. It seems that things have now come full circle, as Celine and Jesse now bear more resemblance to that middle-aged couple on the train, rather than the star-crossed lovers that they were nearly twenty years ago. And yet there’s still something very charming and deeply compelling about these characters who are at the center of what has shaped up to be a pretty fantastic trilogy.
In the wake of the somewhat cliffhanger-y ending of Before Sunset, we quickly find out in Before Midnight that Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are now married with two daughters. The film finds them in their early forties, and enjoying a quiet vacation off the coast of Greece. As you could probably guess from the way Before Sunrise and Before Sunset unfold, this latest film is more or less a series of conversations, a lot of which concern Celine and Jesse’s regrets over missed opportunities and years gone by, in addition to them contemplating the future of their relationship, and whether it’s truly meant to last.
Unlike the first two movies, Before Midnight is not about two people falling in love, and thus is far less wistfully romantic, as it often exposes the faults and hypocrisies of these characters. I’ll admit that this more acidic side of these characters can be a bit tough to watch, considering Celine and Jesse have always been one those great screen couples that you can’t help but root for. But director Richard Linklater and stars/co-writers Delpy and Hawke know just as well as any of us that love can grow cold over the years, and there’s a considerable amount of wisdom to the way the film deals with the idea of fairytale romance vs. the constraints of modern marriage.
I think what makes Before Midnight a considerably more thought-provoking film than its predecessors is how completely wrapped in ambiguities it is. Yes, we see Celine and Jesse bicker with each other quite a bit, and yet we also see them engaged in the kind of whip-smart conversations that caused them to fall in love in the first place. And man, do I still love hearing the kind of dialogue that this series pulls off so well. There’s a natural looseness to it that almost feels improvised, but couldn’t possibly be since it’s so full of profound observations, while every sentence that comes out of these characters’ mouths is practically overflowing with subtext.
Considering the way the film ends, it’s hard to say with any certainty what the future will hold for Celine and Jesse. But there’s still an undeniable spark between the two of them, and there undoubtedly seems to be that same spark between Linklater, Delpy, Hawke and this subject matter, as these movies are turning out to be one of the more fruitful ventures of any of their respective careers. I guess we’ll just have to wait until 2022 to see if they can keep this miraculous hot streak going.