A Modern Classic and Installment of the Trilogy that Defines Love for a Generation


There’s a scene in Before Midnight where Jesse and Celine are walking in the middle of a beautiful downtown area of a Greek city talking about the problems of life. Celine tells Jesse of a friend she knew who was told he had cancer and only had six months left to live. He told her it was the most carefree he had ever felt. He know longer had to worry about bills or responsibilities. All of the problems of life were gone because he was dying soon. After Celine finishes, Jesse immediately asks, even though he was told he had terminal cancer, “is he okay?” To which Celine reminds him he had terminal cancer and is long dead. That conversation signifies the hope we feel for characters we fall in love with in stories (in this case, movies) and the blind faith that everything will be ok. Even though we know in the real world, things rarely end up ok.

Before Midnight continues a world that we only get glimpses of and a relationship we last faded away from without knowing an outcome. While Sunrise explored how you fall in love and Sunset was about how you fix mistakes you made in your past, Before Midnight explores the ultimate theme we all deal with, and Hollywood rarely addresses, how do you keep your relationships together?

Midnight isn’t always the easiest movie to watch, but that’s because love isn’t always the easiest thing to experience. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater are more interested in being honest than entertaining. And yet, all three of the movies in this series have been undeniably entertaining.

Even though Before Sunset is still my favorite in the trilogy, Midnight is the most important. And the movie really hurts to watch. To watch a love that reached across countries, across time and across life’s problems should end in happily-ever-after. But what happens when it doesn’t? Not being able to be with the one you love hurts and it causes unhappiness, but being with the person you are meant to be with, and still being unhappy, is just depressing.

In Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine are now a couple living together (though not married, as they are holding onto their youth rebellious spirit still, if even just a little). They have two beautiful twin daughters. The “plot” of the movie consists of their vacation to a Greek beachside home for a mini work/pleasure vacation. The exotic land has seemed to have rush back old feelings and memories between the two, and conversation ensues. Like the first two films, lots of conversation.

This conversation though, continues along the two most real characters in any film franchise in film today. Whenever I watch another movie starring either of these actors, it’s Jesse and Celine playing the roles, not Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Hawke and Delpy put so much of themselves into the roles. They help write the characters, write the dialogue and put their own emotions into the roles. There is a lot of director Richard Linklater in the characters also.

When Before Sunset came out, I told everyone the movie spoke to me and my relationships. But the more I read from other critics, I realize it speaks to everyone who has ever been in love. A movie I feel was made just for me, was actually made for everyone. It’s just that great movies, and this is truly a great trilogy, have the ability to speak to the viewer individually along with appealing to masses. Before Midnight is not just part of a great trilogy though, it stands on its own as a great movie. Before Midnight deconstructs a lot of what Before Sunset presented. In Sunset, they talked about the problems they had with their loved ones. The viewer just assumed they were with the wrong person, but in Midnight, you now see they have these same issues with each other. It’s them, not the relationships. And the movie asks questions about romanticism and progressive viewpoints. If you have a romantic vision of love and put that love over the normal, patriarchal ideas of family, it may lead to more excitement, but is it sustainable?

Kicking off the third act, Jesse and Celine enter a hotel room given to them as a gift. All of the memories in the movie now turn to emotions, and it’s not pretty. The emotions in this trilogy have gone from one extreme to another. The series has sent you from the undying love of Casablanca to the pettiness and hatred of Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Are these characters doomed? Or are they just involved in a more realistic, less romantic form of love? I do not know. When you see the movie, you can let me know. You can also let the characters know, as I don’t think they have the answers either. You can also let Linklater know, as he seems as clueless as we are. These questions are over everyone’s heads, including and especially the filmmakers in charge.

In a recent issue of Film Comment magazine, an author pointed out that from all of the auteur directors of the 90’s, some have quit films (Kevin Smith and Steven Soderberg), some have lost is completely (M Night Shyamalan and Robert Rodriguez) and even Quentin Tarantino is making movies, though quite excellent, are stuck in a form of arrested development from his juvenile tastes in exploitation movies. Linklater and co. are making movies about growing older, as they grow older, with their characters growing older. And having that voice in film today is a treasure. So where do we go from here? I don’t think anyone knows, but hopefully we will find out in another 10 years.