It usually takes me a little while to get around to reviewing a movie after watching it, but I’m making an exception for Before Midnight, the third and final installment in Richard Linklater’s brilliant 20-year trilogy. Continuing the story of its predecessors, 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset, this one follows Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters Jesse and Celine on a holiday in Greece, which not only provides closure after the cliffhanger ending in the second film, but also brings us up-to-date with what has happened to them and their relationship over the past decade (which I won’t spoil here).
I loved the first two films and of course I loved this one too. Hawke and Delpy, both of whom worked on the screenplay with Linklater, are just the best on-screen couple ever. The chemistry between them was amazing 20 years ago and remains amazing now, but it’s also evolved and matured as they’ve aged. As a result, their interactions feel so genuine and so full of raw emotion that when watching the film I often forgot they are not a couple in real life.
The astounding thing about the Before trilogy is that every film is similar on paper but completely different in terms of themes and emotional impact. All three about the relationship of Jesse and Celine. They are all dominated by conversation about love and life, sometimes about deep things, sometimes about trivial things, but always traversing engaging topics. They are each set in a different city (Vienna, Paris, and now the Peloponnese in Greece) and feature long walks that show off their beautiful scenery.
Before Sunrise, however, was magical love story about two young people making a real connection, whereas Before Sunset, which I thought was even better, was all about the pain of missed opportunities and wondering what could have been. On the other hand, Before Midnight (which many have mistaken for a horror film title, by the way), is about the harsh, and often heartbreaking realities of what happens after the happily ever after, and asks us whether the struggles and disagreements and sacrifice are, perhaps, what true love is ultimately all about.
In many ways, Before Midnight is the by far the most cynical of the three, but it is also the most down to earth. As beautiful as their one night in Vienna was 20 years ago, a relationship cannot just be about one night. There are countless forces working against couples in the real world, from children, to ex-partners, to work, and so forth, not to mention that the nature of the relationship itself can change drastically over time. It may have felt at one stage that Jesse and Celine were meant to be together forever, but after all this time, are they still truly in love? Are they still passionate about each other? And what is the nature of that love, that passion? That is what the film explores, and it does so with incredible direction, performances and dialogue.
One of the opening sequences, a 12-minute, single-take conversation between Jesse and Celine as they drive past the beautiful Greek countryside, is a perfect illustration of why this trilogy is so special. Another one of my favourite scenes (apart from the climatic and perfect ending) has Jesse telling the other men staying with him at the Greek villa the contents of his novels, which evoke clever parallels with the film trilogy. Unfortunately, Before Midnight inexplicably missed out on the Golden Globes completely apart from a single nomination to Delpy, and it will be interesting to see if it gets any nods at the upcoming Oscars.
Granted, Before Midnight will not be everyone’s cup of tea. While it is occasionally funny, it is at times also difficult to watch. People who haven’t seen the first two films will definitely not appreciate it as much because they don’t know the characters as well (which is why you should definitely see them in chronological order), and could find some of the conversations bordering on pretentious or unnecessarily sexualized. But if you were caught up in the magic, like I have been since Before Sunrise, you’ll understand who these flawed people are and appreciate that you are watching the memorable conclusion to what is without a doubt one of the best — if not the best — dramatic trilogies of all time.
4.5 stars out of 5