Before Midnight (2013)
Well if that just isn’t the best trilogy I’ve ever seen.
Before Midnight picks up nine years after we last caught up with Jesse and Celine. Celine’s thinking of taking a new job at an environmental agency and Jesse’s a bonafide man of letters with a new novel on the way. Oh, and they’re also now parents to two adorable twin girls. That’s right, folks. Turns out things went pretty well for these two after Jesse missed his flight in Paris; so well, in, fact that he ended his failing marriage to start his new family in Europe. To his credit, he still spends summers with his son from the failed marriage and they have a pretty great relationship considering. Still, his regrets are deep over not being there for him during these formative teenage years. So, as Jesse and Celine spend some much-needed vacation time, the strength of their relationship is put to the test as their wants and needs come to a head.
I don’t know why it took me so long to get acquainted, but it wasn’t until last month that I finally decided to meet these two. Fashionably late as usual, but, as you can see, they made quite the impression. On that note, I’m thinking a foreword is probably in order for those just getting the invite. First off, you owe it to yourself to make an introduction. By all means, consider this your mutual connection, because for all of you out there who are strangers to these two, it’s hard to say what kind of purpose this review will serve. Not that Before Midnight isn’t phenomenal in its own right and couldn’t be enjoyed as a stand-alone entry, but anyone will tell you that it’s hard imagine Midnight without Sunrise and Sunset.
As for why that is, well, the thing about these three movies is the way they complement one another. It was a simple formula to begin with – simple as could be, really – and it really hasn’t changed in the slightest. It’s one boy and one girl talking about life, love and what have you for two hours, only this time they’re a little older. Might not sound like movie magic to the uninitiated, it might even sound downright boring for all you swingin’ singles out there. I’ll even agree, because with someone else steering the ship and a different cast in the spotlight, this formula wouldn’t work as well as it does. With the Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy running things ? Well, there’s the catch.
Once again, Jesse and Celine are the most non-fictional fictional characters you’ll ever meet, characters you half-expect to break through the fourth wall and ask for your thoughts on Tolstoy as they top off your glass of wine. It’s all part of Linklater’s rambling, colloquial writing style that’s been honed down to a science and the natural, effortless rapport between Hawke and Delpy that makes you wonder if there’s even a script at all. Oh yes, it’s still harder than ever to determine where the credit is due, but it’s one hell of a problem to have, one that’s always made these movies so special for18 years.
It’s also that simple, instant and unforgettable connection between Jesse and Celine that makes them so easy to connect with in turn. By the time they got off that train in 1995; from that moment he saw her in that Paris bookshop; when he walks out of the airport to find her leaning against the car – every encounter’s more magnetic than the last. Never have I been so eager to sit there like a fly on the wall listening to two people talk about life, love and what have you. With each time I left them, I found myself counting down the days until our next encounter, wondering incessantly about what they’re up to now. It’s not all that different from meeting Arthur Agee and William Gates for the first time, mainly because A) they’re likable as all hell, and B) they’re easy to relate to on an inherently human level.
Whereas Sunrise was about meeting your first love, Sunset was about rekindling old flames. As for Midnight, this one’s trying to keep the flame alive. You don’t need to have hands-on training to know these experiences are inevitable in life, and, with stories like these, relatability comes standard.
Now, I’ve only been married for a little over a year now, don’t have any kids and have a ways to go ’til 40. Nevertheless, I was still surprised by how much Midnight hit home. Don’t get me wrong, married life is tops and the thrill’s alive and kickin’, but there’s a point in this movie where things get pretty emotional and, good god, does it paint the picture. Believe it or not, boys and girls, but even the best of couples out there get in the occasional lovers’ quarrel, and if you’re wondering how it goes down then you can look no further. Still, as true-to-life as it is, it’s staggering to watch it play out.
Hell, this is Jesse and Celine we’re talking about, the two people who have been redeeming our faith in love for almost two-freaking-decades! Not only that, but a good 15 minutes before they lay it all out there, they’re sitting on a pier watching the sun go down like the adorable bastards that they are. It was at this point that I realized how long I’d been smiling, wondering to myself why there aren’t enough stories like this in the world, stories where two people can just be happy together without throwing down the gauntlet. I guess that’s why I was so taken aback some 15 minutes later when the gloves come off, but, once again, it manages to work.
I should probably point out that their fight could have been a whole lot worse than it ends up being, and it’s actually hard to stop smiling throughout, if only because of how ridiculously accurate it is. It’s also been a long time since we’ve caught up with these two and the last time we saw them and they were just beginning to show their true colors to one another. After all, there’s only so much you can learn about a person in two days’ time, so after nine years of living together, it makes sense that they’d be far more brutally open with one another. For a series that’s prided itself on this facade of reality it’s created, it’s only fitting to show the lows with the highs.
Ugh, I could go on. It’s just one of those movies.
Given that the human race will never run out of stories about life, love and what it is to be human, the point of this whole spiel is that, of all the ones I’ve heard, none have managed to capture them the way the Before trilogy always has. I know the whole “talking heads” thing isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time and it’s hard to say if this would convert them in the way Glengarry Glen Ross probably would. I’ll admit, there were even moments where I – the guy who gave this his first 10 of the year – caught myself drifting off during Jesse and Celine’s self-proclaimed “bullshit” sessions. And while Before Midnight is more of the same in many regards, compliments like that are hard to come by in this industry. It’s the funniest entry yet, it’s the most revealing entry as well and, like the first two entries before it, Before Midnight serves as a constant reminder of what little you need to tell a great, real story.
In just the short time that I’ve known them, having the opportunity to watch Jesse and Celine meet, reconnect and grow old together has been rewarding in ways that almost make me feel grateful. It’s the things they talk about, the way they talk about them and the way I’ve seen my own experiences reflected time and time again in theirs. Their love for one another is as timeless and universal a thing as you’ll ever find and, unless we see Before Noon in nine years, I don’t imagine the magic between them ever being replicated.
Who knew lightning could be bottled this long?