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Before Midnight Beautifully Caps Trilogy Capturing Life, Love

  • Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2013 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
<i>Before Midnight</i> Beautifully Caps Trilogy Capturing Life, Love

Editor's Note: This review and our Cautions section contain frank descriptions of relational intimacy and sexuality. This film and this review are not intended for a young audience.

DVD Release Date: October 22, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: May 24, 2013 NY/LA; June 14 wide
Rating: Rated R (for sexual content, nudity, and strong language throughout)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 108 min
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

The trio of Before films are the most improbable movie trilogy of all time – and what a cinematic treasure it has become.

In 1995, Before Sunrise was a low-budget Sundance sensation about two twenty-something strangers meeting on a train in Europe. They spend the day and night together in Vienna and fall in love. The film ends with a beautifully unresolved "will they or won't they meet again" bit of tonal poetry.

Much to fans' surprise (and even fears), nine years later a sequel was released. 2004's Before Sunset not only saw Jesse (Ethan HawkeThe Purgeand Celine (Julie Delpy, The Air I Breathe) meet once again – this time on the streets of Paris for another one-day reconnection – but it also assuaged all worries that the first film’s perfect romantic kismet would be ruined. If anything, Sunset proved deeper and richer than Sunrise.

The success of the second led to hopes for a third. And now, nine years later again, those hopes have been realized as we find Jesse and Celine together in Before Midnight. If the first film was about the exciting romance of youth, and the second about young adulthood’s melancholic mix of romance and responsibility, the third is about the regret of choices made and not made, decisions that can’t be changed and are painful to deal with but must be. Love is still at the center but now so much more life has been lived, and consequences can be Love’s kryptonite.

Before Midnight finds Jesse and Celine spending a day among the beauty of rural, coastal Greece. The last time we saw them, Before Sunset was ending on yet another (beautifully) unresolved note about their relationship, such that the big question coming into this one was whether they’d spent the last nine years together or apart.

While that question is answered within the first ten minutes, discovering the answer is a superbly executed revelation for the viewer, so I won’t spoil it here, especially as it is equal parts subtle and dramatic. Indeed, fans of the first two films looking to maximize the emotional impact of this outing would best be served to avoid spoilers at all costs.

The basic premise, however, is the same: a lot of free-flowing, emotionally candid, and philosophically fascinating conversation between two people who love each other as they walk, sit, drive, and eat their way through the beautiful Mediterranean countryside. Yet while the first two films focused solely on Jesse and Celine's intimate bubble, Before Midnight includes some group conversation, with one at great length.

After a long drive that re-acclimates us to our beloved couple (now in their early 40s), Jesse and Celine share a community meal with good friends ranging in age from elderly to peers to a young college-age pair still fresh in the throes of love.

It's an inspired expansion to this series' dialogue on love to bring in perspectives from across generations and experiences, and to show how social media has changed the way connection happens and is maintained. Filled with laughter, insight, disagreements, and wisdom, the community meal is a truly great scene.

The film then shifts back to Jesse and Celine, off by themselves again, fondly reminiscing, still flirting, reflecting, and sharing their questions and doubts. By nature of their age and passage of time, there's more depth and conflict to their discussion, such as the ramifications of having married someone you're not in love with, of having settled.... thoughts on connection, disconnection, and the transitory nature of things... how love is defined by feeling safe and complete yet the desire for it to be tangible and eternal is constantly tested by a life that is too often ephemeral. And that no matter how deep love is, there are just some things – and responsibilities – that love can’t change.

This all leads to a final act that has two things the previous films have not included: a love scene, and a gut-wrenching fight. That both happen in one extended sequence – dramatically swinging from the extremes of one to the other – makes it all the more visceral, and real. For as heartbreaking as it is to watch, it’s also necessary (although Delpy’s extended topless nudity throughout much of it will make the moment even more uncomfortable for some, despite the realism it reflects).

It's a fight that needs to happen, with things that need to be said, even in the throes of passion. It's the film's way of saying that this, too, is what love looks like – an expression of honesty that challenges the love itself. It also elevates the locale of Greece and its architectural ruins from that of a nice scenic landscape to intentional metaphor.

The cumulative power of this scene and all those that lead up to it is the idea of how vital it is for couples to talk: to talk often, and about everything; not just chit-chat but deep discussion, even the times it causes tension, doubt, and fear. The intimate need of sharing what's truly on your mind – from the most random notion to the most personal belief – is the value of, as Jesse puts it, "hearing the other person think." And that’s the value of this film, and this trilogy.

Before Midnight has a clearer resolve than its predecessors, but not before walking a tightrope with an agile grace that defies the authentic gravity it actually maintains; it is, in itself, a small miracle. But then so is the film, which requires the greatest degree of difficulty in the series with the depths of emotional, circumstantial, and relational complexity it explores. Richard Linklater's Before films haven't just told a great story; they've captured life.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoliers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Wine is consumed in a couple scenes, mostly by a group around a table over an afternoon lunch. No drunkenness. Some characters smoke cigarettes.
  • Language/Profanity: Profanity is common throughout, delivered both casually and angrily. All profanities are used, which at times also include sexually coarse slang references and name-calling, some expressed loudly in anger.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Some kissing on occasion throughout, but the climactic scene in a hotel room has the beginning stages of sex – kissing, toplessness, breasts being kissed and touched. An argument ensues before full consummation, but the female toplessness does continue through a good portion of the fight. Earlier in the film, there’s a brief moment of two people mimicking a crude mouth gesture. Other verbal references to sex acts are made.
  • Violence/Other: No physical violence. Due to the commonality of divorce, a sadly practical and dispassionate perspective on the shelf-life of marriage is shared.

Publication date: June 13, 2014