Ten Word or Less Review : Best trilogy ever, that doesn’t involve lasers.
I know you won’t believe me but Man of Steel and Before Midnight have very similar endings. The movie with the guy in the red cape culminates with Supes and Zod knocking the shit out of each other for about half an hour until every building in their path has been flattened. This movie with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy culminates with the two of them knocking down the walls of their relationship until the house that is their marriage has been nearly destroyed. The movie with the married couple in a hotel room proves to be far more effective in its portrayal of destruction than the movie with all the buildings falling down.
For those of you who haven’t kept up, Before Midnight marks our third visit into the relationship of American writer Jesse and French activist Celine. The two met for one amazing night in Vienna 18 years ago. The first movie, Before Sunrise, quietly achieved one of the great cliffhanger endings of movie history. After their evening together ends Jesse leaves to go back to America with a promise to return to the same train station in 6 months. The answer to their romantic question mark didn’t materialize until 9 years later in Before Sunset. That movie caught us up with two people who had tried with all their might to live and move on and forget each other but despite only one night together and 9 years apart, they immediately fell back into the same repour that pulled them together so long ago. This second story resonated with emotionally lost opportunities and the first pangs of genuine adult regret. And just like the first time we were left with a teasing cliffhanger and once again we’ve had to wait 9 years to find out what happened. Some thought Nina Simone would simply linger in the background forever.
Well, marriage and a set of twins happened. Before Midnight brings us back to Celine and Jesse during the final days of an extended Greek vacation. The movie starts with Jesse is saying goodbye to his son Hank who is going back to America after a summer with Dad. Jesse is riddled with parental remorse at not being a larger part of Hank’s life. After one too many crusader setbacks Celine is considering a major career overhaul and is afraid Jesse is trying to relocate the family to America through passive aggressive suggestion so that he can be close to Hank. Though no fireworks start shooting off in the beginning the groundwork for conflict is being laid. The rest of the afternoon plays out with a friendly dinner among fine friends and conversation and then Before Midnight returns us to the easy give and take that made us like these people 18 years ago. “How long as it been since we just bullshited?” It’s a throw away line from Hawke that says so much about the state of their relationship as the two slowly stroll off to a hotel for the evening.
When the two of them settle in for a romantic night away from kids, the situation quickly spirals into an argument of epic proportions in which the nature of their relationship isn’t so much dissected as ravenously torn apart and the audience is left dazed in the wake of their conflict. Has Jesse become indifferent to Celine? Is he taking advantage of her? Does he really want to move to America and wreck the marriage the two have built? Do they love each other anymore? Has the monotony and routine of married existence eroded their relationship down to the nub? It’s the kind of knockdown, drag out battle between people that leaves the audience aghast and devastated. So much so because we’ve spent years contemplating these characters and building them in our minds that to see them turn things into an ugly, bare knuckle brawl is almost hurtful. It’s a fearless, dangerous and honest place to take a story which to date has felt otherwise emotionally pleasing.
Midnight and it’s precursors stand as an example of unique creative chemistry between its stars and director, Richard Linklater. Linklater has helmed all three movies with the screenplay for the last two being written by himself and stars Delpy and Hawke. This kind of creative union has yielded commendable results. Who better to write for these characters than the actors playing them? Each film stands as a small statement to the age of not only the characters but the audience watching them. The three movies are also a fine example of the visually less is more aesthetic. There probably aren’t more than 50 camera setups between all three movies but each time Linklater gets more emotional traction from his performers than the last. In a cinematic world obsessed with billion dollar trilogies and series of films which never end Linklater’s no budget trilogy can claim to be one of the more unique cinematic accomplishments of the last two decades.
Before Midnight doesn’t leave us dangling on a cliffhanger this time so much as imply a tectonic shift has occurred between the couple. Where these characters go from here will once again be a matter of audience debate and speculation. To not revisit them again in nine years would seem like someone vital not showing up for a family reunion. Celine and Jesse will be 50 then. Entrenched in middle age. Their kids will have grown up. I think there’s a chance they are no longer married. Maybe health will have started to become an issue for one of them. Will the story be set during a funeral? A wedding? Something as simple as dinner. Who’s to know? In no instance during this series of films were the outcomes predictable or foretold and I find that thought endlessly refreshing. See you in 9 years guys. You better show up.