It would be wrong to look at Before Midnight without consideration towards Before Sunrise and Sunset. This trilogy, from the first film to the last, has literally matured and sophisticated as the central characters have, as they’ve got older.
SPOILERS We first meet Jesse (Ethen Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Before Sunrise as the pair begins talking on a train in Vienna in their late teens/early twenties. Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train and the two walk around the city until Sunrise. After an instant connection they decide to meet in exactly six months but refuse to exchange contact details as they would ‘fizzle out’ and never meet again. In Before Sunset Jesse is on a book tour as an established writer in Paris with a best seller that appears to be based on a familiar story of two people spontaneously wandering a city together agreeing to meet again in the future. When who should walk in, but Celine! Jesse has a flight to catch so the duo make the most of their time and escape to wander a city again in deep conversation. It transpires the Jesse did return to meet Celine after the initial 6 months but her Grandmother, whom we already know she was very close to fell ill and prevented Celine from going. As the evening wears on it transpires that Jesse is unhappily married with a son, who he adores. Celine is still single and later she reveals that until she read Jesse’s book she hadn’t realized that it has been her feelings towards Jesse that have left her single. After a heated discussion of what ifs Jesse drops Celine back to her apartment, she sings him song and it ends with her: ‘Baby, you’re going to miss your plane’ and him: ‘I Know’. This is a good time to point out that you really can’t have any of these films without the other but this was the most feel-good one out of the three.
In Before Midnight we re-group with the couple 9 years on from Paris so 18 years from when they first met. Jesse is dropping his son at a Greek airport, it’s obvious from their exchange that Jesse is sad to see Hank go and that Hank’s mum has a very clear and deep resentment towards Jesse. Hank gets on his plane and Jesse goes back to his car where Celine is waiting for him with their twin daughters. Conversation is exchanged in the car and Jesse explains that he wants to be a more consistent part in Hank’s life now he’s heading into High School. Unimpressed by this, Celine and Jesse spat over this as well as Celine’s latest career decision. They share a meal with friends and although romance is there, there are also some obvious underlying issues. Their friends have paid for them to have the night in a hotel room while they look after the kids, reluctant the pair make their way to the hotel room which involved a long picturesque walk through Greek ruins while the couple do what they do best and exchange conversation. We discover that the pair are not married contrary to what they’ve lead their children to believe. Once they arrive back at their hotel room what starts of as a sexy relaxed evening turns into all out war. They argue about everything kids, work, ex-wife, and affairs until Celine says she doesn’t know if she loves him anymore.
If you weren’t aware already these films are very much based on heavy exchanges of conversation seemingly inspired by a deep connection, which basically means these films are all very talky. It’s therefore understandable that with this film in particular it was nominated for best original screenplay. The best films you will ever watch are ones that are so real, you are equally surprised as you are impressed that they are scripted. This is one of those films; all three of them are but this one in particular purely because when Jesse and Celine break out into verbal warfare every single response is so realistic and filled with raw emotion. There is one criticism of the script/storyline. Throughout the film the couple constantly bicker, which seems appropriate under the assumption that this is what happens in marriage; naturally after spending so many years with someone, you may not argue so much but bickering is a fairly regular occurrence. The criticism is throughout the film from the bickering at the start in the car ride back from the airport, to the comments made at dinner to when battle commences in the hotel room- Celine seems crazy. Nearly everything they bicker and argue about she exacerbates; rather than respond rationally or even understandably when Jesse says one thing she interprets as something completely different.
A good example of this is when Jesse explains that he wants to be a more consistent part in Hank’s life which she immediately interprets as him saying he wants to move to Chicago which she is outraged about (despite him having to move to Paris to be with her). Then before they’ve finalized the dispute she says ‘we’re going to break-up’, ‘this is how people break-up’. This is not a fundamental comment on women as throughout all three films Celine is portrayed as passionately erratic. However it does appear that there is some sort of subliminal comment that this passionate eraticality is a whimsical part of Celine’s gender. Maybe as a woman, this seems like a self-conscious interpretation but if there are comments on gender here, in light of Celine, Jesse comes across as laid back (possibly too laid-back which is one of Celine’s main criticisms). Therefore out of the two Celine totally overshadows Jesse on the crazy scale by miles which really comes across that it’s not just about character but this is a portrayal of an age old primary argument that occurs between men & women so it’s impossible to not question Celine’s portrayal as a comment on women. Low and behold there are more men behind the writing team than women however, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were contributors to the writing process and who knows the characters better than the people who play them? So maybe there is some truth behind this obvious criticism of females, but you don’t have to agree with it or be happy about it.
That is my only criticism of this film. The first film is very talky and dialogue heavy, the second films is the most feel-good one that has a steady conversation pace, then the third is split into four. The car journey which is okay- bickering, the meal which is really nice as it’s a whole group of different people from different walks of life telling their stories of love and relationships. Part three is the walk to the hotel, which is exactly like the scenes of wandering around European cities in the first and second and then part four being the finale. Like it’s two predecessors, Before Midnight ends on a cliffhanger. The entire trilogy is well worth a watch and in turn this is one that shouldn’t be missed. Plus if you’re seeking sun this year Before Midnight is set in beautifully sunny & scenic Greece!