Film Reviews

Before Midnight Richard Linklater

Rating - 8/10

Now in its third decade, Richard Linklater's Before series distills the essence of romantic experiences and suspends them in time, much like the episodes of Ingmar Bergman's chamber play-turned-television serial, Scenes from a Marriage (1973). The strolls through various cities compress several years of lives into ninety-ish-minute intervals to toast possibility and reminiscence.  The first film, Before Sunrise, released in 1995, revealed itself to be a romance of seemingly infinite potential between two twentysomethings; Before Sunset, the reunion in 2004, was a tribute to memory and its haunting, distorting possessiveness.  In Before Midnight, the most confrontational entry yet, the dream is dying; the struggles of reality, aging, and mid-life are looming.  Parental and professional responsibilities tug the couple between separate places.  That's exactly how the film opens, with an emotional goodbye at the Kalamata International Airport in Greece between father Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and soon-to-be high school freshman son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) from a prior relationship.  As Hank flies out of one life and into another, so does Jesse with the camera in tow, panning around a corner to his now-long-time girlfriend Cèline (Julie Delpy) and their sleeping twin daughters in the backseat of the car.  The ensuing title sequence still possesses a dreamlike quality in a subtle montage, especially paired with a gentle piano score, but the appearance of the title card, Before Midnight, triggers not just the recognition of a celestial clock but the advancement of solar time and the dwindling sense of time beyond romance.  Abandoning the idealized yearning, the film's couple has established a routine, as the projection of the ideal relationship has now been transferred to aspirations and other family.  For Cèline, it's a well-respected governmental job in Europe.  In Jesse's case, it's being a consistent presence for his son in Chicago.  "If I miss these years (of Hank's life), they're never coming back," he laments.  "This is how people break up," Cèline replies, half-jokingly.  This car ride reveals another distillation in the film series that has come to be built upon them- a micro version and foreshadowing of a later feud regarding identity and sustaining repletion.

As Jesse and Cèline stop after a drive, they traverse on foot to the lavish property of a prominent writer Patrick Fermor (Walter Lassally) on the Peloponnese peninsula with a few other couples in different stages of life.  Prior to a communal dinner, Jesse converses with fellow writers on this retreat about ideas for a story compilation concerning people with brain abnormalities, and he ultimately concludes that it's a book that will primarily deal with perception.  Linklater uses this discussion as a springboard into altering audiences' perceptions of the Before series itself.  The two prior entries feel like exclusively intimate conversations between the two lovers.  In Midnight, the former half of the film almost threatens to break off into a separate entity beyond the conventional boundaries with a focus on group conversation rather than the intimacy of one-on-one.  However, as this trip to Greece is a detour in their lives, it simultaneously serves to reinvigorate their lives and redefine the series.  It distances the film from Sunrise and Sunset, which also somewhat distracts it from its pure origin of focus.  Midnight is ultimately about the distractions that have pulled Jesse and Cèline away from their passionate love for one other; in examining the film from that angle, the film does promise to play out similarly to its immediate predecessor.  The scene at the jetty preceding their promenade to the complementary hotel where they sit to watch the sunset is loaded with an inexplicable emotion, chronically synchronizing and suspending a stage of their lives.  The period before sunset finally passes, and the film Before Sunset could be, in a sense, linked to all the cinematic minutes prior to this scene.  Even though this film is titled Before Midnight, it doesn't advance to the twilight hours until its final third.  Heading towards the mesonoxian hour in a confined space, an intensified conflict of misgivings naturally emerges.

The concluding portion of the film reinforces the engaging multidimensional character development of not just this film but of the last 250 minutes of cinematic time or eighteen years in the lives of the couple.  As a sterile, private, and strictly modern environment, the hotel room is symbolically the antithesis of pure romanticism, sense of civilization, and breathtaking views in the streets of Vienna (Sunrise), Paris (Sunset), and private locale in Messenia, Greece.  Jesse and Cèline are no longer afforded the luxury of an open environment to subconsciously invest their sanguine sentiments; instead, a claustrophobic negativity spills out uncontrollably.  During this sequence, Linklater assumes a position that is empathetic with each of his characters; as the dialogue was written by the director and the two actors, it comes across naturally with both a biting sarcastic tongue and general affection.  All three of these films, while meticulously scripted, feel rather effortless, because they harness a unique energy and chemistry between those with a passion for life.  Still the focal point, conversation in Midnight, just like its predecessors, can be seen as a kind of rousing therapy.  Through Jesse and Cèline's talks, the contradictions of their lives are steadily revealed; the forces of motivation also threaten to isolate them from their most beloved.  In the final throes of argument, the film veers toward dismissing or mocking Cèline's fatalist sense of control and the inherent incongruity in her own feminist fairy tale, but the concluding shots refer to a wine toast prompted during the evening's dinner by Natalia (Xenia Kalogeropoulou), one of Patrick's guests: "We appear, and we disappear, and are so important to some, but we are just passing through."  Midnight is configured with a light resolve and the perseverance of people so in love it has afforded them the means to share transportive moments that initially characterized their magical meeting.  Eighteen years ago, in Sunrise, to coerce Cèline to step off the train with him in Vienna, Jesse framed a hypothetical scenario: "Think of this as time travel, from then (twenty years), to now, to find out what you're missing out on."  In cinematic time, critical moments may have been missed, but the way Before Midnight continues to encapsulate time of the human experience is unparalleled.