Directed by Richard Linklater (Sony Pictures, 2013)
What might we learn if we could watch a relationship develop over a lifetime? Before Midnight, the third installment in director Richard Linklater’s series of films following the unexpected yet captivating relationship of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), explores just this question.
We were introduced to them in the 1995 film Before Sunrise. There a young American, Jesse, met Celine, a French student at the Sorbonne. Their chance meeting on a train led to a night of wandering the streets of Vienna, their conversations stretching from talk of romance to talk of God. It was easy to become inspired by them as they slowly fell in love.
Nine years later, in Before Sunset, Hawke and Delpy not only reprised their roles as Jesse and Celine but also cowrote the script. Watching that film one had the sense that the script required the accumulated life experiences of the intervening years. Their reunion was so thoughtfully conceived.
In Before Midnight we pick up with them vacationing in Greece nine years later with their two daughters. Yet something is different. It’s not simply that they have spent the last nine years together. Nor is it just that their lives have become complicated, with children, looming career changes, and the aftermath of Jesse’s divorce affecting their relationship with his son. Instead, underlying the conversations that make up this film is the question of whether a relationship can last.
That question is treated with far less hope than was present in the previous films. It is heartbreaking to watch this couple, once so enamored with each other, angrily exchange vicious words. Perhaps it’s brave to delve into such subjects, as life has its difficult chapters and drama is added to a possibly continuing series. However, Before Midnight lacks the first two films’ desire to inspire, and that seems like an unfortunate and unnecessary choice.
This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 8, page 42).