We’ve seen the beginning. Are we seeing the end? 18 years after we first saw Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) fall in love and nine years after they rekindled their longing for one another, we get another glimpse into the lives of these no-longer young soul-mates in Richard Linklater’s latest installment in the ‘Before’ series (Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)).
As in the two previous stories, the location is a key character in the plot. In Before Sunrise, they searched for meaning through the streets of Vienna. In Before Sunset, the two discussed romantic ideas involving their lives, their love, and what could’ve been theirs in Paris. Now they are on a family holiday in a place known for tragedy: Greece.
In true resemblance of a Greek tragedy, Jesse and Celine play the protagonists whose ultimate downfall is the personal characteristics that they can no longer withstand. Their individual qualities of adventure, spontaneity, and romanticism are still a part of their lives, but their romantic decisions now have very real consequences.
Over the past nine years, the young couple has lost the time and ability to communicate. They still have romantic, idealistic thoughts, but no longer vocalize them to each other. Celine feels trapped as a mother, while Jesse still travels, writes, and walks for hours. Celine knows herself all too well and never wanted to go to Greece given the country’s history of heartbreak. She saw this fight coming and didn’t want it to occur. She knew they would once again have time alone, only this time the two would exchange resentment over their current life’s resentments rather than their normal existential reflection.
The differences between the first two films and the latest are quite apparent. The first films included very little communication with outside parties. For the first time, there now involves an ensemble, with a considerable portion of the film showing the duo discussing their ideas and dreams to others. Another contrast is the role technology plays in their daily lives and how being perpetually plugged in has left no room for spontaneity. Cell phones ring when they’re in the throes of passion. Young couples are able to Skype daily.
The starkest difference between the first two films, and the latest, is what you feel throughout. In all three you wonder whether they will get together at the end. In the first two, we wonder if reality will allow a love-struck couple exploring cities, ideas, and each other to stay together. In this film, we wonder if love will brave the reality that has become scheduling, chauffeuring and laundering. Late in film, the two are confined to a tiny hotel room alone. The two pass the time exposing, posturing, and attacking one another. It’s a fight without weapons, but still cuts at your soul.
They’ve individually realized their downfalls – Celine knew she wouldn’t be a good mother; Jesse would never grow up – yet we are spared affirmation that their love and history can conquer their downfalls. As in the first two, we are left without answers. Depending on how rose colored your glasses are will determine whether Jesse and Celine sort everything out.
My first reaction after the film was how negatively Celine was portrayed time and again during their verbal spats. However, after further reflection, I feel as though Celine should be allowed this much animosity to her current situation. She is no longer able to cope with her routine life. The steamiest, most exhilarating part of her life are forever memorialized in Jesse’s writing and is reminded of it every time a fan gushes to Jesse on the street. It makes her feel as if she has no future – no purpose.
Overall, Before Midnight stays true to its material. We now have affirmation that their earlier passion for life and each other was so pure. In Before Midnight, the audience sees that their relationship is mortal. Whether their love and affection for one another pushes them towards their next adventure in life is another story, hopefully a story that will be told in another nine years.