Before Midnight (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★
One would think that by stripping away some of the elements I admired most from its predecessors, “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” director Richard Linklater’s sublime portrait of two souls who met eighteen years ago would be less palatable. On the contrary, one might argue that “Before Midnight” is the most confident of them all, certainly the most mature, because it is able to break away from the expected and deliver more rewarding elements about the characters who we believe we already know.
An extensive fluid shot of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) strolling around a breathtaking European city while philosophizing, jesting, and yearning are gone. Instead, the picture is divided into five pieces: the airport, the ride to the market, the early dinner with their host and some friends, the walk to the hotel, and the big fight. Each scene builds on top of one another, the whole day of trial culminating in the last five minutes. When the camera begins to pull away from the couple, I knew it would not happen but I wished anyway that it would stay—even for only a minute more.
This is a work made for people who love to look at faces and carefully consider the thoughts behind them. Right away, we are thrusted into the mindset of Jesse as he fears that he is missing out on a lot by not always being around his son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who spent the summer with Jesse and Céline in Greece. He expresses his frustration—regarding the difficult situation with his ex-wife in Chicago mixed with the sadness and feelings of helplessness he harbors—by telling Céline that his son cannot even throw a baseball properly. Though the material is, on the surface, driven by words, the looks the characters give one another or us having the chance to catch a certain sparkle in their eyes when no one is looking at or paying attention to them convey a whole lot.
Céline and Jesse no longer look fresh. They once looked so ready to take on the world; now it seems as though they just want to avoid grasping at each other’s throats. I suspect the minute subtleties of the problems that they have in their marriage are lost on me for the time being, given where I am in my life currently, but the screenplay does an excellent job pulling in those of us who do not have a spouse and allowing us to consider how we might feel if our partner, for example, says something we do not want to hear or fail to say something—anything—when it counts most. The great thing about the story is that we know it began with friendship and so there is a history there we can grab onto.
The argument in the hotel room is one I will remember. When characters in the movies get into an argument, it comes off fake a lot of the time. Here, I felt like I was strapped in an uncomfortable chair in that room—problematic because when people argue, I like to leave when I am not involved. Jesse and Céline saying so many mean, unfair, accurate things toward one another took me back in time—back when I was a kid and I did not have yet the sense to walk away from a space of increasing negativity—times when my parents would start screaming at each other for whatever reason. I felt scared for Jesse and Céline’s relationship. I felt sad for them because I sensed that the two of them constantly being around one another is an uphill battle. I wondered if they have come to the finish line. Or maybe they are just having a really bad day. I certainly hope so.