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Before Midnight

MovieMeditation presents...
— Retro Review —

directed by Richard Linklater

If you want true love, then this is it, this is real life.
It's not perfect, but it's real...


Introductory essay — the future of love
When I began writing reviews for each and every entry in the ‘Before’ trilogy, I opened with an introductory essay and this one is not going to be any different – and yet it kind of will. Back when the Sunrise showed its face behind the hills, I was babbling on about bloated blockbusters and authentic escapism, and how I loved to bump into those movies that reminded me of the good and glorious cinema out there. Then I turned more serious, explaining how I once arrived too early to a Sunset, debating whether or not that effected my affection for the second film and how my understanding and appreciation for it had grown over time. Now we are nearing Midnight, which is usually where you go to rest, letting your mind wander off into dream world. This is usually where you are most creative and free, which may be the same place where Richard Linklater came up with his conclusive part of the ‘Before’ trilogy…

Before all this, Linklater had searched the streets of Vienna and sailed through the canals of Paris, only to discover that the answer was in Greece all this time; eighteen years from where the journey began. He would first attempt the magical approach, then he aimed for the more authentic one, but it wasn’t until now that he finally found it. This right here, is love with no edges, a round ball spinning revealing everything there is to see. The surface is rough and far from spotless, but there is no denying how beautiful it looks bathing in the faint glow from the midnight moon. Because, love is definitely wonderful, but also one hell of a weird phenomenon. Love can be both a confused and collected state of mind, where your body knows the explanation, while your mind wanders your wildest dreams trying to make sense of it all. Love might actually be the most humane and honest emotion a person will ever be able to feel, and no matter how hard you try you can’t replace it or replicate it, because love is more than a smile and less than a word.

This isn’t just about that one true love either, but about everyone who was ever true to you through life. Love is an endlessly evolving process of human progression, which can never be completed or completely washed away, but there are definitely different states and milestones within it, each defining their own individual element. Love doesn’t have to be here and now, it can be there and then or when and where. Perhaps most importantly, love is unquestionably an emotional force, which is able to break down every wall on its way towards closure and comfort. The closer you are to your loved one, the stronger it will be and there is nothing that can come between your love – or maybe there is actually. What if that close distance isn’t entirely real but between you and your computer screen, while your loved one is actually 5000 miles away? One may wonder, if love is as lively and authentic when we are connected by flat monitors that are electronically imitating the image of our loved ones?

Love should generally be right here and right now, but with today’s technological evolution we come up with new ways to contact our loved ones, some of which can kill its purpose entirely. It isn’t everything that is useless, since cross-country video chatting and text messaging are great ways of expressing our current emotions or coming in contact with our loved ones when they aren’t present. Love may very well be absolute, but the way we express and live out our love is beginning to change together with technology. Even when meeting your future companion in life, dating no longer has to be a lengthy process of coming in contact with someone you want to ask out, while making sure that your every move is just right. Now you can do it all in a blink of an eye, in between your daily digital doings of checking your email or browsing the internet. Everything has begun to feel lazy and synthetic, but I won’t deny that it is effective. I guess it comes down to the fact that we all grow older, while the technology grows past us and our own perception of connection is being challenged. We know all about our own routines all the while a younger generation are being born into their own – a newer one and a different one, which we usually don’t understand very well.

It is hard to understand for some older generations, that all you have to do in today’s world is open an app, judge people by their looks, and if he or she thinks you are alright too, then you pretty much got yourself a date. Simple as that. Some of these methods basically breaks down the otherwise natural elements of fear or anxiety, where we are no longer forced to build up confidence or courage, we only have to make up our mind whether to swipe right or left in that dating app on our phone. ‘Before Midnight’ talks a lot about these changes in society and how it affects love and relationships in particular. As we dive into this review I will dive deeper into those aspects, which also happened to be one of my favorite passages in the film…


Review — the perfect conclusion
The film opens on conversant grounds, with two people walking and talking, conversing in ways that shows the audience that this is two people who care for each other – or rather one person trying to pierce the busy mind of a teenager, who doesn’t seem to be all that interested. That one person is Jesse and the other is his son, Hank, who we also heard about during the course of the conversations with Celine, back in Paris nine years ago. He is walking through the airport getting ready to send off his son to be with his mom again, who it appears he is no longer living with. At first glance, this is a calm and quiet moment and the passage feels a little like an opening prologue, though we certainly learn a greater deal of its clear importance later in the film. Director, Richard Linklater, has shown his audience several times by now, that he can step into the ordinary and come out the other side with some extraordinary. In relation to these films in particular, he really aims for the honest authenticity of anything around him, while never wanting to dramaturgically structure his films after paths already in existence – he creates his own and does so wonderfully. Not only that, but he also makes sure to do nothing but breathe live into his works, never holding on to them too long or too tight, so that he may squeeze the life out of it and have it fall flat to the ground like the lifeless creations of an impatient artist. He may be the one creating the path, but he isn’t the one who is walking it – he trustfully lets his actors walk it and his camera glide across it, capturing everything as it happens and when it feels the most natural.

‘Before Midnight’ stays true to its predecessor by opening in the middle of something already happening, instead of setting up the film like you would usually do in cinema. The reason I didn’t make the word ‘predecessor’ plural, is because the first film might be the one feeling the most like a classic set-up when it starts out, which Linklater has then departed from more and more since then… ‘Before Sunrise’ was about these two people catching each others eyes and slowly falling in love, and although it was done a little different, the set-up felt very familiar. ‘Before Sunset’ had the audience putting up questions about what they were witnessing, after being thrown straight into “question time” in Jesse’s book release tour, while soon having the one girl he hadn’t seen in nine years show up out of nowhere like it was just another Tuesday. ‘Before Midnight’ is not much different than the last, casting the audience directly into a conversation between a familiar face and a new one, only to have Jesse walk out of the airport and into the car with his current wife, Celine, and their two children. Yes, that Celine. There is no set-up or extended explanation of how and why they are now finally together after eighteen years, but that is exactly what makes Linklater so bold and brave about his filmmaking. He continues to stand by authentic unconventional storytelling, presenting his two beloved characters at a new passage in life, naturally portraying their pseudo-progression after nine years has gone by. Despite the titles, the ‘Before’ films were never about what happened before but what happens right then and now – a series of milestones each displaying the human life at different periods within its natural evolution. I could tell you precisely what I mean here, but instead I will use the words of Jesse, also known as Ethan Hawke. He described ‘Before Sunrise’ as a film about what might be, ‘Before Sunset’ as a film about what could or should be, and ‘Before Midnight’ as a film about what is. And I don’t think it could be said much better.

The following car ride is done almost in one take, which helps further the realism and allow the audience to breathe and slowly connect with the characters again after all these years. In this scene we also get a small sense of what has been happening and has yet to happen entirely, which gives you a general idea of how this couple is doing. Jesse and Celine certainly still love each other, but there are small fragments to be found in their conversation, giving you a rough glimpse of the pain and suffering they hold hidden within their heart – it might be very hard to see but it is definitely there, especially noticeable on a second viewing. Their children are sleeping on the backseat, so they are still not entirely free from their responsibility as a parent, though it does give them a chance to discuss something more important to them. When we arrive at the house where the family will stay for a while, the film slowly but surely breaks through the old and firmly framed compositions, while opening up for the possibility of a wider world with greater freedom for the franchise to grow in. We are no longer bound like a shadow to the footsteps of Jesse and Celine, but instead we get the chance to supervise them from a distance, where we are no longer running against the wind to catch up and the characters are no longer running out of time to spend together. The transition is beautiful and this new comfort zone seems refreshing and respectful at the same time. We are also introduced to new characters, who all bring diverse perspectives to those discussions, which used to be single-minded sharing between two people. Now we have the pleasure of multiple opinions and approaches all at once, accompanying the metaphysical minds of Jesse and Celine, who seem to settle straight into the latest substantial selection of characters.

We are first introduced to these people when Jesse pens out ideas for future writing projects, which by the way creates a colorful contrast to the past, both in a meta-realistic and movie-referential way. The discussion kind of plays around with the concepts of twisting and blending the works of Jesse into the film itself as this meta-metaphor for their cinematic life story. It is both lightly and heavily handed, in the way that we dive extremely deep into the layers of it all, by having Jesse talk about his own books and the story within them, essentially being the first and partly second film, which Linklater made a movie series about with a character who later made a book based upon that same story of that same movie. If you are lost by now it doesn’t matter, I just wanted to illustrate how much content this scene actually holds. Richard Linklater basically incorporates his own film series into his own character’s book series, which creates a very witty discussion about how one was better than the other, how the third took longer than the other two, how Linklater explains to the audience indirectly what happened when the second movie ended and so on. This scene is just brilliant all the way around, while having interesting cross-cuts to Celine’s character as well. Believe it or not, this scene isn’t even close to being the high point of the film, though it is definitely a solid piece of subconscious scripting done to near perfection. But actually, the barebones brilliance of the third film doesn’t arrive until Celine, Jesse and every other resident at the house are later reunited, seated together at what can only be dubbed the most detailed relationship roundtable of all time – an experienced panel of personal periodic experts, residing three entire generations of existence… and it is completely mesmerizing to witness.

Here follows what might be my favorite scene of the entire series, consisting of a close-to-perfect prolonged discussion, which sincerely allows the audience to step inside the movie and directly down into the wooden chairs of authentic Greece. Smiling with joy, as you are spiritually seated side by side at this dinner table filled with flavorsome subjects that can feed the mind for hours on end without ever feeling stuffed. I don’t think I can even count the amount of subjects that Linklater covered in this discussion, but I can assure you that it was a lot to take in and a lot to figure out. In an attempt to adequately explain all this in a simple manner, the discussion generally goes from how they met, how they learned, how they loved and all the way to how they ultimately departed from this world. Basically, the discussion draws a vivid picture of love going from cradle to grave, persistently portraying the multi-sided understanding of love in its purest form. Obviously, it was the elderly individuals at the table who had been on the longest journey, through heaven and hell on earth, with love attached at the hip. The old man talked about how the love for his wife happened last as long as an honest marriage is supposed to last – until death do you part. He had some interesting points about allowing freedom and individual thoughts and feelings, basically living bound apart or parted together, which crushes the saying of ‘as lovers you are one’. According to him, there is only one love and that is with the heart together and the mind apart, basically meaning that as lovers you are connected but you have room to be yourself. I wholeheartedly agree with that saying...

But of course, the old man isn’t the only experienced person at the table. There is also an elderly woman present, who definitely shares a few remarkable recollections from her own love life. One of them is a touching and emotionally strong story about how her present life is haunted by her past love. Her husband died many years ago and she finds herself forgetting him and thereby “loosing him all over again”. She then talks about how she continues to keep his spirit alive, by constantly reminding herself of all the little things that characterized him. Every single day she will picture his face in vivid detail, while remembering the typical things that he would say on a typical day. She won’t try to overcome her loss by falsely forcing memory loss onto herself, but instead do the exact opposite and stay spiritually connected to her one true love. This was a very beautiful monologue. Richard Linklater and his faithful co-writers, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, add more love to the screen than their mind and heart have had the time to experience in real-time. That is extremely impressive, especially when they continue to add more weight to the film, by complimenting the discussion with side-subjects to spice things up. We all know that Linklater is very fond of discussing the influence of technology on today’s society and the anti-social submissive world that it creates. ‘Before Midnight’ is no different, since he uses the younger couple at the table as a fundament for fumbling around with the idea of ‘artificial love life’. Linklater lets these people discuss whether or not love is as powerful and significant when the technical tools of things like skyping is incorporated into the influence of one’s feelings. And of course, Linklater isn’t able to restrain himself either, when it comes to mocking the helping hand of science by literally have science offer a helping hand during sensual pleasures. This is all extremely amusing and awards the conversation with some proper balance, helping the audience to a complete experience of both lethal laughter and dead silence.

As I stated earlier in the review, I honestly think that Linklater handled the transition into a newly transformed style quite beautifully, by leaving the dialogue-heavy core of the film completely intact, but changing the surroundings and partly the directorial approach as well. With this method in the back of his mind, Linklater could make the movie feel fresh and alive again, instead of following the old and tired formulas any closer than needed. That said, he doesn’t forget where things started, since we are still not cheated for a walk around yet another beautiful city, since the lovely people they just visited at the house were kind enough to surprise them with a wonderful romantic night at an expensive hotel. This brings us back to the familiar frame compositions and fancy conversations, in the comfortable company of Jesse and Celine, where we can focus completely on their relationship and how it has grown since we last saw them. Finally, they are alone together, and the things they discuss are as free as with the table discussions, but as personal as their previous two encounters; if not more. Just like the previous entries, their discussions rely heavily on their current situation in life and what is important to them right now, which currently consists of an actual foreseeable future for them as a couple. Before they were mostly imagining how things could be, thinking about how things could have been, but now that they are together they have a better idea of what is to come – and what they hope will come when they grow older. Their discussions are heavily based on the idea of growing old, both in terms of physical and mental appearance. Like when Celine asks Jesse, if he would have sat down on that train back then, next to the present day version of herself. They talk about how their lives will look when they are 90, also loosely mentioning death and what comes with it, basically imagining their lives from present day to their last day. But even though they talk a lot about what may happen, it is still so much about right here and now and how their current personas and present day decisions will influence their oncoming future.

As the film progresses we get the rough picture of a couple who are torn between openly wanting to love each other, while having inner problems that contradicts with that. All these years have been a struggle and a fight for doing what is best for everybody, whether that means finding new ambitions or leaving old ones behind. All of this is done for the sole purpose of love, whether that means the love they have for each other or the love they have for their children. Because the older you get, the more you realize you are building up a responsibility for your surroundings; that there are people around you, who are counting on you and the decisions you make. All this sacrifice will often leave your mind and body in the hands of someone else – someone who you love of course – yet you will slowly loose track of your own self and what is important to you personally. You are also going to find out sooner or later, that even for all the love and caring you have to give to this world, there is going to be something left that you wish you had given more time to. All of these things have been boiling right under the surface of Jesse and Celine, but there are several of reasons why it has yet to burst out – mainly many of the reasons above. So when they are finally alone together these things begin to show signs of wanting to be heard, discussed, solved. They end up in between four walls in a small spaced hotel room, which calls for a perfect romantic evening for the two of them, but there is just this one little problem – they have forgotten about themselves as a couple along they way; forgotten how to make time to care and love each other; forgotten the importance of listening and understanding each other. All these things are not going to look for reason but rather for room to finally burst out. And that little thing that happens to trigger it all and make the bomb tick, occurs when Celine talks to Jesse’s son on the phone, but for the second time in the film doesn’t let Jesse talk to him, though he clearly wants to. It makes him feel closed off, like there is a wall between him and his son and he begins to really think about how he constantly misses out on being with his own son. How he missed out on so much in connection to that as well.

It may very well be a small and plainly insignificant little thing that ends up setting it all in motion, but it does make Jesse think about the past, wonder why he made all the decisions he did, and why things are the way they are today. If he really wanted to be a father to his kid, it wouldn’t be something he would try and redo right there and then in that hotel room, suddenly looking like a person who just woke up and realized he overslept on life. I’m sure there have already been a time where the inner alarm clock would go off, but either he didn’t listen close enough or it wasn’t possible to change what already was. There is no reason to put pain upon oneself because of it, but Jesse does exactly that and begins to look for something or someone to blame. Celine slowly begins to feel threatened by what he is saying, given she is the only person in the room, which then creates a tone between them that is both confused and so very crystal clear. Their argument may have been set in motion because of a smaller thing, but that smaller thing was connected to a bigger picture and that bigger picture will only expand further as they dive deeper into the past; trying to undo those decisions they had already made and trying to solve what was already dubbed over and done with. But this also makes them realize that the cuts in their relationship may be even deeper than what they had previously imagined. They never had a silent moment together, at least not for a long time, and now everything comes bursting out at once.

Where the past discussion at the table may have said all there was to say about love and relationships, this argument flips it on its back and throws out everything about love that you cannot see with the naked eye. This was a brave move by Linklater, since this scene basically takes the darkest and most uncomfortable route in a relationship, and goes through it from A to Z with hesitation. Everything is put on display here and it isn’t about any silly or stupid things either, it is actually about genuine things we often forget to acknowledge or appreciate about each other – the so-called “invisible support” that is often so obvious and natural, that we only appreciate it when it is no longer there. Whether it is leaving your dirty clothes behind for your partner to pick up or leaving your home town for the sake of your loved one – both have their place in this discussion and both serves its own purpose in this film. It is hard to believe, that the audience has waited up to eighteen years to finally see Celine and Jesse together, and now it looks like they are about to leave each other for good. And when Celine finally does leave out the door for good, after actually returning a couple of times because there was either more to the discussion or because she hoped there would be more to this relationship – but now it looks to be fading away for real. Jesse realizes that almost immediately, when Celine doesn’t return through that door. When he is standing alone in the room looking at what could have been a perfect evening but instead turned into the worst nightmare. They had everything in that hotel room, the night was young and screaming with perfection, but the problem was that they weren’t. If you think about it, a relationship is like a flower, it needs love and care and a good environment to grow in. As soon as it starts to fall apart, appear damaged or worn out, it won’t take long before it is going to be too late for you to safe it.

By then you are going to look back at the time where your mind and soul was blossoming, and realize how much you miss it and want to keep that colorful and warm feeling intact for eternity. It doesn’t take long before Jesse opens his eyes to the empty space around him, which Celine used to fill out. All the little inanimate objects, which used to feel so full of life when she was there with him. How all things in the world are suddenly nothing special – without someone special – no matter how perfect the world appears to be… When Jesse finally realizes that he follows the path of his wife, out through that door, whether that means towards a divorce or hopefully something better. Whatever it might be, he is determined to fix what is broken instead of throwing it away, because he knows he isn’t going to find anything out there anyways, which can match what he already have – and is about to lose right this moment. He finds Celine sitting at a table near the water and decides to approach her – not with anger but with love. All relationships have problems and you cannot just look past them, but you have to start somewhere, and as it stands right now their love for each other are fading and needs care. I definitely thought their argument was well done and extremely accurate, but I was longing for something that could help me recover from it afterwards, in the same way that they needed to. And suddenly, something weird happened out of nowhere… That special kind of magic, which I hadn’t really seen since the first film, returned to the scene in grand style! This series turned more serious as they went along, but the spark between them could always be sensed, though it was never as fresh or alive as their first encounter of true love. Jesse sits down beside Celine and puts on a persona about a man who came from the future in a time machine, and wants to tell her about who she was and who she is going to be in the future. He uses all the tricks he learned from writing books and gives it his all. He says he finds her interesting and wants to bring her with him on the trip through time and into the future. Celine appears to be both offended and annoyed by this stupidity, which almost makes Jesse give up. Maybe he cannot safe this relationship after all?

Jesse ends the admirable attempt with the following sentence, “If you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It's not perfect, but it's real. And if you can't see it, then you're blind, alright? I give up.” He then continues to sit in silence and stare out into the open night. Celine slowly start to open her eyes to the importance of what Jesse is trying to do here, and finally decides to play along as well, “So what about this time machine”, she asks, “how does it work?” Jesse is taken off guard by this, but soon continues to explain and develop further on his little story of imagination, while Celine listens carefully and continues to build upon Jesse’s outline. Finally, the spark within their relationship is starting to light up again, as the day turns to midnight, and we leave them as just another couple sitting and talking at a table on a beautiful night on the coast of Greece. It is at this point in time you begin to wonder, where will these people be nine years from now? Will we ever see them again? I certainly hope so, but if this will be the last we ever see of Jesse and Celine, I won’t even complain… I will gladly accept this film as the beautiful swan song to a fantastic franchise… and I will like to thank Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for eighteen years of perfectly portraying the human life and transporting it into the world of cinema. I will forever hold these films close to heart and never forget the unique experiences they awarded me with. Thank you.


This is my favorite film in the trilogy and I had surprisingly much to say about it... I never thought I would duplicate the length of my earlier review of M:I - Rogue Nation, but I guess I kind of did again here... I hope the read was worth it, because it took a lot of time and I'm happy with the result.

- MM