Before I lay out my Before Midnight critique, I want to pay homage to the director Richard Linklater. Rick Linklater made a huge impression on me in 1993 with Dazed and Confused. This film is an in-depth look at the last day of high school in 1976. I did not know the director, or the fledgling movie stars Ben Affleck or Matthew McConaughy, but I know arcades, cruising, and songs such as Free Ride, Why Can’t We Be Friends? and Sweet Emotion. I kept repeating, “ Who is this person writing about my life?” while I watched in awe. Linklater got it just right, down to the pocket T-shirts and leather barettes. I was hooked, someone cared enough to make a movie about high school in the 70s. Well as it turns out, Rick Linklater went to high school in the seventies and his stunning attention to detail along with intelligent adolescent conversation set him apart from the pack. In his ethereal Before series, it still does distinguish him among his peers.
I could not wait to see this film. Before Midnight is the third installment of the Before series, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. In 1995 a pair of twenty somethings, Jesse and Celine, meet on a train and fall in love while spending a few hours together in Vienna. Every 9 years we get a chance to catch up with them. In 1989, Linklater spent a night in Philadelphia with a young woman named Amy Lehrhaupt and this encounter was the basis of the Before Sunrise story. This could be another page taken out of my playbook since I live in Philadelphia! Linklater apparently rather recently discovered that Lehrhaupt had died in 1994 – killed in a motorcycle accident just weeks before the first film began shooting. Before Midnight was dedicated to her memory.
I was spellbound as the final credits rolled during the end of Before Sunset after Celine says to Jesse, “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane.” I feel as though I have matured and grown along with this couple from 1995 until now. In 1995 Before Sunrise was released and I was enjoying a rebirth of sorts in graduate school. Someone I loved dearly had unexpectedly moved away and this time immersed in studies had helped me heal. In 2004 Before Sunset was released and my spiritual awakening was in full force. I was experiencing an intensely loving encounter similar to the one that occurred in Before Sunrise. While my experience was not about young romantic love, it was about two souls striving to pour a lifetime into a few precious hours. Here we are in 2013 and the third installment of this trilogy, Before Midnight, has arrived. Take a look at the trailer:
When I see Ethan Hawke wearing a Neptune Records T-shirt, I become immediately aware that plenty of rich symbolism awaits me. As an astrologer who is very Neptunian, this felt like a warm greeting. Ethan Hawke and I also share the same birthday ( different year), so he is an incredible canvas for me to project astrological synastry and nuanced layers of meaning upon. Turns out he has a powerful Neptune stellium including Sun, Jupiter, Mercury and Venus! In 2013 we find the couple together at long last with twin daughters and living in Paris. Jesse, a writer, divorced his wife and left his son in the US to live with Celine, an environmentalist, in Europe. They are spending their vacation at a writer’s retreat in Greece. Jesse feels guilty about being separated from his son. Celine resents his contemplating uprooting their family and dismissing her career aspirations. The couple spend time with their Greek friends, stroll through scenic landscapes ( including a marvelous ancient Byzantine chapel dedicated to St. Odile) and skillfully argue about whether or not they still belong together.
Themes of time travel, parallel realms, and the passage of time pervade the entire series. Jesse even writes about the nature of time in his novels. These topics add a dimension of wonder and mysticism that I consider to be the third character in the story. The similarities between my passions and the characters is astonishing. Just like I could drop myself into the plot of Dazed and Confused, the amount of synchronicity for me in these films is freakishly overwhelming. References to pinball, Quakerism, astrology, reincarnation, fortune-telling, my favorite painter Seurat, and philosophy are very close to my heart. Most of these references repeat throughout the series, even pinball!
I have to admit that I don’t love this third film like the other two. The battles between the lovers are incredibly cynical, highly manipulative and often downright cruel. I don’t believe that Celine can switch almost seamlessly between angry vengeful rants and a friendly conversational tone within seconds. Who talks like that? I don’t buy it. Spoiler alert: I also don’t believe that both of them would easily cheat on the other and not discuss it at all for years. These two discuss EVERYTHING! Sorry, again not buying it.
While I am partial to ( translation: totally enamored with) the other two films, I do still suggest you see Before Midnight. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are brilliant actors and the chemistry between them makes me wonder why they never became an item. Greece provides a stunning backdrop, filled with significant history and eternal mystery. The examination of Celine and Jesse’s life together exposes universal concerns about committment, gender roles, parenting, and sexuality. The series ultimately raises these fundamental questions about the mystery of love: what if ? what might have been? and what happens if you get what you want? Before Midnight answers this last question by showing that we don’t always want something once we have it for a while. It also shows that people can lose sight of what brought them together once the consequences of their choices zap the life out of them.
As for my investment in this series, it offers some symbolism of hope. Jesse alludes to Celine’s future self as a reason to take a chance and get off the train with him. Spoiler alert: He ultimately uses time travel and a letter from Celine’s 82-year-old self as a last-ditch attempt to save their union. When Jesse concocts this tale of Celine’s future self writing her a letter, he touches on a missing element in their relationship – how Celine’s fear about aging could diminish her dreams and lovability. The letter assures Celine that middle age will be a time of joy, reminiscent of her preteen years dancing with her friends. I have often read that for many women, middle age is a passage akin to a second adolescence. I find both comfort and excitement in that possibility. Jesse alludes to the notion that while different, the best is yet to come. While the couple’s future is unknown, perhaps it might be playing out blissfully in some parallel dimension.
If you want to see another quality film that spans years into just one installment, check out Serendipity. This 2001 film stars John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, and Jeremy Piven. It is a beautiful romantic piece about love, risk, synchronicity, and following your intuition.
Same Time Next Year ( 1978) is an older film reminiscent of the Before series. It stars Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. They meet for decades for one weekend a year and it is beautifully acted. Very romantic and poignant.
This recent hit by Phillip Phillips captures the essence of eternal devotion and unwavering love.