Until Next Time, by David Bax
I’m going to be writing about myself in this review. Not the whole time, of course. I’ll mostly be sticking to the topic of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. But one of the things I’ve learned from that film and its two predecessors (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) is that, sometimes, unabashed self-examination can triggers insights into the world at large.
Eighteen years ago, in Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train and convinced her to disembark in Vienna. They spent the whole night walking around the city, talking to each other about themselves and their ideas of what life is. Or, more fittingly, their predictions about what life would be. They promised to meet again in six months.
Nine years ago, after Jesse had written a book inspired by their encounter, they met again in Paris when Celine decided to attend Jesse’s reading. This time, they spent the day talking about what had happened in the interim. In a way, they were discussing which of their predictions had come true and which hadn’t. They were in their thirties. They were adults and they were each on a path, yet the wandering twentysomethings still existed within them, raising uncertainties as to what exactly that path was.
Now, Celine and Jesse are together, with twin daughters, vacationing in southern Greece. On the night before they are to head back to their lives in Paris, they secure a babysitter and a hotel room.
To critics of Before Sunrise (and I’ve met them), that movie represented a nadir of the solipsistic navel-gazing bullshit of Generation X (remember that term?). What Linklater, Hawke and Delpy have demonstrated over two decades is the validity of self-examination and of declaring your opinions in order to have them questioned or bolstered. A large part of the center section of Before Midnight takes place at a beautiful table of food and wine around which a group of people has gathered to have lunch. Included in the party are a young couple, about the age Celine and Jesse were when they met. Their contributions to the conversation sometimes sound naïve. This is almost certainly by the design of Linklater and his fellow screenwriters (Hawke and Delpy themselves). It’s not meant to mock the inexperience of youth but to show that this is how they learn. At other times, however, these young adults are able to remind the rest of the table that they are getting older and the world is moving on. There’s a balance, a trade between the generations. It’s worth noting that at the other end of the table sits a couple of much older people, who are likewise there to both learn from and humble Celine and Jesse. None of this give and take would be possible if the conversation’s participants didn’t possess the egos to say what they think and/or the inquisitiveness to listen.
That’s not to reduce Celine and Jesse to metaphors for their generation. That’s what they always have been, of course, but it’s not all they are. Thanks to the input of Hawke and Delpy, they’ve managed to both represent their niche (that being the kind of people who went to see Before Sunrise in 1995) as well as imbue their characters with precise and individual idiosyncrasies and flaws. Oh, so many flaws.
In Before Midnight, those shortcomings come to the surface more than ever before. There is more conflict and negativity between the leads in this film than in the previous outings. It’s transfixing, profound and cathartic. But a part of me wonders if I might not be able to fully enjoy it for another ten years or so (this is the part where I write about myself). I’ve never been in a relationship for nine years. I’ve never been a parent. I’ve never been in my forties. Perhaps that’s why, despite its sublime power and its being the best film of 2013 so far, Before Midnight still failed to hit me in the same way Before Sunset does. That only makes sense, given that I am closest in age to Celine and Jesse in that second film and I am still just young enough to convince myself that my whole life is ahead of me.
Luckily for those of you who skipped that last paragraph when it started getting autobiographical, Before Midnight’s journey is not only an intellectual one. Just as Celine and Jesse use these strolls and conversations to uncover things about themselves and each other, Linklater – the third star of the films – uses his frame to explore their surroundings. The camera moves languidly, keeping the characters and the action in frame but teasing toward things in the corners that suggest more layers than the spoken ones. The Grecian sun pours through a glass of white wine in such a way that we can imagine how it tastes. We get a glimpse of other footprints and tracks on the path and we wonder what other lovers and friends have walked this way.
The difference between Midnight and Sunset is that Celine and Jesse have spoken with each other – perhaps about themselves – nearly every day since the last film. The first two times we saw them, we were witnessing landmark encounters that would change the course of their lives. In many ways, what unfolds in Before Midnight will probably be just as defining and memorable for them. In other ways, it’s just another day in the adventure of loving someone.