I first watched Before Sunrise a few years back and, like everyone else, I was immediately taken by Celine and Jesse’s story. Fortunately for me, I suppose, Before Sunset had already been released at this point, so I only needed to wait a couple of days to get the answers to my questions, as opposed to the actual nine years that occurred between the releases of the two films. But while it was fascinating to see Delpy and Hawke instantly age and to fast-forward through time to see the outcome of their story, it felt as though these movies existed in their own isolated world to me. I figured that it must have been a far more rewarding experience for those who had waited the nine years, not knowing if they’d ever even get an answer to the open questions posed at the end of Before Sunrise. These viewers, too, aged like Celine and Jesse did and lived their own nine years of life before catching up once again with these old onscreen friends.
When I later heard that a third installment to the series was in the works, I was excited, but also a little apprehensive. I felt like this was my own opportunity to play along with the series. Though I hadn’t been forced to wait a full nine years between installments, and though I am much younger than the Jesse and Celine of Before Midnight, I now felt an extra sense of investment in the story. Watching Before Sunset, I hadn’t known that we were going to see any more of these characters’ lives. So while I was uncertain as to whether Linklater could recapture the magic for a third go-round, I was still excited to see what Celine and Jesse were up to a few years after I’d last left them. And I’m happy to report that Before Midnight didn’t disappoint.
As much as I liked this movie, Before Sunrise is still my favourite film in the series. Watching the two young optimists meet and explore and get to know each other is exciting, and their giddy romanticism is just fun to watch. But, then again, that’s part of the point of the sequels. It’s impossible to sustain that mystique and exhilaration for nine years or for eighteen years. It becomes about something different, and while that something may not be quite as fun, it’s just as important as the initial spark of magic.
The major different between Midnight and the prior two films is that Celine and Jesse really know each other by this point. The first two films are more about meetings and reconnections. But without getting into “spoilers” (although the mere existence of Before Midnight is probably a bigger spoiler than anything that is actually revealed in the movie), they’ve spent some significant time together in the years since Sunset. And Hawke and Delpy do a brilliant job of conveying this. There’s still a playfulness to their relationship, but there’s also a more serious sense of responsibility. Rather than aimlessly roaming the streets of Vienna spouting quasi-philosophical thoughts like they did in Sunrise, this movie starts with a purposeful car ride and a discussion about careers and familial strains. And yeah, there is a lot more tension between the Celine and Jesse in this movie. The love between them is apparent, but the intervening years have raised new concerns and conflicts. It would be naive to expect them to be the same people at 41 as they were at 23, and the movie isn’t afraid to show the wearing of time.
But, of course, they still ponder life and gender dynamics together (which, by now, Celine refers to as “bullshitting”). And Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy (who all wrote the script together) wisely even introduce some other characters into the mix this time around. This allows Celine and Jesse to bounce some of their ideas off other people, and for us to see how the outside world perceives them. There’s a great, long dinner party sequence that offers some sharp rebuttals to the romantic views of Sunrise and Sunset, and it’s fun to see our protagonists contend with characters other than each other.
Overall, Before Midnight feels like a mature and perfectly pitched continuation of this expansive take on the intricacies of love. Parts of it feel like territory that has already been covered earlier in the series, but the film offers a few knowing winks to acknowledge this, and there’s a comfort in the familiarity. Granted, more idealistic viewers may not like some of the less-than-rosy reveals about the direction that Celine and Jesse’s relationship may be heading it. But hey, that’s life – it’s just the part of it that we don’t usually get to see on screen.