So, on the night Man of Steel opens, I’m just back from Before Midnight. I have nothing against the new Superman movie. In fact I’m certain I’ll catch it this weekend, and will certainly have thoughts on it when I do. But in the middle of gorging on a summer’s worth of capital ‘A’ action movies, it’s nice to have something to cleanse the palette. Before Midnight is possibly the movie I most anticipated this summer, and now that it’s finally out a reasonable driving distance from my house it clearly was going to be my pick for the evening.
Nine years after the previous installment, we see Jesse and Celine finally together. They have two beautiful daughters, he’s continued to be successful as a writer, and she’s as passionate about her work as she was in Paris when they last reconnected. Ethan Hawke is still a handsome man and Julie Delpy a beautiful woman, and now they’re vacationing under the gorgeous blue skies of Greece. At a dinner among friends, there’s a beautiful speech by their friend Natalia (the wonderful Xenia Kalogeropoulou) about forgetting her late husband’s face, and the ephemera of life, including Sunrises and sunsets. It’s a passing moment, but it stuck with me.
Because “sunrise” and “sunset” are unfixed times, and the vague modifier “before” appended to them adds to their ephemeral, unfixed nature. The first two movies of this series were wonderful, but chance and romanticism played a much larger role in them. the night they chose to leave that train together was a beautiful, cinematic event. Their meeting again nine years later, though explained rationally in that movie, was still a cinematic event, loaded with romantic possibility. now in this installment we join Jesse as he worries whether he’s been a good enough father to his son from his first marriage, all the while dodging the question beneath that doubt; whether he should have stayed with Celine in Paris. Celine, on the other hand, fears he’ll want the to move to America just as she’s considering leaving her non-profit company for a government position. Their stroll this evening is a moment of freedom orchestrated by friends, rather than a passionate impulse of their own. They enjoy it, but unlike before they can’t really leave the outside world behind.
As they make their way to their hotel, we get a sharper version of the rambling, organic conversations we love from these two. There’s more bite to their interaction now. After nine years together they are much more familiar with the quirks of how they communicate. They know how to push each other’s buttons, how to get just the reaction they’re looking for. Even still they have moments when they surprise each other, and it’s useful to the audience to see the difference. It helps because once they reach the hotel, the little irritations become too much. The sprawling, organic conversation through the rolling, natural beauty of Greece changes to a cutting, visceral argument in a neat, confined hotel room. Once enclosed; they feel penned in; by the room, their lives, and each other. The fight is intense and passionate, but also familiar. I got the sense this wasn’t the first time they fought this battle, or at least one very similar to it.
None of this is to say the movie wasn’t everything i hoped for. In fact the added conflict exceeded my expectations. Spacing each film nine years apart would be a cheap trick if they didn’t show this relationship evolve and deepen. In the end, just as before, we’re left with an ending to this moment of their lives, but the sense there’s more to their story. Linklater’s series is one of the best things happening in film today, and I’m heartened he doesn’t go for easy closure. Since 1995, we’ve watched two interesting characters find their way into adulthood. Perhaps it’s greedy of me seeing as how these first three movies are so beautifully made and acted, but I can’t help wanting them to keep making these.