“You know what’s going on here? It’s simple. I don’t think I love you anymore.” — Celine (Julie Delpy) to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Midnight
Ouch. That’s got to hurt. By the time Before Midnight reached the closing credits, I wasn’t sure if Celine meant what she said, but in saying it, she drove home a point the film — the third part of the Richard Linklater-directed trilogy (so far) that began with 1995’s Before Sunrise and continued with 2004’s Before Sunset — had spent its first hour and 35 minutes making: Nothing lasts forever. So why should love be any different?
If disappointment and detours were central themes of Before Sunset, the ephemeral nature of love, life and youth is a running one throughout Before Midnight. It contrasts nicely with the movie’s extended scenes, long continuous single takes, and conversations that meander aimlessly, sidestepping the main topic before zeroing in on it with remarkable precision.
There’s nothing fleeting about the way Before Midnight is constructed, but then so much about the movie is. It’s in Jesse’s concerns about his son growing up too quickly, not right before his eyes but in Chicago, so far from Paris. It’s in Celine’s recurring commentary on both her and Jesse’s middle-aged 41-year-old appearances — how they’re no longer the sweet young things they were in 1994.
It’s all over the dinner-table conversation — in the year-old romance of the twentysomething couple (the social-media age’s version of Jesse and Celine, who, had Skype been around in 1994, probably would have stayed in touch and tired of each other long before Sunset), in the young lady’s comment about whether love that lasts forever is still relevant and how all couples eventually break up, in the older lady’s lamentation over her slowly fading memories of her late husband and the way it evolves into a monologue about the temporal nature of sunrise, sunset and life.
It’s in six-week summer holidays in Greece that end too soon (for Jesse and his son) or can’t end quickly enough (for Celine). It’s in Jesse’s talk about the passion of his young self and his writer friends as he and Celine are walking to the hotel. It’s in reservations for one night in swanky suites with AC, in hour-long massages for two. It’s in the times of day that give the film and its predecessors their titles. But most of all, it’s in the bombshell that Celine drops on Jesse before exiting their hotel suite for the second time.
It’s the end of an intense argument that’s as exhausting to watch as it must have been to have. Who was wrong? Who was right? Clearly Celine, true to her complicated, insecure Before Sunset form, was picking a fight, but she made some excellent points, as did Jesse.
“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.” — Jesse to Celine
Do Jesse and Celine ride off into the midnight together? We might have to wait until sunset rolls around again to find out. But if they don’t, look at all that’s come out of their ephemeral love — not just their beautiful 7-year-old twin daughters.
And that is the glory of love, life, youth and Before Midnight. Great movies, like love, life and youth, don’t last forever, but what matters is that they happen at all.