Film Review: Before Midnight
I remember watching Before Sunrise for the first time when I was eleven years old. I went to the public library with my parents and picked up the DVD from the film section and watched it that same evening. I think my fundamental faith in true love may have originated from that experience.
The film is about Jesse, a romantic American boy who meets Celine, a fiery French girl during a train ride to Vienna. Jesse invites her to wander the streets of Vienna with him until he catches his plane back home the next morning. The film is little more than a twelve-hour long conversation between them. They talk about love, sex, feminism, family, their hopes, their dreams, and their fears. They resolve themselves to the fact that they will never see one another again, but when they part ways in the morning, they ultimately decide to meet again. They say that in six months they will both return to that exact train station, in that exact spot. They pull apart from a passionate, despaired embrace, as Celine steps on her train and the film ends.
In the second installment, Before Sunset, we learn that Jesse and Celine could never reconnect. Jesse returns to their meeting spot six months later as planned, but Celine is unable to because of her grandmother’s death. Nine years have passed and Jesse has written a very successful novel, largely inspired by his encounter with Celine. He has a book reading in Paris, in Shakespeare & Co., and Celine attends. Again, they only have a few hours before Jesse’s flight home, at sunset. We learn that Jesse is married and has a son and Celine is also in a committed relationship. Their conversations continue, and the film ends with a contemplative Jesse in Celine’s apartment, twirling his wedding ring.
Another nine years have passed; they’ve married, and have two twin girls. They are on a family vacation in Greece, and again the film is mostly their spirited, animated, but now nostalgic and sometimes regretful conversations. I feel certain that I will be able to understand these characters in new and wonderful ways when I turn forty, and I sincerely look forward to that moment. But for now, I can still find their dialogue refreshing, stimulating, sometimes poetic, and often hilarious. Their relationship is not as rosy as I had wished, but it continues to be charming and honest. And the film’s scenery has me lusting after the banks of the Greek islands. Celine, though more resentful and with a latent rage towards her husband, is as clever and graceful as ever. And Jesse, though more infuriating and confusing, is still the same bright-eyed romantic.
In a cinematic realm where 3D films, special effects, dramatic storylines and gimmicky ideas are the norm, Before Midnight is a difficult endeavor. The story of Celine and Jesse is more or less a six-hour long unbroken take of an ordinary conversation between two ordinary people. Their words are intelligent, but accessible. Their love story is romantic, but their relationship is relatable. The characters are beautiful and talented, but their longings are universal. I have been invested in Celine and Jesse for ten years, and the first two films were so flawless that I wasn’t sure if they should even be touched by a third film. But I can only hope that in nine years there will be another.