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Before Midnight: The truth hurts but authenticity trumps fantasy (spoiler alert)

Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke as Celine and Jesse
Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke as Celine and Jesse in Before Midnight

When I first heard about Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third film in his story about a romantic encounter between Celine and Jesse in Vienna, I couldn’t wait to see it. I distinctly recall when Before Sunrise first came out back in 1997. I was 28 and desperately wondering when I’d fall in love. Watching the film then, I couldn’t help but be delightfully impressed at the provocative banter between actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. I recall just how refreshing it was to see a film that weighed heavily on the verbal exchanges between both characters to propel the story forward. If the dialogue failed to deliver so would the movie. The fantasy of just such an encounter was not new, however.

I traveled to Europe as a college student (having attended the University of Oslo) and most certainly entertained the idea of meeting a French (or in this case, Norwegian woman) and falling in love. Why not? My parents met in Caracas, Venezuela of all places at a party purely by chance. The encounter led to my Dad wooing my mother for more than a year and eventually she capitulated and they married in Paris. They later moved to San Francisco and started a family.  They are still married to this day; my father is 83 now.

Tracking the lives of two characters enveloped by chance

The magic behind this unique trilogy is the quality of the screenwriting. LinkLater has made it clear that in all three movies there is no improvisation between both actors. Ethan and Julie memorize the dialogue and act it out in as natural way as possible. While garrulous, the verbal play between both characters comes across so authentically that you’re wondering whether you’re watching a movie at all.  In Before Sunrise, Celine came across as a romantic cynic.  Jesse was more the idealist. The culmination of both character traits shine in Before Midnight. Celine, upon realizing the significance of Jesse’s pain in not being able to raise his son on a 24/7 basis, quickly takes a defensive position. She does not want to move back to the States for the sake of Jesse. All Jesse wants is to have a sane conversation about the idea, to express his regret, and if anything, receive some sympathy from Celine.

Celine’s insecurities about the choices she has made in her life play an important part in why both characters fight in the hotel room. Jesse complicated his life by falling in love with Celine. He divorced his first wife to start anew with Celine and finds himself a parent a second time around with twins no less.

When does love matter most?

Before Sunrise was a perfect little romance. Before Sunset saw the maturation of both characters, nine years later, and the realization for both of just how important they meant to each other.  Before Midnight captures the willingness of both characters to fight for a love none thought was originally possible. I don’t believe in miracles and I never thought the chance encounter between Jesse and Celine came across as one. But when does love matter most? Is it when you’ve made perfect love with your partner, somewhere in Greece? Or having kids and spending time with friends, cooking, drinking, and sharing meaningful conversation?  No. When love seems like it’s on the precipice of disappearing is exactly when it is time to take off the gloves and fight for it to come back.  Relationships are challenging. Toss in kids and you’ve got plenty of potential complications thrown into the mix. Divorce remains an ugly reality because couples just are not willing to make the sacrifices and/or compromises needed to forge a lifelong commitment towards one another.

Authenticity satisfies more than Hollywood endings

Before Midnight is a rare cinematic example of art reflecting back on life without the need for metaphor. It is authentic and perfectly suits a more jaded time; we live in a period in which the idea of romance remains an ideal but in practice is more effort than it’s worth. I’ve grown sick and tired of hollywood endings, and Before Midnight is a gratifying slap in the face to those movies that seek the fantasy route to satisfy their viewers. There is no bow tie in Before Midnight. It’s merely the realization that love is a fragile flower requiring an endless supply of affection, attention, understanding, and commitment. Something easy to agree with but more problematic when trying to apply.

The Before Midnight screenplay was a collaboration between LinkLater and the actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. The script deserves an academy award.  Share with me your thoughts about this movie.