Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
The next book Ethan Hawkes' Jesse wants to write teases connections between a random group of people separated by decades and afflicted with the oddest mental disorders: one is in a perpetual state of deja vu, another recognizes everybody, another fixates on what something becomes when it stops being the thing that it is, characters that are not so much lost in time but in perceptions of time. Later on, Julie Delpy’s Celine tells the story of a friend who attains clarity and purpose when he’s told he has nine months to live. She might as well be talking about the first time she and Jesse met cute, wandering around Vienna nearly two decades ago, all the time in the world condensed into one day, lives unmapped with no line on the horizon, everything heightened by the limits that constrict them. And Jesse might as well be talking about the two of them now, older and misshapen and unkempt and haggard and confused, living together with twin daughters in tow, on holiday in resplendent Greece, trapped by their routines and anxieties and displacements and by the collapse of time around them. Time has always wormed its way inside their love story, but here, in its third, possibly final, or at least penultimate, act, time is less tactile and more diffuse, a lot of it has been lost and even more is running out.
Conversation is the ether of the Before films. And in this one, a lot of it orbits around death: emotional death, metaphorical death, physical death. How all we have in the end are ghosts. And how the world takes glee in blowing them to smoke. The impossibility of staying together crops up and there’s such nonchalance and pragmatism, such contingency and rationale, every time it gets talked about that when Jesse remembers how his grandparents stayed together for 74 years and died one year apart as if impatient to be with each other again, it's as if he's articulating his own emotional revolt, not to mention the emotional conscience of the film, ushering in a specter to hover over everything in mutual defiance."You have to be a little deluded to keep being motivated" Jesse is talking about his writing but, at this point, who's he kidding?
We’ve been here before, of course. Before Sunset only seemed to leave everything wide open when it faded to black, but a part of you knew Jesse missing his plane was the likelier outcome, and a part of you knew their coming together would come to this. This is the familiarity breeding contempt, the cabin fever downside of intimacy, the part where things get messy. And Before Midnight is giddy with pattern recognition for anyone who’s ever been, or still is, in a long-haul relationship. The spar and volley of their bickering, if not the snark and venom but maybe that too, is bound to ring with the authenticity of experience, break some skin, force sides to be taken. But we’ve been here before in another way, too. Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine and Abbas Kiarostami’s Copie Conforme have both strip-mined this lode and taken its ore to places far bleaker, far more obtuse. Before Midnight, tends to resonate entirely within the folds of its own universe. A universe in which Jesse and Celine have become our avatars for a love that defies the odds and are now entwined in the banalities that beset the rest of us and make it harder to believe in such things without thinking one's self foolish for doing so . But this is a universe, too, that has always been sustained by its own foolish beliefs, one of which is that love, if it will not conquer all, will at least delude you that it will. When Jesse gives winning Celine back one last and desperate go by pretending he’s a time traveler with a letter from her future self, he could well be undoing the collapse of time that does all of us in. The hopeless romantic has been grossly mis-represented as a legalist who foolishly takes "ever after" literally. Jesse is obviously one and he obviously isn't that much of a fool. He is, in all likelihood, pushing his luck. But maybe all "ever after" means is the energy to persist in playing the hand you've been dealt. And sometimes leaving is the cop-out. It's not that simple, perhaps, but it sort of also is.