Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"Still there. . .still there. . .still there. . .gone." - Celine

Like the descending sun, Before Midnight's voyeuristic peek into Jesse and Celine's continuing relationship hints at an encroaching darkness. A major departure from the structure and romantic tone of the previous two films, Before Midnight alters the format to suggest a shift in the relationship.

Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy initially give viewers a hopeful, if mature depiction of Jesse and Celine. Their concerns are more adult (kids, jobs, geography), but they are paired in the standard tracking, two shot common to the previous films that suggests a unified bond. Their stroll to the hotel is nostalgic not only for them, but also the audience. Like Jesse's fictional rewriting of his past with Celine, we, as viewers, have considered their relationship a romantic fantasy, of sorts. These characters are "destined to be together," "perfect for each other," and so on. What Before Midnight reveals, however, is that these previous two films were still set during the courting period. These characters have always been at odds over gendered, political, and philosophical opinions, initially charging their conversations with opinionated conflict, but now those differences have festered. Resentment and misunderstanding lead to pent up aggression.

A sharp dividing line between the film's halves, once the couple enters the hotel room the dynamic of the visuals and dialog shifts. Linklater separates Jesse and Celine in single shots with a long lens once they begin arguing. Providing a startling distance, these shots are shocking because of their contrast to the visual language of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. As well, the drab, homogenized hotel room contrasts with the exterior beauty of Greece, Paris, and Vienna. Not to mention the confined, claustrophobic environment the room provides.

Linklater has contrasted the couple with other couples in all three films, but Before Midnight provides the harshest example. The dinner sequence at Patrick's villa pairs them off against a youthful couple (Anna/Achilleas), a middle-aged couple (Ariadni/Stefanos), and widowers (Natalia/Patrick). Each is in a distinctly different stage of their romantic relationships, providing mirrors for where Jesse and Celine were, are now, and may be. Natalia and Patrick provide opposing outcomes, the former missing the comfort of her husband, the latter recognizing the distance he and his wife always shared. These are possible futures for Jesse and Celine, with the film concluding on an ambiguous note straddled between them.

Before Midnight's last shot pulls back from the couple, conveying a distance. Jesse and Celine are left enacting a fantasy, role-play scenario, unable to find a connection through reality. While they are, technically, flirtatious in that final shot, there is also a sobering realization that the relationship is gasping for breath.

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