Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★

“Take my hand if you don’t know where you’re going – I understand, I’ve lost the way myself. Don’t take that old road, it leads to nowhere. We must return before the clock strikes twelve.” Desperation - John Kay, Steppenwolf.

This third film of the “before” trilogy continues the story of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who once struck up a conversation on a train. I’m struck by the use of midnight in the title of this third offering, as the word has so many connotations, from darkness and the middle of night, to the much more oblique end of a day and beginning of another.

As my John Kay quote suggests, this film, while possessing parts that would certainly lead to the former interpretation, it is the latter that is the more poignant and intriguing interpretation. That even the title is up for discussion tells me that this film is wonderfully adult and broaches serious themes of life and love with an unblinking eye.

Beautifully written by Hawke, Delpy and director Richard Linklater we have here a story of two lives that have intersected and have caused damage along the way. We are now 10 years removed from the story line of the 2nd film and Hawke and Delpy have been living together and raising twin girls while off screen. Midnight begins with the family vacationing in Greece, with Hawke’s son by his first marriage in tow. When Hawke has to say farewell to his son, he feels torn and mentions to Delpy that he would like to find a way to see more of his son. During a seamless scene with the two in a car driving back from the airport, we also discover that Delpy has been working for a company, and that one of her projects has just been shelved. She tells Hawke that perhaps she should quit this job and go back to work for a former boss she despises, as it would give her a more prestigious position. OK – this is the jumping off point – for it is all wonderfully acted, but as the film progresses these points come to the fore in a very telling bit of “men are from Mars and women from Crazy Town”.

Hawke takes what Delpy has said about her current job and uncertainty about the other opportunity quite literally, and suggest that perhaps she should take some time off and consider other options. Delpy takes this as an attack on her worthiness to compete in a man’s business world, and the situation is further exasperated by Delpy’s belief that Hawke’s desire to see more of his son is some subliminal message that he thinks nothing of her career and wants her to uproot and move back to the States. Holy missed messages, Batman – here a simple statement concerning a man’s desire to be more a part of his son’s life somehow gets twisted in Delpy’s mind into a dig against Delpy’s career, and further belittles her self worth insinuating that her career isn’t important.

Of course this is all due to Delpy’s dissatisfaction with the life she chose to make; feeling hemmed in by the children she claims to love, but are perceived by her as an albatross holding her back from achieving some paper mache version of a life goal. I was amazed by her vitriol and rantings – wow, she has a just about perfect life, and yet there’s something inside her that is dissatisfied about it all – and somehow Hawke, who has done nothing but profess his undying love for her, becomes the target.

Pretty heady stuff, and a nice exploration of life at that certain age. The film asks in it’s own oblique way “what is love” and “what is happiness”.

One might find this overly chatty film a bit slow, but I was taken in from the first frame – that long single shot and conversation in a car, as we are reintroduced to Hawke and Delpy and slowly discover where and who they are now. Beautifully acted and seemingly so natural and real, that even through a rather rough, but spot on and compelling final act, you remain sold on these two characters. The resolution may seem a bit saccharine, but it is beautifully written and acted, even if perhaps it may play false to some.

A lot to digest here and what I’ve written is my interpretation of the goings on (after a long discussion, post viewing with my wife, whose distaste for Delpy’s character was even stronger than my own). A definite must see viewing in my book, and it’s a shame that it only grossed 8 million – meaning that the vast majority failed to see it, which is a shame.

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