First, there was Romeo and Juliet. And then there was James and Celine. They met in 1995 when, in a sweeping romantic gesture, James suggests that Celine abandon their Eurail train and explore Vienna with him before his flight leaves at dawn. The romantic tension between the two in Before Sunrise becomes one of fairy-tales, and a desperate hope lingers between them (and the viewer) when dawn inevitably does come. Fast forward 9 years to 2004, when the two cross paths once again for a follow-up film, Before Sunset. The characters reconnect and assess and evaluate how the other developed and grew since their first rendezvous.
So what happens when, still another 9 years later, all of that wonderment—all of the getting-to-know-you—fades? When two people know one another so well that the other becomes predictable? When you can guess the next story the other will tell before they even decide to tell it? Does the love fade or prevail? That’s the question Director Richard Linklater has his viewers asking throughout Before Midnight, the film series’ third installment.
In 2013, we meet James (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) once again, and we meet their two daughters as well. The strengths of the first two movies remain in Before Midnight, which opens in theaters tomorrow. The Before series once again demonstrates brilliant dialogue and character development in the documentary-style fictional films that feature conversations so realistic you’d swear you’d spoken them yourself at some point. Only this time, the ease between James and Celine is traded in for a new type of complexity, and their relationship is tinged with a bitterness that lingers between them—one which can only be caused by the realities of life. Always though, we feel the voyeur: a glimpse into their lives is a glimpse into our own.
These movies aren’t solely plot-driven. There’s no violence and no extraneous sex scenes. In fact, they are mostly about conversation, about the moments when time is both standing still and fleeting all at once. Uninterrupted dialogue between the lead characters, portrayed brilliantly by Hawke and Delpy, continues for long stretches at a time. It is filled with vignettes about moments in life that would otherwise seem insignificant. The movie is about a human connection; but, human connections are rarely if ever simple, easy and uncomplicated.
A more reality-based portrayal of the couple can hit invested Before fans with a bit of a chill. Philosophy-steeped discussions and long gazes into each other’s eyes are traded for everyday dilemmas and circumstances: how to raise their children, whether they should relocate the family, and whether life is leading them in the same direction as one another. From the wonderment of what could be, we’re introduced to what actually is.
Still, a glimmer of hope keeps its viewers tied into in James and Celine’s lives and it keeps them caring about the outcome of their squabbles and discussions. The characters of the first two movies are still there, they’re just buried under the weight of the responsibility and circumstance that comes with a long-term relationship and a family. The first movies, steeped in idealism and hope, and swept up in spontaneity, are still there as well. The connection is just more subtle—less reminiscent of a fairy-tale and more telling of a real-life hopeful love story—and therefore it’s somehow even more poignant than the rest.