Before Midnight: The darkest time of night, if night equals our lives

The third and possibly final installment of a twenty-year filmmaking project, Before Midnight ends with a dose of despair and laughter. Oh wait, no, sorry, just despair.

Before Midnight is a movie that probably should never have been made. Linklater’s other two hits, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, are fine and dandy on their own. If you’ve never seen those two, they’re about the same characters (Jesse and Celine), played by the same actors (Ethan Hawke and July Delpy), who meet in Europe and spend a few hours together. Once in 1994 and once in 2004. Both films have similar tone—the two walk around a town, forging a romantic connection with an endless series of conversations. Ugh, it sounds so, so terrible when you put it like that. But Celine and Jesse really do like to talk, mostly about their philosophies on love, anecdotes about literary figures, and pretty much what it’s like to be a smarter human than everyone else they know. It’s about connections, man. You can make them when you find someone willing to listen to your minutia and not push you into a charming medieval German gutter. But can you keep up those deep connections? CAN YOU?


Before Sunrise says “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Before Sunset, in which the two meet again after Jesse writes a book about the former experience, says “Sort of! But will it last??”

Before Midnight rolls it eyes and is like “Does anything last? Romance is dead. Get out of my face.”

Jesse and Celine are now in their early forties and look it, refreshingly (although someone made some poor decisions about Hawke’s hair, someone who was trying to recapture his Reality Bites days). They’ve got two kids of their own and are facing the realities of middle age. For a few hours, they decide to take an evening off from parenthood and…stroll around together in a European town THIS IS STARTING TO LOOK FAMILIAR.

As 20-somethings they were pretentious but hopeful, at 30 they were wistful and wise, but at 40…they’re pretty much over it. They’re so normal, it hurts to watch. Stresses of having young kids and the stresses of former spouses and the stresses of changing careers…it’s all too real to this normal gal. It doesn’t help that the climax of the film (if that’s not too much of a stretch) is one of those quagmire fights where nobody is getting anywhere and maybe nobody even wants to.

The thing is, I walked out of the theater really liking it! 24 hours later, I’m annoyed that the multi-decade journey on which Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have been leading us1 has resulted in this muddy and cold puddle of stark reality. THIS is where we’ve been headed all along? THIS is why we marathon-watched the two precursors one weekend alone with a bottle of wine that just kept getting lighter?

Before Midnight is a perfectly fine movie with impeccable performances and a setting that’s to-die-for. It’s just that the constant tension that kept the other two movies afloat was never written in. It truly is just a couple of discussions, then one big marriage fight, then the credits.

I mean, spoiler alert, I guess? And there’s no re-scheduled flight or train to catch, so they actually can take as much time as they want. Wooooo! More walking and talking! Reflecting how full of romance their lives used to be. Basically squandering a nice night, like we all do in a long relationships, because we are tired/hungry/upset and we have a bone to pick that just won’t stop pickin’.

Like I said, wooooo. A movie encouraging me to either get divorced or make the most of it and stick around for the kids. Not sure I like those odds.

— ∮∮∮ —

Why you should see this movie

You’re a huge fan of the first two, and you want to see what happens.

Why you should stay home

They show you what happens.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Slowly, very slowly. With copious stops along the way, so you can argue about Tolstoy or the concept of a soul mate. 
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Susan Howson

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  1. Did you mean to call the movie “Between Midnight” in the third-to-last paragraph?

    The first movie in the series is still one of my all-time favorites for the simple fact that Hawke and Delpy do a pretty amazing job of just talking for 110 minutes. They did an especially good job with the little details like a stumble while walking, or fidgeting while talking, starting a statement then changing the wording mid-sentence to better express the idea, and other little details that add authenticity.

    There were definitely times when I thought the dialog was a little pretentious, but it of fits since these are two 20-somethings. I don’t mean that as a slight on 20-somethings. Looking back from my 40’s, I cringe at some of the statements I made or beliefs I had in my 20’s (as I’ll probably do again in another 20 years). But in your 20’s, especially your early 20’s, you’re heaving off the structures that were given to you by parents and churches and schools and trying on your own ideas and personae to see what fits. I don’t think the movies are trying to impart any wisdom but rather reflecting on what it’s like to be that age, to have those feelings, and connect with that “what if” question in all of us.

    Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have good chemistry and that’s even present in interviews they do together. I like watching it. I’m a big romantic so I hope this movie doesn’t kill the fantasy I love about this storyline for me.

  2. i just finished watching Before midnight and have frustratingly mixed feelings about the whole movie. I remember watching Before Sunrise when I was 18, bored alone at home watching this random movie at 1am in the morning, the dialogue got me hooked, along with the romantic swept off your feet idealism and energy of youth, I came across Before Sunset at a film festival in my late 20s, experiences of life and relationships as with the film’s characters, complex as life is the romance was still there. Now in my late 30s and going through what I hope has been the darkest years of my life, I come to remember Sunrise and Sunset fondly like decades of watching a relationship in parallel , watching Before Midnight was kind of painfull in the sense of having to smile while you had a headache. I think any kind of romantic notion in the past decades revolving around these characters just got slapped away repeatedly with a brick in the face. But I guess that’s the message of the film, real love is not a fairytail, it can get ugly painfull, boring, warts and all. Despite having to face the reality of what this film is trying to say, “romance is transitory, it’ll die eventually enjoy whatever you can, I’ve put up with enough of your shit, this is real love, and it is hard work”, I’m still an idealist, real love can be hard work but it still has its beautiful moments, I don’t think showing a shitfight and ending it with Ethan Hawke sucking up so he could get sex was an elegant way of getting the film’s message across, even if that was still the film’s intention then it’s still a crude way to do it. I think the film focused too much on ugly moments in a relationship, neglecting that there are also beautiful parts.

  3. And yea after 20 fraken years to this… whaaaaat?! Grrr

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