The 90s gave us a big wave of new, alt film makers who at their core, were massive movie nerds. Nerds like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater. Tarantino has been able to follow his indulgences to some really great places and is possibly more recognisable than any other director working today. The recently retired-from-film-making Soderbergh is one of the most well respected names of the last two decades. Smith rode his train way past the last stop of relevance and film making creativity long ago, easily distracted by whatever bright, shiny trinket he might see out of the corner of his eye. Rodriguez only gets more and more unpredictable (in good and bad ways) as the years go on. And then there’s Richard Linklater, the quiet achiever.
Linklater is the guy who can make crowd pleasing fluff that’s actually really good, like School of Rock. The guy who can actually come really close to translating Philip K Dick to the screen with A Scanner Darkly. The guy who can make genre pulp like The Newton Boys one minute, then turn around and make an art house, philosophical talk fest like Waking Life the next. All that, plus a movie a lot of people see is an outright modern American classic, Dazed and Confused.
He’s also the bloke who’s made a trilogy out of two people doing nothing more than walking and talking. Sequels are usually reserved for action, sci-fi and the odd comedy. With the just released Before Midnight, Linklater has managed to build a franchise on one compelling relationship.
If you haven’t see 1994’s Before Sunrise or 2004’s Before Sunset, look out, there will be some spoilers. There’s no way to talk about Before Midnight without getting into the movies that preceded it.
Ethan Hawke is Jesse, Julie Delpie is Celine. They met nineteen years ago in Before Sunrise, on a train in Austria. They spend the night walking around Vienna, talking about life, the universe and everything, and falling in love. With Hawke’s character flying back to America the next morning, they have to say goodbye. Until nine years later, when a book he writes about that night leads to a publicity stop in Paris where Delpie’s character tracks him down in Before Sunset. They spend the day walking around Paris, talking about life, the universe and everything, and realising they have stayed in love this whole time, without ever seeing each other.
Which brings us to today, Before Midnight finds them in Greece and these two crazy kids have finally got it all figured out. They’ve spent the last nine years together, popped out a set of twins and the honeymoon period has long since passed. While the long, single takes are still there, Midnight deviates the most from its predecessors in its reliance on an extended cast. The first two Befores focused purely on Hawke and Delpie, with other roles barely more than extras with a line or two. The first half of Midnight however, has them surrounded by their children, friends and colleagues. And then… Then the second half kicks you right in the guts.
When the two main characters argue it feels so real I got uncomfortable watching it. They have the kind of arguments where they are both completely right, but going about everything completely wrong. So it’s hard to want either to win. While Sunrise and Sunset are all about the unlimited possibilities of love and romance and how ultimately, nothing can get in the way, Midnight is about what happens when you get what you want and the novelty wears off.
I wouldn’t call it cynical, there are still plenty of those little moments that make you think Jesse and Celine are the world’s most perfect couple, Before Midnight is just a little world weary. LIke the two earlier films, Midnight finishes at the perfect moment and if the series ends here, no one could complain. But I don’t think it will end here and can’t wait to see where these two characters are in another nine or ten years. And I can’t wait to see what else Linklater makes in between now and then as well.