Before Midnight is the third film in a series that combines the talents of director Richard Linklater and actor/writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Every nine years now they have revisited two characters who met on a train in Vienna, and it’s kind of exciting to think how long they can make this go.
I enjoyed the first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, but it might have helped if I had looked at them again before seeing this. Not that this film isn’t self-contained; anyone not having seen the other two films wouldn’t have a problem. But my mind kept going back to their back stories. I remember almost nothing of Before Sunset.
Anyway, Hawke and Delpy, after having met in the first film, and reconnecting in the second, are now cohabiting in this film, the parents of adorable twin girls. They live in Paris. Hawke has a son by a previous marriage living in Chicago. At the film’s outset, he sees the boy off back home after a holiday in Greece, where the family has stayed with a famous writer (Hawke is the author of two successful novels). On the drive back from the airport, Hawke and Delpy chat, and Hawke indicates how guilty he feels not being a bigger part of his life. Delpy takes this as a signal that Hawke wants to move to Chicago, though he denies this. Thus the seed of the conflict is planted.
As with the other two films, Before Midnight consists of nothing but long conversations, often shot in continuous takes, and takes place entirely in one day. After getting back from the airport, the two have dinner with the writer and his guests, and the foundation of the film is laid–men and women are different. We hear a story from a woman who mother was a nurse, who told her what men invariably do upon awakening from a coma–they make sure their cocks are okay. There is also an agreed upon philosophy that romantic love is not the most important thing in life, and that a relationship consists of two people–talk of being one person is ridiculous.
Hawke and Delpy, on their last night in Greece, have been given a hotel room as a gift. They walk there, again talking the whole way. Delpy asks Hawke trap questions, such as “If I looked as I do now, would you have still talked to me on the train,” and Hawke answers with pedantic logic “No, because technically I would be cheating on you.”
This leads to their blowup in the hotel room, where each exhibit the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus stuff. Delpy is overly emotional, seizing upon comments that she interprets as Hawke trying to turn her into an American housewife, while Hawke calls her nuts and tries to be rational. I would be interested to get a female take on this, because Delpy, it seems to me, is behaving in a rather extreme manner, but maybe I’m just taking the male point of view.
Before Midnight is exquisitely acted, with sparkling dialogue. Perhaps it’s a bit pretentious–we hear the names Vaclav Havel, and Django Reinhardt dropped, and Delpy insults Hawke by telling him he’s no Henry Miller. I also found the ending, in which Delpy turns on a dime in her emotional state, to be inauthentic.
But overall I found this a fine episode in the series, and I hope there will a fourth in another nine years. Maybe Before Brunch.
My grade for Before Midnight: B