"We're all just passing through."

“We’re all just passing through.”

There is a lot of wistful wondering that comes from the heart. In 1995, BEFORE SUNRISE left romantics in its audiences to wonder what could come from opening themselves up to a perfect stranger for one day of unadulterated romance. In 2004, BEFORE SUNSET dared lovers and dreamers to wonder what might be if they stepped back into their past and stood in front of “The One That Got Away” once more.

Now eighteen years after we started, BEFORE MIDNIGHT comes along and asks us to get in touch with a different part of our heart. It asks us to wonder what could happen if we got everything we wanted romantically. What then?

BEFORE MIDNIGHT concludes the story of Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke). We meet up with them in southern Greece, nine years after their last meeting in Paris. That meeting sparked Jesse to leave his wife and move to Paris to be with Celine. They are now parents of twin girls. As the film begins, Jesse puts his son from his first marriage on a plane home to America, and we quickly learn that while their father-son relationship is a loving one, it is complicated by the resentment Jesse’s ex-wife still holds.

Jesse and Celine

It takes a little while to notice it, but there’s a big change to Celine and Jesse’s story as it enters its final act. It’s not just that they are significantly older than they were when we met them (though they are), nor that they don’t speak as wistfully as they have in the past (though they don’t). The change at hand affects this chapter of their tale alone, and sets it apart from everything we’ve seen to date. The change is that this time, the clock isn’t ticking. There’s no train that will depart at sunrise…no plane that will depart at sunset. What needs to be done “before midnight” is primarily metaphorical, but if it can’t be done, it can wait until dawn.

I bring up this change, because it underlines what has become of their relationship, and what becomes of so many relationships. As infatuation solidifies into love built on trust, the sense of urgency disappears. They don’t write songs about this stage of love, and it sure isn’t the part that young men and women daydream about finding. However, it’s the reality. The lucky ones among us find that one special person, commit  ourselves, and settle in for a life together. That life is a never-ending string of tomorrows. There are ups and downs along the way, changes to be made and challenges to face…but there is always a tomorrow, then another tomorrow, and another tomorrow.

If you’re not on the train, there will be another one. If you don’t make your flight, you can reschedule. Perhaps this lack of excitement, this lack of danger is what makes so many become restless with love as we grow up.

Even without its previous two chapters, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is an incredible movie due to the truth it dares to speak. Before we even get to Celine and Jesse having one of their notorious and lengthy heart-to-hearts, we listen to a discussion over supper about the nature of love, and what has become of it in the new millennium. Love is no longer blind – it is entered into with full disclosure, and with numerous out-clauses. Listening to these couples discuss what they have learned is astonishing in its honesty. Some of them have learned it through experience, some have learned it through observation. All of them though seem to know what love is about in 2013. No longer is love eternal; love is now subject to disinterest. The nature of true love is seen as a fallacy – in actuality, we are all just “passing through”.

To conclude the “Before Trilogy” however, we must turn the mic over to Celine and Jesse…and when we do, we are almost shocked at what they have to say. A lot of time has passed since that night in Vienna, and if we’re ever unsure, we just need to take a look at these two beautiful people who are now frayed around the edges. Their conversation this time isn’t filled with the wistfulness of a chance encounter, nor the ‘what-if’ of a chance reconnection. Listening to them now is not just about what they say, but how they say it and what they leave out. These are two people who love each other with the same intensity they did the night they first met – but now that love has to take the stand and be cross-examined.

Does loving someone give you permission to question their life decisions? Does loving someone include loving the changes they might go through? Does loving someone allow you to crack wise when they’re trying to be serious, and sometimes frustrate them even further? Does loving someone come with moments where blame will be assigned and fingers will be pointed? And does loving someone give license to question the veracity of the love they profess?

The answer to all of these questions is the same: Yes – yes it does.

This isn’t the part of love you get taught about, it’s the part you have to learn for yourself, and learn alongside the person you love. If you’re lucky – and many people are – you study hard together and come up with the right answers. Going through these moments of uncertainty and unpleasantness allows your love to grow even stronger. If you’re unlucky, you move on, and go through it all over again with someone else. This type of love wasn’t what Jesse and Celine were looking for or talking about in the previous two films, but now that they are together it’s where they are at – and listening to them fumble their way through it gives the film a level of truth we don’t often see.

It’s a special moment when any film can make its audience think about these sorts of ideas surrounding love. That writer-director Richard Linklater made these characters confront it feels extra special. For a long time, Jesse and Celine have represented the most idyllic embodiment of romance. Theirs was a connection formed on spontaneity and romance. Hearing them discuss the state of their union is like knowing that in a world where Rome and Juliet survived, they ended up going to couple’s counselling.

Making these starry-eyed characters face up to the realities of love makes for a daring movie; a movie dripping with honesty and one of the best of the year so far.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on BEFORE MIDNIGHT.