Sequels are generally inspired by greed. Hollywood producers think “We made a lot of money with that movie. Let’s give them more of the same.” Rare is the sequel that deepens and expands the meaning of the original. With Before Midnight, filmmaker Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have completed a trilogy that has grown more powerful with each subsequent movie.
In 1995, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy created Before Sunrise, the lyrical tale of Jesse (Hawke), an aspiring novelist who meets Celine (Delpy), a beautiful young Frenchwoman, while backpacking across Europe. Scheduled to go their separate ways at dawn, they have just one night of passionate conversation and romance. It’s a lovely work, deeply suffused with the dreams and seemingly endless possibilities of youth.
Nine years later, they returned to Jesse and Celine in the brilliant Before Sunset. Jesse is visiting Paris on a book tour to promote a novel inspired by his brief encounter with Celine. She meets him at a book store reading and sparks instantly start to fly. However, he is now married with a young son and she is in a relationship. He also has a plane ticket back to America that night. As they walk the streets of Paris, feelings of excitement and regret hang in the air. Ultimately, they must decide if he will catch his flight or seize this second chance at the love they let slip through their fingers. Linklater ends the film on a tantalizing cliffhanger. Fans had to wait another nine years to find out what happened.
In the latest installment, we find Celine and Jesse on a summer vacation in Greece. They have been living together for many years and have adorable twin daughters. On the final night of the trip, their hosts arrange a hotel room for Jesse and Celine to have a romantic evening away from friends and family. The night begins well with a walk to the hotel that mirrors their memorable encounters from the other movies but as long-simmering resentments and anxieties rise to the surface it becomes clear that their future is far from certain. If the second film focused on regrets associated with the proverbial “road not taken,” the third shows that seizing opportunities can be just as perilous. The giddy innocence of first love has morphed into the complicated reality of a relationship. Anyone who has ever tried to share his life with another human will laugh and cringe as Celine and Jesse wrestle with the thorny mixture of sex, politics, children, gender roles, work, aging and general craziness that comprises modern love.
Before Midnight can be easily enjoyed without having seen the first two movies but together the three films weave a mesmerizing portrait of the evolution of love… And they might not be done. At a recent press conference, Hawke and Linklater hinted there might be a fourth installment taking Jesse and Celine into their fifties. I’m certainly not the only fan who hopes they keep going.