Before Midnight

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the heroes and protagonists of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, are roughly the same ages as Ryan and I. We’ve grown up with them, and that may color how we view “Before Midnight” and its predecessors. I fell in love with these characters, and couldn’t wait to experience the next chapter in their lives.

In this latest film, we join Jesse and Celine nine years after the events in “Before Sunset,” and again, many things have changed for the two of them in the intervening time. We drop in toward the end of a vacation in Greece, and the pair are immediately familiar and intimate, and as viewers we feel as if they’re just old friends of ours, catching up.

Without a doubt, “Before Midnight” is best experienced with minimal spoilers, but even the trailers have told us quite a bit. I will say that what we witness is both expected, and a little sad. And for this go ’round, it appears that there is no “deadline” to meet, and thus no innate dramatic tension.

Yet, by the closing moments, everything is at stake, and for those of us in a similar stage in our lives, we can relate to the stakes all too well.

“Before Midnight” is the most honest, most realistic film about a long-term relationship that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s deliberately paced and beautifully shot, invoking the best parts of the New Hollywood films of the ’60s and ’70s. It is its own film, yet it certainly nods in small ways to “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.”

And as far as performances go, Hawke and Delpy are indistinguishable from Jesse and Celine. To me, they are Jesse and Celine, a sense only strengthened with their performances here… if they even are performances. Delpy and Hawke co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater, and there are gems and needles of truth that must certainly come from real life.

In this third outing, we actually meet and get to know a few other characters, and they are just important to this film as Jesse and Celine. They seem to represent the two at different stages of their relationship, past and future. The conversations between these characters are just as honest as the ones this film series is known for.

When the credits roll, there’s a hesitation. And I think eeryone who sees this film will have a different own opinion about what happens next. That, perhaps, is the trademark question that haunts every “Before” film. But for the first time in this trilogy, I’m okay with not knowing what happens next. I think the final scene tells me everything I need to know about these characters. It’s a beautiful wrap-up to a great trilogy.

But if “Before Noon” turns up in 2022, I won’t complain.