The bitter realities of love and eternal battle of the sexes take centre stage in the final chapter of Richard Linklater’s romance trilogy Before Midnight.
Since the 1995 release of essential Gen X romance classic Before Sunrise, a constant thread in the careers of writer/director Richard Linklater and his stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is their dedication to independent cinema. While mainstream success has come to each of them, never have they strayed from their roots.
It is a career decision that not only lends credibility to their work as artists, but also to this film. While for some a return to a franchise (if that term could be applied here) is motivated by commercial means, the Before… series is filled with a love and affection for these characters and their expanding romance.
Set nine years after Before Sunset, soul mates Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) are finally in a committed relationship that has spawned a family. With the Greek Peloponnese peninsula now the backdrop, the pair embark on a kids free night of passion which turns to anything but, for what is a complex love story if not for these two complex people – he an American with a cheeky demeanour, artistic soul and slightly conservative outlook on life; she French with a wickedly naughty sense of humour, combative spirit and staunchly liberal feminist principals as her guide – to complicate matters even further?
Once again co-written by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy (the trio received an Oscar nomination for that feat on Before Sunrise) the strength of Before Midnight is in its script, and one of the major themes is that of conflict: Conflict about the present, conflict about the future, conflict about their domestic life, conflict about their professional lives and –above all – an inherent conflict in their genders, with Celine in particular carrying a rallying flag for oppressed middle aged, middle-upper class, fully employed women everywhere.
Where the previous two films saw Jesse and Celine able to walk away from each other and back to their lives, Before Midnight makes it clear that they are one another’s lives. Linklater and his players bring an end to the fantasy and welcome the thrilling ups and bitter downs of reality to this love story which no longer belongs to lovers passing each other through the night, but to a domesticated couple: Man and woman. American and French. Combative soul mates to midnight and beyond.