Sequential Cinema: ‘Before Midnight’ (2013)

Sequential Cinema is a look at film series throughout cinema history from blockbuster franchises to smaller and international fare.

The salad days of youth have passed in the nine years from Before Sunset. The early thirties have come and gone. Now we have a couple, in their early forties riding out their marriage in Greece. Those lovers seen in Before Sunrise have been together since 2004. 2013’s Before Midnight completes the trilogy with Jesse and Celine’s story coming to a close.

This third film creeps into the 2010’s adding another decade into this series that spans 18 years. The trio of Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy converged onto Greece for a finale unlike any other. Celine and Jesse did in fact get together and now have two girls. They have not married due to Jesse’s bitter divorce. This is who they are nine years into a solid relationship in sweet bliss and happiness… if this was a lesser movie. The realism that made the series a success comes to a head with a realistic portrayal of a relationship with all the shortcomings. It’s a climax that no one would have expected.

Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) talk in the car about their possible futures. Source: Sony Pictures Classics

It’s the end of their summer getaway in Greece with Jesse dropping off his son Hank at the airport, sending him back to his mom in Chicago. Heading back to the summer place, the two talk as we’ve come to expect, but something in the air is different. This isn’t the couple aware of each other’s likes and dislikes or of their mere existence. Rather, this is a couple that knows every trick, tick, and trait of one another after a decade of being together. The mystique has faded with the two already having had their peak time together and now plateauing into a stagnant relationship.

The walking and talking routine of the two has withered as well. Now there are whole characters they talk to, others to hear from and get a sense of their views of romance. There’s a married couple they have stayed with that and another in the whirlwind romance. Celine and Jesse sit there in conversation, somewhere in the middle. When they do have a moment, Celine points it out saying “We haven’t had the time to just bullshit.” Their lives now are a series of compromises made when they decided to stick together for the long haul.

The two stay in a hotel room for the night to have alone time for themselves away from their daughters. What begins as the makings of an intimate night turns into an argument that seems to have been a long time coming. This moment is about 20 minutes at the end of the film yet feels endless throughout. This is the cinema version of married friends having a shouting match you always feared would happen. It’s a realistic end to the entire trilogy in one poignant and abrasive argument.

In the span of the argument, we hear about how much Celine has compromised to make their relationship work including her career goals. Jesse wants them to move from Paris to Chicago to be close to Hank, but Celine hates the idea. The move wouldn’t allow her to move forward. Jesse can strive since he is a writer and does tours for promotion. Celine even brings up the fact Jesse more than likely had sex with another woman during one of his book tours. Celine then sends the trilogy in a path no one quite expected with one line:

“I’ve realized what it is – I’ve just stopped loving you. That’s it.”

– Celine (Julie Delpy)


The whirlwind beauty romance has withered away to nothing but a bittersweet memory. This is a probable point of no return, even if Jesse pulls off the fictional conversation routine once more at the end as a time traveler. He tries with his damnedest to save and salvage what is already a relationship gone down the pipe but gives up. Yet, both realize that their expectations shouldn’t define their realities. They should focus on what is the reality and that is their bond. Though the end is ambiguous, there is a takeaway from this ending that feels natural. That take away is that this wasn’t their first big argument.

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) tries to win over Celine (Julie Delpy) via a time traveler routine. Source: Sony Pictures Classics

This was the first time we’ve ever seen them argue. It’s hinted as far back as the first film from 1995 with their minor spat after the palm reader with Jesse asking “Is this our first fight?” That was minuscule in comparison to this one, being a petty argument at best. Here is the biggest blow-up that we as an audience can see. Their reconciliation does show that they have fought before, but understand one another. If this indeed was the last big fight or the last time these two will be together will remain a mystery. Given that there is no sequel for 2022 (nine years after this film), it’s safe to say the series has come to a definite close.

Before Midnight is a spectacular end to a two-decade story of romance and all the pains and joy that come with it. Hawke and Delpy have become their characters and matured alongside them. Linklater himself went from film school indie darling to full auteur in the 18 years of these films. Midnight is a masterpiece of not only the series but very well of Linklater’s career.

Final Verdict: 5 out of 5 gyros
The Before Trilogy: 3/3 Complete
First Sequence Complete

Next week, we head into our first major franchise and, this time, we are getting scary just in time for October. In honor of its 25th anniversary, please make sure you know all the horror tropes (and have Caller ID on your phone) because it’s time for a four-part series as SCREAMtober begins with 1996’s Scream. Till the next sequence.

If you would like to see The Before Trilogy for yourself, rent it from digital storefronts or pick yourself up the collection over at Criterion.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s