Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is not only on track to being my favorite movie of the year, it’s also the capper to the greatest trilogy ever.
Think about it. What’s better? The Godfather saga? Sure 1 and 2 are great (even if Peter Griffin thinks the first one insists on itself)—but is anyone ready to stick their neck out for 3? The first three Star Wars movies? The Ewoks put the kibosh on that. The Lord Of The Rings, you say? Yeah, Frodo, I suppose I could do that. Or, in the time that it takes to watch just one of those ridiculously bloated special editions, I could watch all three grandly romantic entries in the Before trilogy.
And I’ll have the chance to do just that when Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight play back to back to glorious back this Saturday and Sunday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
It was 18 years ago when we were first introduced to Celine and Jesse during their meeting on that fateful train ride from Budapest in Before Sunrise—and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t too sure about those crazy kids at first. As played by (and later, embodied by) Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, they came off as a little too grating and WAY too pretentious for me back then. The fact that Hawke, just a year earlier, had been in the awful and insulting Ben Stiller film, Reality Bites, only confused matters and caused me to write off Linklater’s superb follow up to Dazed And Confused as a failure and just another shitty Gen-X waste of time. I’m wrong a lot—but I don’t know if I’ve ever been that wrong.It wasn’t until nine years later, when they met again in Before Sunset, that I realized what my problem was—I didn’t like Celine and Jesse at first because I was just as grating and pretentious as they were. I was just like them, but instead of identifying with their quirks and shortcomings, I thought I was better than all that. Because that’s what twenty-something a-holes do. And Linklater, being ten years older than me, knew that. And he let them go right on being flawed into their 30s. It may have been the most perfect sequel I’d ever seen (although, I do love The Road Warrior) because it informed, deepened, and made me appreciate the first film in a way that I simply wasn’t capable of when I was 25. And once the credits rolled on what is still the most perfect ending of all time, I knew it couldn’t get any better.
Except it did. Before Midnight is, impossibly, better. “Impossibly” because there’s simply no precedent for a second sequel that’s the best of the bunch. Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke have grown so skilled and fearless in their portrayal of our beloved couple that we could almost be forgiven for our continued folly in thinking, that this time, there’s no way they could top themselves. Tongues are sharper this time around, and even before all-out hotel-room-war starts, Celine and Jesse can barely contain their contempt for each other—but the sense of wistfulness and romance is bone deep. Right down to the marrow. Linklater has one of the best filmographies around, but Before Midnight might be his masterpiece (or maybe it’ll be his next film, Boyhood).
So, yes—each film is great on its own, but seeing all three together should prove to be the most rewarding movie experience this year. And I mean that in the most personal way possible. There’s really no other way to approach movies like this. It’s not JUST the movies that make this trilogy so devastating and profound. It’s us, too. It’s the passage of time and our shared connections that seem to bounce back and forth between audience and the screen. It’s a very rare and special thing. And if they decide to turn their trifecta into a “quadrilogy” by making a fourth film, then I will be very happy to concede Best. Trilogy. Ever. bragging rights to your trio of Hobbit movies.
Before Midnight plays all week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset play on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. All three films may be seen in one day on either Saturday or Sunday, or you can mix and match them on different days at a special discount rate. You can find more information on the series, plus the full viewing schedule, here.Read less