In the 1995 Richard Linklater film, Before Sunrise, a young American man named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and a young Frenchwoman named Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train from Budapest. Intrigued by one another, they get off the train together in Vienna and spend the night wandering the city, talking and falling in love, before they both return to their respective lives in their respective countries.
They are reunited in the 2004 film Before Sunset when Jesse, who has come to Paris to promote his best-selling novel based on the night he spent with Celine in Vienna, spots Celine at a reading, and the two again spend time together walking and talking. At the end of the film the audience is left wondering whether they'll leave their partners (to whom they are both unhappily attached) and couple up with each other.
In Linklater's latest look at Jesse and Celine, Before Midnight, we get an answer to that question: They do. And it's no fairy tale. The film catches the couple at a tense moment in their relationship, as the daily grind of life gets in the way of intimacy and communication. The script for this film — as well as for the other two — is a collaborative effort among Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, and Hawke says that, when it comes to the idea of love, Before Midnight looks at a different side of it than the earlier movies examined.
We needed to try to address the harder, more difficult aspects of daily life and what it means when you get what you want, and what you do with what you want when you have it, and do you still want it?Ethan Hawke
"The first two films deal so much with romantic projection," Hawke tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "and [with] the third one we felt like we really couldn't do that again. We needed to try to address the harder, more difficult aspects of daily life and what it means when you get what you want, and what you do with what you want when you have it, and do you still want it?"
Delpy says that because the films build on each other, the theme they share involves the choices we make in life and how choices lead to more choices even as the lives those decisions create become more fixed.
"The films, each ... catch [Jesse and Celine] at a moment where they make a choice," Delpy tells Gross, "and that's how their lives [are] carved more and more. ... And every time we meet them they're at that moment, basically: the choice to get off the train, the choice to miss the plane, the choice to, 'What do we do now? ... Do we separate? Do we stick together and figure it out? What do we do?' "
On the role of Celine not being an ingenue role
Delpy: "The original screenplay ... was extremely intellectual ... extremely talkative. You couldn't just cast a pretty girl to do that part — that was clear and obvious — and that's why I was interested in the film right away, and working with Richard, because it was the opposite of that."
On why the films require so much collaboration
Linklater: "I'm very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can't just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really a first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them."
On the woman Linklater met in Philadelphia as a young man, who inspired the story
Linklater: "She kind of echoes through the film. I always felt I would see her, like she would show up at a screening. When you make a film, you're in public quite a bit. You do screenings, festivals. I run into a lot of old friends, and I figured, just in my mind, 'I have a screening in Philadelphia; maybe she'll be in New York. ... ' And she never showed up. Even in the second film, I think that, in a way, works into the idea of the novel [that Hawke's character, Jesse, writes] and it's sent out as a beacon, you know, in some way, what Jesse admits to, that was swirling around. And I don't want to exaggerate: [My experience] wasn't as intense of a relationship, obviously, as Celine and Jesse have; it was just something swirling around in my mind. The new film is dedicated to her." [Linklater learned from a mutual friend that the woman died in a motorcycle accident shortly before Before Sunrise began filming.]
On the fight scene in Before Midnight
Hawke: "Some people come to me and they think that this movie is darker because Jesse and Celine are fighting, or it's less romantic, but I feel that they're fighting with each other because they still desire to be connected. In a lot of ways, just because you blow up with somebody, it doesn't mean something negative is happening. Sometimes it has to happen. Something about not fighting is dishonest. And that can be more toxic and more poisonous than fighting."
On the way people's ideas of love are shaped by their parents' relationship
Delpy: "It wasn't always good to see them argue, it was a little scary as a child, but it made me understand that it's not because they were arguing that they were not loving each other, that's for sure. I could sense the love. There was never doubt that my parents loved each other. It never reached my mind for a second that there could've been no love between them. There may have been some infidelity along the way, but the love was so present between them, there was zero doubt about it. It's a very strong feeling as a child to feel that the people that are raising you, there's no doubt they love each other. It's a very comforting feeling. It makes you feel secure in many ways. There's something about love that I really, strongly believe in."