‘The Before Trilogy’: In Retrospect

In the year 1995, Richard Linklater stole our hearts by creating an exquisitely alluring setting and two characters we could never forget: Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy).

Boy meets girl: we’ve all seen it before, but not like this. Viewing hundreds of romance films myself in the past, I was very hesitant when I watched Before Sunrise for the first time earlier last year. As soon as I pressed play, my opinion changed drastically and it was as if I was laying back submerged in a hazy dream-like state throughout the entire film.

Nearly 25 years later, the trilogy of these enchanting films is still just as cherished today as it was back when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995.

Jesse and Céline in Before Sunrise – photo: Columbia Pictures

Céline, a hopeless romantic, meets Jesse, an ambivalent cynic on her irritable journey back to Paris while taking the Eurail. The hip young adults connect enough for Jesse to convince Céline to join him for a few hours in Vienna before his flight back home to Texas the next morning; “If I turn out to be a psycho, you can bail out,” he says. It’s clear that the two of them form an immediate attraction to one another.

This dreamlike trilogy of films asks us to question within ourselves how and why we come together with certain people, what happens when we do and what it all means. Watching these films one after the other will bring you an indescribable feeling. It will make you want to start over and find the meaning within your life and what it can bring to you. The two young lovebirds walk around the beautiful European city aimlessly as they pick at each other’s thoughts and feelings and without realizing it, falling for each other in the process. There is no conflict keeping them apart, no obstacles to overcome, no tension in their relationship. The only thing stopping them is time. Richard Linklater creates a feel as if time has stopped as if the characters had stepped off the train and into their own romantic dimension.

Reunited in Before Sunset – photo: Warner Independent Pictures

These simple, yet beautifully written films explore inner human connection at its most vulnerable state. Before Sunrise not only makes us ache for what could be but makes us reminisce on what could have been. In an interview with The Guardian, Ethan Hawke describes the trilogy in a beautiful way: “The first film is about what could be, the second is about what should have been. Before Midnight is about what it is.” That quote hit me hard.

New audiences continuously fall in love with this progressive story and its well-rounded and relatable protagonists. It makes you wonder, what is it about these films that resonate so authentically with its viewers? Jesse and Céline speak to something beyond themselves; like us, they both yearn for someone who will meet us where we need to be met.

The question on my mind as I started to watch Before Sunset was most likely the same thing you were all thinking, “Did they meet 6 months later? What happened?”. Throughout the second film, Jesse and Céline try to process how they have both changed and matured since their last encounter nine years ago – that quality alone gives it a nerve-wracking but exciting twist.

The iconic telephone scene in Before Sunrise – photo: Columbia Pictures

This time, the film is doesn’t take breaks between conversations by having the two meet any interesting strangers along the way. Our sequel almost feels rushed and has a sense of urgency as each hour before sunset passes by. There is a specific scene within the film where the camera slowly comes back to capture every last moment and expression as Céline and Jesse fall for each other all over again. Linklater leaves Before Sunset on an unbelievably romantic and suspenseful note as he leaves the viewers begging for a proper conclusion.

The two realize during their second encounter that time is precious and the stakes are higher: now that they are getting older, life’s opportunities may be rarer and not as prevalent – or maybe even missed altogether.

The couple in Before Midnight – photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Before Midnight brings our trilogy to a close, we see a different side of Jesse and Céline. This was much harder to watch than the other two but in a good way, since the first two films are solely based on how in love and how infatuated with each other Jesse and Céline are. This one is different because we see a completely different side of their relationship and problems they are facing: how to be good parents, figuring out their careers and how to keep the spark alive in their relationship. Again, nine years down the road, the main characters are also, much to our surprise, raising two beautiful daughters.

Before Midnight – like its predecessors – is so important because of its focus on character development. This is because the co-writing dream team of Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke believed so strongly in creating a masterpiece of a trilogy that is both authentic and creative. The reason these dreamy films are still so relevant loved and still being discovered by younger generations today is because they are so real. When we viewed the first film, we watched two young adults with movie star good looks roam around a beautiful European city in the 90s. Now, when you see the last film, they have aged – they are no longer youthful and probably not considered highly attractive to most people – but they actually look like real people that we see in our every day lives. We have watched them age and grow as human beings. I feel as if Jesse and Céline are my friends and that I’m watching their lives documentary style.

These works of art are overflowing with important and touching moments that make you remember why you love romance and meaningful connections in a film. Every emotion felt by the characters is sincere and Linklater makes you relate to and feels so much affection for the characters that you never doubt their intentions or emotions.

The last shot in Before Midnight – photo: Sony Pictures Classics

The Before Trilogy is a love story within itself, created with care and shot by a director who enjoys watching his own story and his characters come alive before him.

 

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