Series Contains: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013)
Richard Linklater is a filmmaker preoccupied with time and how it shapes human experience, and no part of his filmography better illustrates this than the Before Trilogy, which is easily his crowning achievement. Each installment checks in with the same two characters at a specific point in their lives, tracking their romance over the span of decades. The first film, Before Sunrise, introduces us to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two young dreamers who share a chance encounter on a train and decide to spend the day and night together wandering Vienna. Through many different conversations involving topics such as education, past relationships, childhood and pretty much any other topic a pair of twenty-somethings would have, we watch as Jesse and Celine share a brief, intense romance before being forced to part company.
Before Sunset picks up with them nine years later, when Jesse encounters Celine in a Parisian bookstore where he just so happens to be wrapping up a book tour for his own bestseller. Following a similar structure as the previous film, the pair walk the streets of Paris while they discuss the last decade of their lives and what could have been, as it becomes increasingly clear that neither of them ever got over the other. In contrast to the youthful optimism of Sunrise, Before Sunset delves deeper into the sometimes harsh realities of love and relationships but much like its predecessor, the film again concludes on a cliffhanger of sorts, as we are left to wonder whether or not Jesse decides to stay in Paris with Celine.
Before Midnight strikes a considerably different tone than the previous two films in Linklater’s trilogy, exploring the realities of love once the honeymoon phase is over. We learn that Jesse and Celine are now married and are raising twin daughters together, but are now dealing with mundane, day-to-day rather than flights of fancy. Midnight is definitely the most downcast film in the trilogy, with an absolutely brutal third act. However, there is still hope to be found here and when paired with the other films, it’s an essential part of the story Linklater and his stars (who helped write most of their own dialogue for each film) have crafted. While some may scoff at the notion of watching a trilogy of movies about “people walking and talking,” Linklater’s work is arguably one of the finest achievements in modern cinema and deserves to be experienced by anyone with an interest in art that explores love and the human condition.
Source: Screenshot via Columbia Pictures