The Beauty of The ‘Before Trilogy’ — Part I
Three movies, two actors, one incredible love story. This is one of the few times romance in it’s rawest form has ever been depicted in cinema. If what you’re looking for in romantic movies are men with abs taking a shower and sweaty women in Bikinis coming out of swimming pools, these movies aren’t for you by a long mile.
The “Before Trilogy” is the name collectively given to the “Before” movies directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as lovers Jesse and Celine. The series began with Before Sunrise (1995), and was followed by Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). The three movies have grossed nearly $50 million worldwide. In the first part of this write-up, I’ll be looking at the elements that make the movie so different from other hollywood flicks.
Time as a Protagonist
On the surface, it looks like your average romantic movie. Boy meets girl, they lock eyes, fall in love, have a good time for the rest of their lives. While that does in fact happen in this case, there’s a distinctive element that director Richard Linklater incorporates and is perhaps best known for - Time.
Firstly, the movies all have a recurring theme in respect to the time the characters spend together, that is all the three films take place in one single day within their lives. Before Sunrise is all about their first meeting and the entire first day they spend together leading up to next morning’s sunrise, hence the title. The sequel Before Sunset follows not even a complete day, but just an afternoon of the two meeting each other after nine years apart. The third movie also follows one single day that they spend together in Greece. Even though this concept sounds monotonous, the story and dialogues are masterfully woven and their romance never seems like a dull affair.
I kind of see this all love as this, escape for two people who don’t know how to be alone. People always talk about how love is this totally unselfish, giving thing, but if you think about it, there’s nothing more selfish. — Jesse.
Secondly, the time between the release dates of the three movies are nine years apart, which is exactly the amount of time that passes within each movie. In 1995, they are just two 20 something kids experiencing love at first sight. Nine years later when they meet again, they are well established in their careers and have become much more mature and by the third movie they are responsible parents and begin to understand the uncertainties of a long lasting romance and the sacrifices needed to keep a family stable.
The movies being made nearly decades apart is very beautiful, because it allows the viewer to feel more related to any of these movies depending on where they are in certain parts of their life. A teenager or an young adult will appreciate Sunrise and the beauty of young love more, someone in their 30s watching the second movie would relate to the conversations in Sunset more because it is about distance, compromises, careers etc. Similarly, a married person in their 40s would understand the sacrifices that marriage brings in their lives as well as the complexities of raising a family. It’s beautiful because this trilogy can be special to people in specific times in their life and can bring them comfort and solutions in certain situations.
If there’s any kind of magic in this world… it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know it’s almost impossible to succeed… but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt. — Celine.
Third, and this is something exclusive to Before Sunset. Nearly the entirety of the second movie in the trilogy takes place in real time, meaning the amount of time that passes within the movie also passes in real time. Sunset is just 80 minutes long, the shortest in the series. From the first scene to the final shot in Sunset, roughly 70 minutes pass by within the movie and almost no time jumps — not even the slightest — are included. Sunset also has a sense of urgency in it’s story. Unlike Sunrise where these two had an entire day to spend together, all they have in Sunset are a few hours, and that’s what makes it more beautiful. How the realization of a lifetime comes within them just spending a few hours together after nine years apart. You’d think these characters have known each other all their life by the way they talk, but it’s only their second meeting ever.
One of the best things that the series pulls off is it’s plot — or a lack thereof. The films are just a series of real, raw conversations that people that like each other have. When Linklater introduces us to his two characters, we (and even the characters) don’t even get to know their names — Jesse and Celine — before they have a beautiful conversation about life and death, their first of many fruitful conversations over the years. The entire movie is just them walking through Vienna, engaging in conversations that we all want to have with people we love. The same formula works wonderfully in Sunset, and it is rare to see this much amount of detail and dedication put in to script writing in Hollywood. Both the actors re-wrote the script at times and helped out Linklater with dialogues, eventually receiving screenplay credits for Sunset and Midnight.
Before Midnight is the heaviest movie in terms of the plot, with a raging debate that surrounds the entirety of the movie concerning Jesse wanting to move back to the U.S to be with his son from his first marriage, while Celine wants to stay in France to work with the government. Midnight is in a totally different league from the other two movies, and highlights the importance of sacrifices, and what a long lasting romance brings after the seemingly “together happily ever-after” phase begins.
I’ll be talking about the three movies individually in the next part of this article —