The Beauty of the Before Trilogy — Part II
Following on from Part I, let’s talk about how the three movies stand individually and what makes them so much different than other hollywood films in the same genre.
Read Part I :
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…
Before Sunrise : The Beginning of Something Beautiful.
Daydream delusion, limousine eyelash
Oh baby with your pretty face
Drop a tear in my wineglass
Sunrise is all about Jesse and Celine spending their first and only day together, after Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him to walk around Vienna. Ever since they look up from their books and start talking to each other on the train, there’s a spark that is ignited between the space they share. Within minutes, there is a chemistry, an impulse, that continues to stay with them for the movies that follow. Jesse informs Celine that he only has one night left in Europe, as he has a flight back to the United States next morning. The scenes are usually shot in long, no cut sequences as they keep talking to give the viewers a sort of portal into these character’s spaces. At times Linklater makes the viewer feel that they’re a third wheel, whether it’s walking with Jesse and Celine in Vienna or being in a hotel room in Greece in Before Midnight where they make love.
The subtle changes in both of the actors’ mannerisms and behavior are very detailed, as they slowly start falling for each other but at the same time being gutted that they have less than 24 hours together. The viewer feels the pain these characters go through, at the same time being pulled into the scene with the natural dialogue. They have an eventful day together, culminating with them spending the night, tired and in each others arms in a park. Jesse wants to sleep with Celine in the park, but Celine doesn’t want to be that “French chick” Jesse would tell all his friends about back in the U.S.
The movie doesn’t imply that they had sex, it is left for the viewers to decide as the night ends with them kissing passionately on the ground. The movie ends next morning on another ambiguous note as Jesse and Celine promise to meet each other on the same train station six months later. However, they do not exchange any contact information because Jesse says doing that is too common and relationships often fizzle out once people write or call once or twice. The film shows a beautiful montage of all the places Jesse and Celine visited the day before, now all empty, lonely and craving for the type of love that these two shared over in those places.
Before Sunset : The Feel Good Story
You were for me that night
Everything I always dreamt of in life
But now you’re gone
You are far gone
All the way to your island of rain
Nine years since Jesse came back to the U.S and since Sunrise released, things have changed a lot. Jesse is now a successful writer, doing a publicity tour in Europe for his book “This Time”, which is based on that night he spent with Celine nine years ago. On his final tour stop in Paris, he sees Celine in the bookstore where he was promoting his book, and the two decide to go get coffee.
The second film answers the ambiguity from Sunrise. Even though Jesse had flown to Vienna to honor their promise of meeting at the train station, Celine never arrived nine years ago due to her grandmother’s passing. They both went on with their lives, becoming successful, finding love on new horizons, never expecting to see each other again. Jesse later on tells her that he wrote the book about her and came to Paris hoping that she would read his book and would try to meet him. Once again, their time together is limited as Jesse has to leave for the airport by the next hour. Nevertheless, they decide to have a walk around Paris together and talk about how their lives have changed in the past few years.
There is a sense of sadness that the viewer feels throughout the movie because these two have now seemingly moved on from their feelings since their night in Vienna, as Jesse reveals he is now married and has a son and Celine tells him she’s in love with a photo journalist. That spark I talked about that they shared on their first meeting, it slowly starts reigniting as they walk the streets of Paris and blame each other for being young and stupid to not have exchanged contact numbers back then. The ambiguity surrounding them having sex in the park is also cleared in one of these conversations.
“Jesse: Oh, God, why didn’t we exchange phone numbers and stuff? Why didn’t we do that?
Celine: Because we were young and stupid.
Jesse: Do you think we still are?
Celine: I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times”
There is no hint of them getting together at all in the movie. When Jesse’s driver comes to pick him up, Jesse decides to drop Celine home on his way to the airport. In their seemingly final minutes together, a conversation ensues in the car where Jesse says he is not happy with his marriage, and having a kid has changed his outlook on life and is one of the reasons he has to keep his marriage afloat even if there is no love anymore. Celine breaks down, claiming that Jesse’s book caused her a lot of pain because it reminded her of good, hopeful times and that since that night in Vienna she hasn’t been the same romantic she used to be. And again, Linklater with his masterful camera work and natural dialogues make the viewer feel like they are in the front seat of the car, looking back at a couple who deep inside still feel for each other.
There is no happy ending in sight, as Jesse decides to walk Celine to her apartment and eventually enters her apartment. Despite repeated warnings by Celine that he’s going to miss his plane, Jesse is adamant that he won’t leave before Celine sings one of her songs for him. This is where everyone watching wishes that he would just miss his goddamn plane at this point, because Celine sings a beautiful song for him, a song that strongly resembles their night together. What makes this scene beautiful is just the way Jesse is looking at her as he hears her recalling that night through music, memories of the beauty of the night flashing in front of him. Both Jesse and Celine used a form of art to immortalize their love, Jesse by writing a book and Celine by writing a song. Listen to the song here :
Linklater, once again, ends the movie on an ambiguous note. Celine plays a Nina Simone song — an artist both of them love — on her stereo. Celine impersonates Nina and tells Jesse — “Baby, you’re gonna miss that plane”. Jesse looks at her, that same impulse in his eyes the first time he set his eyes on her, and realizing his heart’s desires, calmly replies “I know”. Fade to black.
Before Midnight : Not Everything’s A Bed of Roses
Like sunlight, sunset, we appear, we disappear. We are so important to some, but we are just passing through.
The third installment is in a totally different league from it’s predecessors. Nine years since that eventful afternoon where we assume Jesse did actually miss his plane, they are now together with two kids of their own. The film begins in Greece, with him dropping off his son Hank — the child he had with his ex-wife — and him being uncertain about the distance that he and his son have to face. This kicks off the conflict the movie revolves around, the sacrifice of marriage. Though they are not legally married, Jesse and Celine give an outlook on how life is like when you’re in your 40s. Things get really raw and open in this third installment as they spend an evening on holiday in Greece.
The Before elements that Linklater has mastered are present once again, but in a very limited capacity compared to it’s predecessors. The initial 45 minutes or so revolve mostly around the couple and their friends talking over supper. There is a beautiful conversation about technology and how love has changed fondly in regards to the modern world. The one hour or so after the supper scene focuses solely on Jesse and Celine and involves only two scenes — one long cut where they walk to their hotel and talk in the way we have come to expect of these characters, reminiscing about their first impressions of each other, and then followed by a heartbreaking scene at the hotel room which makes up the crux of the movie.
Jesse: You’re just like the little girls and everybody else. You wanna live inside some fairy tale. I’m just trying to make things better. I tell you that I love you unconditionally, I tell you that you’re beautiful, I tell you that your ass looks great when you’re 80. I try to make you laugh.
For the first time in the series, we see them at the farthest points they’ve ever been in their relationship. The conflict boils over, and they get into an argument in their hotel room. An evening of romance quickly turns into an ugly spat. A recurring theme that was present right up until this moment in the trilogy was how Linklater would shoot his scenes in such a way that the characters would always be in one frame and make the viewer feel like they were there with them. This particular scene doesn’t do that, instead placing Jesse and Celine at two different areas in their hotel room for most of the argument, signifying the rift that has grown between them. At no point does the argument start to feel dull or monotonous, the range of emotions that these two actors can bring into the scene are staggering. The argument ends with one line that shatters every viewer’s heart, acting like a dagger in the hearts of both the viewer who has been rooting for them since the first movie as well as the character the words are spoken to. The cruelest words in all of love.
This is why I said Midnight is not at all like Sunrise or Sunset. Watching the movie and these characters you can definitely tell that Linklater wanted Midnight to be a more raw and grittier expression of romance. That is because romance dies in the later stages of a long relationship, but the love, the love always remains deep inside.
A very sombre scene closes out the film, with the characters being captured within one frame once again, for one final time. Signifying that even after fights and disagreements, the underlying love that led both of them to this point in their lives finds a way to bind them back together. The story of Jesse and Celine concludes on yet another ambiguous idea, of which Richard Linklater has become a master of by now.
It’s been 7 years since Before Midnight came out, and 25 years since the series began. You can’t really blame us for expecting Linklater, Hawke and Delpy to come up with another installment in 2022 — keeping true to the pattern of establishing release dates of the series every 9 years. Linklater, when asked about the future of The Before Trilogy said that he does intend to continue it in some form. We know about Linklater’s cinematic patience (hello, Boyhood!), so we can never really rule out another installment in the Before Trilogy, even 15–20 years from now. Maybe an “After” Trilogy? Whenever Jesse and Celine do return to our screens once again though, one thing is clear, naturalistic romance will be reignited in cinema once again.