A few years ago, one night when I was still in college, I was doing the random Netflix search. You all know what I’m talking about; those times when you are just looking for something to watch. I had seen that Before Sunrise was on Netflix before, but stupidly assumed it was just one of those throwaway lifetime movies about a woman who moves to Europe, meets a guy with an accent and promptly falls in love.
Nevertheless, my brother, who happened to be at my apartment that day, pointed it out, saying “Oh, yeah, I’ve wanted to see that”. I shrugged and put it on, figuring that if it was bad, we would just turn it off. I quickly stopped passively watching it and became entranced. Why? Because, I couldn’t help it. The Richard Linklater film, made in 1995 (I was three, guys), follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two twentysomethings who meet on a train and spend a night together in Vienna.
The film is really just their conversation over several hours, where they discuss everything: from their first sexual feelings to what they want to do with their lives. I’ve found that that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. My own mother calls the films “talky, talky, shit, shit, shit”. It definitely takes more concentration and patience to watch a film that’s all talking, all the time. But, in my opinion, these films are worth it. If you’re in your early twenties, watching this first film in the trilogy captures that very specific time when we’re too young to be jaded and we believe that such happenstance love affairs can happen. It is idealistic and pure, brimming with the hope that things will work out and that there will be a happily ever after for all of us.
The second film in the trilogy, Before Sunset, was made in 2004, nine years after the first. It follows another chance meeting between Jesse and Celine, this time in Paris. They are now in their thirties and in a totally different place in their lives. Jesse becomes a successful author who now has a child. They talk a lot about how their lives didn’t turn out the way they thought they would, about their regrets and what they still want for their future. The film ends on an ambiguous note.
Still, the third film, Before Midnight, made in 2013, was not planned. In this film, my favorite of the series, we find Celine and Jesse married and with two little girls. They’re vacationing in Greece for the summer. The two of them are now in their early forties and facing the reality of married life. Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy shared a writing credit on this film and it very much reflected where their personal lives had gone. They had all been married and knew that it was not all it was cracked up to be. That’s not to say that they didn’t believe in love, but they knew that marriage and love came with imperfection and compromise.
So much can be said about these films that it’s hard to focus on just one thing. The reason these movies mean so much to me is because they’re honest. Even though I’m only 23, I appreciate that the films don’t give a fairy tale happy ending to this romance. They take each stage in these people’s lives and explore the myriad of feelings people go through: elation, disappointment, happiness, sadness, regret…all of it. Life is not always rosy and happy, even if you’re with prince charming, There are good days and bad days and the Before series doesn’t shy away from that.
Vintage trailer below: