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Photo: The Before Trilogy/Columbia, Warner, Sony Pictures Releasing
“But isn’t everything we’re doing in life, a way to be loved, a little more?”- Celine
What is love? Is it the recognition of oneself in another? Or a kind of curated tenderness that arises from the fear of dying alone? Is it the careful calculation of compatibility, a stock investment for status, and financial gains? Surrender and Sacrifice? Maybe it’s our biology, communicating an unconscious desire for a mate that will have the highest chances of producing offspring that will prolong our species. Or perhaps it’s mostly intangible, nestling in the spaces between each of us, that ineffable irresistibility for those that magnetize us beyond comprehension. Everyone will likely have a variant answer, as we all tend to develop our own unique relationships with love itself. For some, it’s about feeling intrinsically rewarded when we give ourselves to a particular person, and for others, it’s about finding someone they can abandon their ego with, as far as it is willing to abolish itself in the presence of another.
The Premise of ‘The Before Trilogy’: ‘Before Sunrise’, ‘Before Sunset’, ‘Before Midnight’
In the ‘Before’ trilogy, we are immersed in an intensely sincere symphony that follows the unfolding love of two characters over time. The philosophical, political, and poetic dialogue of this film is utterly unparalleled. Written and directed by the unrivaled genius Richard Linklater, (also co-written by Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke) the authentic chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is nothing short of magical – a whisk of witty, wise, wandering minds. The original script was made after a real experience Richard had after meeting a woman in a toy shop and sharing a night of deep intense conversation. After being cast, the two starring actors added their own dialogue and romanticism.
After meeting on a train, they have formlessly fluid conversations about life, expectation, death, family, confusion, memories, etc. They are clearly both fit for the same fashion of free-thinking, uttering whatever comes to their minds, funding the bizarrely human enchantment of tapping into something profound between the two of them. Ethan Hawke’s character (Jesse) convinces – with little prodding we come to find out, as she was already eager to spend more time with him – Julie’s character (Celine) to follow him off the train on a whim and explore Vienna together before his flight back to America in the morning. She agrees.
After hopping around looking for places to see and things to do, they find ways to get to know each other better, asking stories about their first loves and sexual experiences. Throughout the film, we can see the bare brilliance of the dialogue, capturing a rare type of free form dialogue, highlighting the contents of their curious minds. It was like watching two children playing in a sandbox, figuring things out, except of course – as lively young adults who share an equal curiosity for the deeper questions. We are enamored as we watch them (metaphorically) build sandboxes out of their imagination, exploring the catacombs of their consciousness.
After a series of spontaneous excursions and peddling past their insecurities, leaving themselves vulnerable and mulling over the connection they’ve formed, the two of them decide to abandon the idealistic notion of keeping in touch and subsist to this being their one and only night together. After a day of some of the most romantic, altruistic, and deeply touching moments together, they agree to meet again in six months at the exact same spot near the train that they left each other, not exchanging any information or addresses, to eliminate the possibility of the magic dying off or things growing stale.
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Before Sunset: Atypical Romantic Algorithm
“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.” -Celine
Proceeding the first film, we come to find that things didn’t exactly unravel in happily-ever-after romantic order, Ethan Hawke being married and having had a kid with someone else. This sequel takes place quite a few years after their first rendezvous, and Celine goes out to find him after Jesse travels internationally for his book tour. The book is an adaptation about all the experiences they had together, and although Celine is somewhat relieved that she wasn’t alone in feeling the significant impact of that night, she is tragically dampened by the lack of luster in her life following her uniquely transcending experience that special day in Vienna with Jesse.
The two of them reconnect and start conversing almost like none of that time had passed, except their notions of love (especially Celine’s) being much less starry-eyed and idealistic. She is clearly bitter that none of her subsequent relationships meant much to her in the way that that night meant everything to her. They both reminisce on the love they shared with others since but agreed that there was something especially significant about the connection they shared that one night and Celine’s jaded attitude towards love and death only amplified as years passed.
The two of them lead a very different lifestyle, and you can see that Jesse is still fascinated by the more simplistic, European-styled way of living that Celine exists by. It is obvious that the two of them still shared some indescribably fluid connection with one another. It’s heartbreaking to see that their lives took such drastically different paths. We come to find out that Celine wanted to meet up with him again, but life tragedy got in the way, preventing her from actually meeting him on the day they had planned to reconnect. You can see she spent a great deal of her life regretting this. The film ends rather ambiguous, featuring an angelic song performed by Celine in her solo apartment, and a sensitive-eyed Ethan Hawke, melting as he watches the women he had loved so passionately in that one day and every day that followed.
Before Midnight: Idealism/Realism
After discovering that the sparks that burned so fiercely still existed between the two of them, they decide to try to find a way to make things work. Throughout the film, several complications roar up as the idealistic romantics do everything they feared, settle down and form a routine and get to the point of recognition where they can predict and anticipate the other’s responses and reactions to things. In this film we are plunged into the post- evolution of their romantic relationship, now having had some kids of their own and decided to live in Europe together.
They are confronted with the fears of aging, of love growing stale, and the possibility of following other paths in life. While their deepest and most significant intertwinings are still very much prominent and they have created a lovely life together, much of the mystic youthfulness of their love has certainly deflated. Something they had fore-shadowed would happen inevitably as time passed, but we get the opportunity to actually witness them in the muck of it.
Celine has the new responsibilities of putting some of her career ambitions on the back-burner as a mother (and step-mother), not something she was sure she would do or even want as a fiercely forward feminist, and Ethan has to juggle his career and face the division he created in his first family by having limited access to his son, who still lives in the US. It has surely created tension and conflict within the two of them, and despite the pure dimensional chemistry that still proves pervasive, it is layered with uncertainty and resentment.
It’s heartbreaking to watch, but there is something redeeming about it, as it’s something we all fear will happen after the perseverance of a highly intense romantic clambering of souls. They are still curious, highly philosophical and poet creatures, but time and routine has sprouted new anxieties and exhaustion that drift through the cadence of their conversations like ghosts of their insecure past selves. It is without doubt one of the most realistic portrayals of love evolving over time ever produced on-screen. The crevices explored, the faces of each fear and time beaten hopefulness, is bittersweet and nothing short of something we expected from this both realistic/ idealistic look at love through this profound microscope.
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Melissa McGrath is a writer for Hollywood Insider, offering rich and engaging content for reviews and features. Melissa feels at home with Hollywood Insider’s lively team who share an equal passion for the art of cinema. Having sought out compelling stories her whole life, she is eager to examine and share her observations with others interested in thought-provoking material. She believes in changing the world through meaningful dialogue and hopes to provide helpful insight with her work. She values open discussions concerning morality, culture, personal development, and holds a soft spot for cathartic humor. Through the art of storytelling, journalism, and cinema, Melissa seeks to help build a strong community of free-thinkers and cultivate a deeper understanding of the human experience.