(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013)
One Three Sentence Plot Summary: Two random strangers meet on a train and build a strong connection in less than 24 hours. They see each other nine years later and fall in love all over again despite the challenges of life weighing down on them. Finally, they are a couple approaching middle age (with two children), and they have a significant argument which could end their relationship.
Why It’s on the List:
I am rewatching all of these movies, of course. In rewatching Before Sunrise, I see two young people with hope in their eyes and the world in front of them. Jesse,played by Ethan Hawke, is pretentious and Celine,played by Julie Delpy, is hopeful about the kind of impact she can have on the world. They have conversations about life and time.
Every time I finish, I think to myself how solid this movie is. The way Richard Linklater shoots Vienna makes it an appealing destination. The ending is open ended, and I cannot imagine Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy imagined they would come back to play these roles again. This didn’t even make $10-million and is as niche as any movie on my list. “It’s just two people talking.”
I did not see Before Sunset in theaters, but I saw it on DVD shortly after it came out. What impressed me so much about the sequel is that it was both shorter and somehow felt more significant. Delpy and Hawke are credited screenwriters this time, and the film feels more personal. My guess is Ethan Hawke’s marital situation heavily influenced what actually happens in the movie. He was married to Uma Thurman (Maya Hawke, a rising actor in her own right, is their offspring), and got divorced around the same time as this movie. Jesse and Celine have aged ten years, and some of the idealism has disappeared. Jesse seems more humbled and much less pretentious. Celine is definitely more consistent across all three movies, but that doesn’t make her any less right.
This franchise makes the argument for Delpy as a truly underrated performer as she is Hawke’s equal. I love the way that certain things they say come back to haunt them across all three movies. In this case, Celine talks about not having sex with Jesse on their one night together. Eventually, it’s revealed they did. The ending is also open ended, but you can literally see Jesse falling in love with Celine as sings to him. It’s clear Jesse is going to miss his flight, and life is going to change.
Before Midnight wrecks me every time I watch it. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than watching a couple fight or breakup on film. The final half hour of this movie is excruciating, but there is also so much depth. We see Jesse the parent, and it’s revealed how patriarchal he can be when it comes to sports and worldview. We find out Jesse and Celine have twins (dead ringers for these two and the most impressive acting in this movie may be their ability to sit still in the backseat for an extended long take). The couple is entering middle age, and there are more warts than ever. Jesse and Celine may have slept with other people. The twins were a result of not using a condom. Celine had a difficult pregnancy and feels trapped. Jesse misses his son and wants to be more involved in his life but is not acknowledging the very real pain his partner is going through. That’s right, partner, because they’re not married. This is also a movie that engages with the idea of a soul mate and whether love is permanent or not. There are more speaking parts than in the previous two films combined, and this is the longest of the series at almost two hours. The ending is as always open-ended but hopeful.
I truly think this a series that gets better as it goes along. When we think of the concept of the trilogy or franchise, our minds automatically go to big-budget blockbusters. Marvel reinvented the franchise model with an ongoing series of over 20 movies involving multiple mini-franchises and different characters. Not all independent films should be anything more than a 90 minute to two-hour film, but exploring this relationship, really only seeing three important days in it, is fascinating. Linklater loves to explore the idea of time and how we change (or don’t change). Although these are three separate movies, I cannot possibly see them as anything but one story.
*Mileage may vary, but Jesse’s behavior in Sunrise especially.
MVP and Best Performance: Richard Linklater is the director of all three parts of the trilogy. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have performed in all three films and are credited as screenwriters on the latter two. I cannot separateany one individual from the pact. Linklater does not simply point and shoot. He very carefully shoots each scene and captures beautiful vistas in every space Jesse and Celine occupy. The original story is even based on a night Linklater had with a woman in 1989, so a lot of the early inspiration is driven by him. His career is fascinating, an odd mix of these really tiny movies and more mainstream fare. I’ve always been more interested in his smaller films.
Best Quote: “Life’s hard. It’s supposed to be. If we didn’t suffer, we’d never learn anything.” -Jesse (Before Sunset)
Is there a sequel? There has not been any word about a potential fourth Before movie. However, we would be due for one in 2022 if they follow the pattern of releasing one every nine years. If it’s announced, it will be my most anticipated movie of that year.