Why The Before Trilogy by Richard Linklater is The Most Realistic Portrayal of True Romance
We’ve all wondered at some point in our lives, in all our naivety, what real love looks like — whether it is the constant need to show and receive affection, physical touch and the reassurance of words of affirmation, or even little surprise gifts every once in a while, at the end of a bad day when the windows are shut, the world is silent and our minds are begging for a little rest.
These three movies changed my perspective on what a genuine, loving relationship looks like; they showed me that it’s okay to feel the need to be alone sometimes and that you won’t be longing for your partner every second of the day. But when you do, it’s like the first time. And that’s when you know that that cozy, warm feeling is still there. These movies illustrate what we already knew but always felt the need to hide as we follow, quite attentively, Jesse and Céline’s history throughout the three films, experiencing their tender and devoted bond as if it was our own.
In Before Sunrise (1995), we are introduced to Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young man from Texas who is both smart and passionate about his views on life as he is a bit awkward. He is traveling through Europe on a Eurail pass after breaking up with his former girlfriend when he meets Céline (Julie Delpy), a young Parisian who quickly charms him with her intelligence, beauty, and wit as they share a conversation on her way back home to France after visiting her grandmother in Budapest. The two seem to get along extremely well as they share their interests, beliefs, and backgrounds. There is clearly, and almost immediately, a strong connection between both characters; Jesse and Céline feel rapidly comfortable around each other. As a member of the audience, I venture to say that it’s almost like their souls recognize one another from a previous lifetime. Eventually, the train stops in Vienna, where Jesse is supposed to catch a plane back home the next morning, but instead of leaving on his own, he persuades Céline into exploring the beautiful Austrian capital with him, both of them then exiting the Eurail together and marking the start of a beautiful, harsh, real human connection. Jesse and Céline exchange thoughts and meaningful words while investigating every corner of the city, developing some of the most authentic and alluring dialogues I have ever witnessed on screen, in addition to effortlessly captivating the audience with their undeniable, almost tangible chemistry. At sunrise, Jesse ends up catching his plane and Céline catches her train back home after both promise that they would turn up in Vienna 6 months later, instead of exchanging phone numbers, parting ways after sharing a passionate kiss.
Nine years later, the couple meets again in Before Sunset (2004). Jesse is now a married man, a father, and a published author whose last stop on a tour to promote his bestselling book was precisely in a bookstore in Paris. Although he is vague to reporters about the source material, it is clear that the book is inspired by the encounter and short-duration relationship with the delightful Parisian girl. Both catch up on their lives as they stroll around Paris and, even though a lot of time has passed and both characters seem to have left the stage of young romance, it feels like their connection is as strong, as powerful, and as present as ever. Again, we are met with a lot of realistic and relatable heart-to-heart conversations, except this time instead of the enthusiastic and philosophical discussions they once shared when they were younger, the discussed topics tended to be more political, grounded, and mature. In her early thirties, Céline even mentions how hard it is for her to be a romantic after having relationships that lack meaning and excitement, and Jesse talks about being unhappy in his marriage. It is clear that the first film feels more hopeful and romantic, opposed to this one that finds both characters in a more advanced phase of their lives, emerging in the reality of life where the ideas of love they used to share have started to fade away. The time they spent together in this film was almost like a wake-up call because at times, even though both characters matured and somehow changed their ideals, it felt like they knew they had to redirect their paths back to each other.
The third and last film, Before Midnight (2013) is the kind of romance movie that there are not much more alike out there; it is dirty, it is raw, it is real, and there isn’t much space for romance in it. The time jump is also nine years — Jesse and Céline are now married, have two kids, and have grown out of their honeymoon phase; instead, they find themselves in another stage of their lives where responsibilities (for instance, their children and careers) take over a lot of their time together. Before Midnight truly explores the couple’s relationship and the audience comes across brutal honesty and conflicting interests, as well as complications that come into the couple’s path. Later in the movie, when Jesse and Céline finally have a night to themselves, a conflict arises and a series of arguments start, but the way they handle their conflict is admirable and extremely vital to the maintenance of the relationship, as it deepens intimacy and forces both parties to discuss why they’re angry and what is hurting them in the first place, which leads to the root of the issue and mutual support and understanding. In a way, it sends the audience the message that sometimes disagreements are beneficial, and perhaps, in some cases, necessary to get to know our partners more deeply and make our relationships stronger. The movie ends with the couple sitting in a café discussing the future of the relationship — Jesse then says: “If you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect. But it’s real.”
According to Ethan Hawke, Before Sunrise is about “what might be”, Before Sunset is about “what could or should be”, and Before Midnight is about “what is”, and I couldn’t put it better myself. Relationships are not always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes relationships are unadvised lightning and violent storms, and when it rains, it pours, and that is okay because that is exactly what makes them real. Powerful relationships are built out of vulnerable walls and shaking grounds — you just need to work your way up together. Throughout these three brilliant films, I was thrown into a rollercoaster of emotions as I accompanied Jesse and Céline’s journey through the years, watching them grow older and wiser, eventually finding their way back to one another and starting their journey of growth together. Linklater’s portrayal of love is very natural and communication plays a crucial role from the very beginning, making every spectator recognize it as the most valuable foundation any healthy relationship can have. To me, the most special thing about these movies is that even after all those years, after the fighting and the faded romantic expectations, the connection once shared by the boy and the girl that met on the train and got out to explore a city together (while being total strangers) is still there. They love each other to their cores. They love one another for who they once were, but most importantly, for who they are.