Richard Linklater's Before trilogy follows the romance of Jesse and Céline over the course of 20 years, from a chance encounter to marriage.
TheBeforetrilogy knows how to use time in its favor, developing Jesse and Céline's charming romance over the course of 20 years. It all started withBefore Sunrise, one of the defining love stories of the 90s and the film that brought Richard Linklater's dialogue-heavy films into the spotlight. The movie introduced Jesse and Céline experiencing a lifetime on a single night together, falling in love with each other through aimless walks, philosophical conversations, and love songs.
Linklater is famousfor his slice-of-life stories and for realistically capturing the passing of time in his movies. InBoyhood, filmed from 2002 to 2013, Linklater depicts the transition of a young boy to adulthood as the actors age in real life. TheBeforetrilogy isn't different: each movie has a nine-year interval between them, which directly impacts the way Jesse and Céline perceive their relationship. Even with all the ups and downs, their love carries on perpetually, and it all started by chance on a train travel.
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A Chance Encounter on the Train
In June 1994, Jesse and Céline embark on the same train leaving from Budapest, although they are heading different ways. Jesse is traveling to Vienna to catch a plane back to the United States, while Céline is returning to Paris after visiting her grandmother. Bothered by a couple arguing while she tried to read a book, Céline gets up and happens to sit right next to Jesse. WhileBefore Sunriseisn't a typical love-at-first-sight story, it's clear how both characters show immediate interest in each other. After quick glances and timid smiles, they are brave enough to strike up a conversation.
Intimacy comes at ease as Jesse and Céline find a range of things in common, from simple interests such as books to insights about life they unexpectedly feel comfortable sharing. When Jesse asks Céline to get off the train with him, there suddenly are many possibilities flowing out of that very moment. Hopefully, Céline makes the right decision, and the lives of both characters change completely as they wander aimlessly around Vienna.
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Jesse and Céline Fall in Love in Vienna
Jesse and Céline's story is one of themost realistic portrayals of lovein cinema, a beautiful showcase of two strangers finding connection through the smallest things: a passionate stare, a hand gesture, an unsuspecting compliment. In a matter of hours, it feels as if they know each other for a lifetime. There are many pivotal moments that hint at the two falling in love in Vienna, from the awkward, yet intimate scene in which they share a song at a records shop to the fake phone conversations where they play each other.Before Sunrisefinds comfort in what's left unsaid — if anything, silence only brought Jesse and Céline close together.
As the couple wanders around Vienna, they pass through a bunch of places packed with tourists. These places are crowded and timelessly engraved in postcards and pictures, yet feel immensely unique for Jesse and Céline because of the special memories they make along the way. The painful detail is that their love has an expiration date: Jesse is leaving the morning after and Céline must return to her university.
A Failed Promise
The fateful moment to say goodbye comes early in the morning, but a promise of hope keeps Jesse and Céline's romance in a limbo. At the end ofBefore Sunrise, the couple opts to not exchange any contact information, fearing the pressure of long-distance romance might strain their relationship. Instead, they decide to meet at the same place in six moments, a promise that fails and launches Jesse and Céline once again in the hands of destiny. Jesse is the only one that returns to Vienna six months later, unaware that Céline wasn't able to come because her grandmother had just passed away.
There's a 9-year time jump between the events ofBefore SunriseandBefore Sunset,and the lives of both Jesse and Céline change drastically. It's possible that Céline not showing up at the station was that prompted Jesse to write a book about their evening together; through fiction, he could finish the story with an ambiguous ending and come to terms with the real story's unhappy. Only he didn't know the success of the book would enable a reunion with Céline.
Catching Up in Paris
Jesse and Céline meet again on the final day of Jesse's book tour across Europe. As he signs the last copies from fans in Paris, Céline silently watches him from afar; when their eyes cross, it becomes clear to both of them that their story isn't quite finished yet. Once again, time is a threatening limiter: Jesse has only a few hours in the afternoon before he sets out to the airport to return home. While he could simply reschedule it in theory, it soon becomes clear that a lot is at stake: Jesse is married and has a son named Hank. On the other hand, Céline's life after all these years is a mystery. Additionally, it's unclear whether their feelings are worn out with the passing of time.
As Jesse and Céline stop by a café and walk through parks and tourist attractions, it's almost as if their intimacy paused 9 years ago and picked up untouched in the present. The two talk about past lovers, political inclinations, but most importantly, how much that single night in Vienna meant to them and how their lives would've been different had Céline shown up six months later. WhileBefore Sunrisefollowed two young people with naive aspirations,Before Sunsettouches on the pressure of adult life and the difficulty of overcoming failed expectations. As the conversation progresses, the lighthearted tone of the talk gives way to crushing insecurities. In the face of their flaws and fears, Jesse and Céline come to understand they still love each other, even with all the scars left by the past.
Jesse Misses His Plane
When addressingBefore Sunset's heartwarming ending, aLetterboxduser states "felt like watching a magic trick. Started sobbing when I realized those were the last lines." Jesse and Céline's catch-up in Paris leads them to Céline's apartment, where Jesse begs for a song before he departs. If Céline's ballad about their night in Vienna wasn't enough to seal their love for good, Jesse's response to Céline's warning that he's going to miss his plane wraps the film on a hopeful note: "I know", he says.
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Jesse and Céline Get Married
Nine years after the events ofBefore Sunset, Jesse and Céline are finally married and have two twin girls. While details about their marital life across nearly a decade are vague, the gleam of love still shines in the couple's eyes: they still have the same inclination to engage in long conversations and are honest about their feelings. However, tiny problems seem to be snowballing out of control. For example, the lack of effective communication between Jesse and the son he had with his previous wife, Hank, worries Jesse, who thinks the best option would be moving closer to him in Chicago. On the other hand, Céline struggles to mature her professional career and fears Jesse's relaxation with his success as a writer might overshadow her ambitions.
Jesse and Céline Have a Serious Argument
It's easy to understand why some fans don't likeBefore Midnightas much as the other two movies: the masks of the main characters fall off and the ugly part of Jesse and Céline are exposed to the audience. It's the kind of crisis that every good couple goes through, but it's also a matter of whether love can learn and mature or find itself too fragile to survive. In the third movie, the couple is traveling to Greece with friends and reminiscing about how much they changed ever since the day they met. What should be an ordinary night in a hotel room turns into a huge argument after Hank phones Céline.
Jesse is bothered by how Céline manages to communicate with Hank much better than he does and reveals he wants to move to Chicago to fix things up. The idea is daunting for Céline, who wants to pursue her own career and not simply follow Jesse around with the kids. The argument prompts the two to unleash all their frustrations on each other, leading up to Céline confessing she doesn't love Jesse anymore and leaving the room.
Time Travelers and a Fresh Start
Before Midnightendswith a heartwarming conversation between Jesse and Céline. The couple, often entangled in their hyperrealistic sense of reality and existentialism, now gives in to fantasy and fiction to fix what's wrong with them: Jesse approaches Céline sitting alone and pretends to be a time traveler meeting her for the first time. Reluctant at first, she joins him in his make-believe scenario and the two reconcile. It's a clear sign that their young selves are still there somewhere, and they can always resort to what brought them together in the first place: a good conversation and a perpetual sense of renewal. As the couple watches the sunrise together, it breaks the shadow of closing time that loomed over them in the first two movies. Jesse and Céline now have all the sunsets and sunrises to invest in their romance.