Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are two parts of the now aptly named Before Trilogy created famously in the ‘90s by Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater. Before Sunrise, the first film in the series, sets its story on a train moving through Italy. On this train, we meet Jesse (Ethan Hawk) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two passengers who meet because they hear a couple fighting. They have a conversation about why the couple wastes their time arguing, and then the two strangers, intrigued by one another, bond over life experiences.
The two strangers have such a brilliant time talking that they decide to take a risk: Jesse invites Celine to get off the train in Vienna and continue their conversation. This upsets their original plans and uproots the two travelers, but it also gives them the ideal company they need for 24 hours. In that time, they talk of life, love, and loss. Celine and Jesse do so by asking each other questions and talking about what their lives are and aren’t. The strangers fall in love, and what happened to the couple fascinated movie lovers for nine years.
The only reason the first movie works at all is because of the conversations had by Hawke and Delpy. The chemistry between the actors and the words of Richard Linklater come together in such a way that every moment with them feels … well, real. While I can’t say I would fall in love with either of these characters when placed in that situation, my time with them would be well spent as it would be used pondering questions about who I should be and what passions I truly love.
The second film in the trilogy, Before Sunset, begins more or less in real-time, as nine years have passed since Celine and Jesse spent any time together. Jesse, now an author, has written about the night he spent with Celine in Italy and is now promoting the bestseller in Paris … where Celine happens to reside. The two catch up after his book signing and he learns from his publisher that he has a few hours to kill before he has to go back to America. It’s a no-brainer that he chooses to spend the time with Celine, exploring Paris.
The characters essentially relearn each other’s stories and marvel at the wonders of their environment, while also slowly answering the question posed at the end of Before Sunrise. This question is one that is asked again at the final scene of the second film. That question is “What happens next?” Both films, Sunrise and Sunset end on an ambiguous note. The joy of that type of ending is that you can make up your own. That is, until another film in the series is released.
What makes Before Sunset such an interesting film is that the characters have evolved from the events of Before Sunrise, and this is completely evident from the way they carry themselves to the conversations they have. Seeing the evolution of the couple is what makes the first two-thirds of this trilogy so interesting and entertaining.
Now filmgoers have the opportunity to see this couple again. Linklater’s third film with these actors and their now deeply ingrained characters, Before Midnight — which has just opened in wide release and is playing all week long at Champaign’s Art Theater Co-op — seems to answer the “What happens next” question. It has been another nine years for Jesse and Celine (and for us), and now we find the couple married and vacationing in Greece with their kids and some friends. It has been nearly two decades since they met and fell in love. And for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, there is the amazing opportunity to play characters who have grown richer, more textured, and more lived-in. And, because the first two films were so engaging, I know that the pleasure will be in finding out if that question is asked again, only to be answered in a fourth film.
Before Morning, anyone?