Conversation is an art form, and it may be the most important character in Richard Linklater’s trilogy of movies starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply, known as “Before Sunrise”, “Before Sunset”, and “Before Midnight”. These stories focus on an American tourist (Hawke) who meets a young French woman on a train (Deply). Most of the dialogue takes place between these two characters as we learn about their lives, thoughts and views through their revealing conversations.
One of the unique things about this trio of movies is that they span about 20 years in the lives of the characters, and were filmed years apart, which keeps it realistic. “Before Sunrise” hit theaters in 1995 and introduced us to Jesse and Celine. They cross paths again nine years later in “Before Sunrise”, and their story concludes another nine years later, in 2013 with “Before Midnight”.
I’m late to the conversation party since I just caught “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” last year back-to-back on a cold a rainy weekend. They played on one of the cable stations, and Linklater immediately hooked me with his ability to write witty and compelling conversation. Some have described them as “a rousing, talky tour de force”. The writer/director claims he didn’t expect a follow-up on the first film, let alone a third entry. The first film grossed a little more than $5 million, and the third, by far the most popular, only over $8 million, so this isn’t a trilogy built on box office success.
The last entry, “Before Midnight” premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and landed on many critics’ “best films of 2013” lists. I liked it, but it is my least favorite of the trilogy, possibly because it occurs after this couple is together for years. They are still capable of interesting conversation, but the spark of a new love is gone, which was the real draw in the first film. The characters, however, do a fine job of showing the mundane of everyday that seeped into their lives.
If we meet up with these characters again in another nine years, it would be a welcome surprise, and I’d go along for the ride. Their kids would be adults by then, and most likely they would be empty nesters. Would they be like the couples that rediscover each other after their flock flies the coop? Or, would they have nothing left to give each other? I’d be curious to see what became of Jesse and Celine in 2022.
I can’t recall another set of films that achieved a three-part story over 20 real-time years, and with the same actors playing the characters. Both of those factors add depth to the story. Still, if “Before Midnight” is the last, I’m satisfied with the writer’s job of wrapping up the loose ends and concluding the story.
If you haven’t seen these movies yet, I would recommend starting with the first and working through all three. It’s not that they can’t stand-alone. There are enough references in each that you could catch on, but to enjoy these movies fully, it’s best to start at the beginning.