Mysteries of Love: The Before Trilogy
Francesca Sylph kicks off our mini-feature on cinema love stories with Richard Linklater’s acclaimed 18-year trilogy.
The following contains spoilers for The Before Trilogy.
“Loving someone, and being loved means so much to me… Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”
Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013) tell the story of Jesse and Celine. We first meet the star-crossed lovers on a train through Europe. The two strangers sense a connection and decide to explore Vienna together. Since they are limited to only one night, everything is tainted with a bittersweet feeling. They wander through the unfamiliar city, exploring their surroundings and each other. In a record store listening booth, as Kath Bloom sings for her lover to ‘come here’ because she has never wanted them so much, secret glances and guarded smiles create a palpable atmosphere of longing and unspoken desire. The air feels so thick with yearning that it leaves you breathless. Conversations of love, death, politics, sex, childhood and religion form the basis of a relationship. In only one night, Jesse and Celine share more about themselves with each other than most people will do in a lifetime. The desire to be loved is the desire to be understood and accepted. Ignoring any fear or pride or shame, Jesse and Celine open up and allow themselves to truly experience the intensity of life and their feelings. As the young lovers part, now eternally changed by their experiences, we are left to wonder if they will ever see each other again.
In Before Sunset, nine years have passed, and Jesse and Celine meet for the first time since that transformative night in Vienna almost a decade earlier. Now in Paris, the former lovers’ time is once again constrained to only one afternoon. Before Sunset explores missed opportunities and gives the lovers one last chance. As they wander through the city of love, their conversations soon become deeply personal and passionate. Tentatively, the conversation turns to past feelings, and the couple eventually touch on their failure to meet six months after that first night in Vienna. Both Jesse and Celine express dissatisfaction with their lives, and former feelings are rekindled. In a heartbreaking moment, Jesse admits that he “gave up on the whole idea of romantic love” when Celine failed to meet him in Vienna. Celine reaches out to stroke Jesse’s face, but pulls her hand back before he sees. For a moment, she forgot that nine years had passed. In the final scene, as Celine dances to Nina Simone, it becomes clear that Jesse is going to miss his plane, and the couple may finally get their happy ending.
Love is not easy. Love is quite possibly the most painful and complicated adventure that you will ever have the pleasure and privilege to experience.
Another nine years have passed, and that ‘happy ending’ seems unrealistic. Before Midnight explores the reality of marriage and the hard work that love demands. We find Jesse and Celine married with two young daughters. As the couple walk to their hotel in Greece, they reminisce about their first meeting, and wonder if they would still be attracted to each other if they were strangers. In the middle of an argument, Celine tells Jesse that she no longer loves him. Celine is sitting alone in a restaurant, when Jesse joins her and jokingly tells her that he is a time traveller, bringing her a letter from her 82-year-old self, describing this night as one of the best of their lives. Unamused, Celine says that the imperfect reality will never match their fantasies of love. The two eventually reconcile, admitting and embracing the imperfect reality of love. Before Midnight contradicts the hopeful optimism of Before Sunrise. Love is not easy. Love is quite possibly the most painful and complicated adventure that you will ever have the pleasure and privilege to experience.
“If you want love, then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.”