The Brilliance of the "Before" Trilogy
As a child, I adored romantic films. Whether it was a comedy or a drama, the idea of watching people fall in love brought me the greatest satisfaction. Although there are many sad endings to popular romantic films, the experience the characters go through was ultimately worth it to ten-year-old me. As I grew older, my opinion of romantic films shifted from excitement to indifference. I was no longer interested in anything that I deemed as “too cheesy” or “just another cliche,” which completely removed romantic films from my list. After ravaging through a list of very artsy French New Wave films and obscure directors such as Ingmar Bergman, I decided that I wanted romance back. After enjoying Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, I decided to explore his other films. I chose to watch Before Sunrise, mainly because it’s a romantic film. Shortly after, I finished Before Sunset and Before Midnight.
The trilogy is spaced out in a span of eighteen years, with nine years between each film. The series’ premise is simple enough: a man meets a woman and they talk. The description sounds boring, but the execution of the film made it highly engrossing. Before Sunrise introduces the main protagonists, Jesse and Celine, to the audience. They are young adults who meet on a chance encounter and decide to explore Europe together for just one day. To viewers, the idea of a day of romance with a stranger is glamorous and fantastical, and the protagonists are aware of this. Both characters individually experience an internal conflict between giving into their childlike fantasies and rationalizing the experience as a one-time thing. The second film, Before Sunset, is my favorite film out of the trilogy. It follows the same structure but takes place nine years after Before Sunrise. The viewers are greeted with the same protagonists at more mature stages of their lives. The film highlights the difficulties of growing up and accepting the past. Both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset encapsulate the encounters of the protagonists in just one day. The last film in the trilogy, Before Midnight, differs in conceit, in that it shows the interactions of the protagonists over a span of days. The expanded duration of time within the film allows it to offer the most complex conflict in the trilogy. The final film offers the most gradual build towards the conflict, but does so in a manner that doesn’t feel like a slow burn.
Although romance is the star of any romantic film, the dialogue outshines everything else in this film. The chemistry between Jesse and Celine is natural and charismatic, which ultimately makes the writing shine. The spark between the actors is apparent in their initial meeting and continues to grow throughout every film. The carefully crafted dialogue can also be credited to the writers. The writing gradually unravels the protagonists' lives, which subtly pan out the major conflicts and events. The writers manage to write conversations that feel authentic while not being overbearing or outlandish. The films effortlessly keep viewers engaged in hours of conversation with no cheap tricks or crazy computer images. The simple premise and stylish execution have made the Before trilogy one of the best romantic series on the market.