Before Midnight, the highly anticipated third film in Richard Linklater’s “Before” series, comes out this week. Will I go see it the night it comes out? Probably not. But that’s not because I don’t want to see it. Rather, it’s because I am at about the same stage of life as Celine and Jesse are now. As the New York Times put it, the fictional courtship between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is “the screen romance that defined Generation X is now officially middle-aged.”
There are a number of reasons why Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) spoke to my generation when they came out. Of course, there is the dialogue — flirty, charged, smart, and playful, yet egalitarian — that sets the films apart from many other romantic films that came before it. Celine and Jesse’s on-screen relationship developed in a very idealized way, yet also seemed very true to life and natural.
I propose that my generation also feels connected to the “Before” films because they included the element of travel. In the first movie, Before Sunrise, the two met on a train in Vienna. In Before Sunset, Jesse and Celine reunite in Paris. In the newest film, which takes place nine years after the second, the couple are now together, parents of twin girls, and on vacation in Greece. Traveling abroad, either as an exchange student (like myself) or as a post-collegiate backpacker, became more commonplace and accessible beginning in the 1990s. So it’s no wonder that Generation X relates to Linklater’s trilogy.
In advance of Before Midnight, it’s worthwhile to revisit the best scenes from “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” to familiarize ourselves with the dynamic between Delpy and Hawke’s characters. This may also be helpful given that the pair, in conversation with film critic Dennis Lim, suggests that “Before Midnight” may be more “real” than romantic.
Lim: The prior films are about the first two times Jesse and Celine meet. This one is very different: They’ve now been through a lot.
Hawke: The first two films are so much about romantic projection. The third had to be the opposite of that. We couldn’t play that trick again.
Delpy: But it couldn’t be totally taken away from that romantic idea — otherwise it’s depressing.
By the way, Richard Linklater will be doing an AMA on Reddit at 1pm tomorrow, May 22. I’ll update this post with the interesting bits later. Now, for the clips:
I just love the foreshadowing that the above scene from “Before Sunrise” has on the new film. Another fantastic scene from the first movie, which some fans have dubbed the “best conversation ever” [video on Youtube]. Below, a scene from “Before Sunset.”