Richard Linklater’s Classic “Before” Trilogy is Filmmaking at It’s Finest

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[The following article contains SPOILERS for a series of films that are close to two decades old. Read this and then go watch them.]

Richard Linklater’s films create a cultural significance for those who watch them. With Slacker he inspired filmmakers, including one of my personal favorites Kevin Smith. With Dazed and Confused, he was able to recreate the feeling of the 1970’s, much like George Lucas did with American Graffiti in the 1960’s. Going into his third major production, he created his own personal trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. These three films are a modern day love story, each film starting 9 years after the previous. 


Before Sunrise is the story of Jesse and Celine on June 16, 1994. They meet on a train, and at a stop in Vienna Jesse asks Celine to get off the train with him. They roam around the city visiting landmarks and discussing various aspects of their life. The more the two converse the more the attraction starts to build. The next morning, Jesse has to board a train to catch a flight back home. Jesse is worried he will never see her again and tells her that he would rather marry her instead of never seeing her again. They agree to meet at the train station in six months. The film ends with Jesse’s train departing, leaving the audience on a cliffhanger and asking “Did they or didn’t they see each other again?”

Before Sunset continues the story and picks up 9 years later in Paris. Jesse has written a book based on the night he and Celine spent together in Vienna, and it becomes a best seller. He is on the last stop of his book tour in Paris, and as he is finishing he sees Celine in the back of the book store. They agree to go out for coffee before his plane leaves. As they walk, they again converse about their lives, and along the way Celine tells Jesse that she could not make it back to Vienna 9 years ago. Jesse tells her that he too could not make it back either, but later it is revealed that Jesse did in fact show up. Jesse reveals that he has a son and is married, but not pleased with his life. As Jesse tells her his hope for the book was one day finding her again, and their love is slowly rekindled. Jesse’s driver drops Celina off at her apartment and Jesse walks her in. She plays a song that she wrote and puts on the song “Just in Time” by Nina Simone, and starts dancing. Jesse’s face lights up, Celine tells him that he is going to miss his plane, and he simply responds with “I know.” The movie once again ends with you wondering about their future.


Before Midnight continues and ends the Before Trilogy 9 years after Paris, this time in Greece. Jesse’s son Hank has spent the summer with them, and they drop him off to go back home to Chicago. Jesse and Celine now have two twin 8 year old girls. Celine is unhappy with the way her job is going, and is offered a job working for the French government. Jesse wants to be closer to his son, who is starting high school. With their vacation ending, they are having dinner with friends they have spent the summer with. Their friends have paid for a hotel, so Jesse and Celine can have a night on their own. Once at the hotel, they engage in a heated argument over their future, and what they are going to do. Celine storms out telling Jesse that she no longer loves him. Jesse goes to reconcile proclaiming his love. The movie ends with them seemingly back together.

Linklater goes away from the American tradition when shooting these films. Most of the film is spent with both characters walking or sitting side by side in front of the camera. There is not a lot of cutting to close ups of one person or another. He also spends his time shooting during the appropriate parts of the day. All three films were shot in very minimal time, Sunset and Midnight were both shot in just 15 days. It almost seems that each movie is one continuous shot with a natural progression in time. Sunrise takes place around a 12 hour period, Sunset is only only close to two hours, and Midnight is around 12 hours. This is almost unheard of in film today. It creates a since of urgency between the couple.

One of the characters in each film that people often overlook is the setting. Each setting creates a beautiful backdrop. There are gorgeous landmarks in Vienna, the streets in Paris are amazing, and the sheer beauty of the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece is overwhelming. He is able to display the beauty of each place and make the place a character in each story.

Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke/Photo: Getty
Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke/Photo: Getty

Richard Linklater has a special talent for storytelling and inspiring others. Not many people could have five hours of film, consisting mainly of two people talking, and garner critical praise and have all three films certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It takes a special person and actors to convey the emotion and love that is shared on the screen. It is also special to keep people coming back for three films and to care about what happens. Near the end of the third movie, I was a little heartbroken when I thought that their love was over. It takes a true filmmaker to create emotions like that. 

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