Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight

An American man travels to Europe.
He meets a French woman on the train.
They fall in love.
We’ve heard this story before.
But not the way the Before Sunrise trilogy depicts this iconic romantic scenario.

We are introduced to Jesse and Celine in the 1995 film Before Sunrise, who after making brief eye contact, embark on a conversation that lasts the entire night and catapults them into relationship that spans eighteen years. Before Sunrise reveals the depth of true love that is often lost in more two-dimensional romantic movies. While the initial attraction between Jesse and Celine is undeniable, both find value in understanding the depth of the stranger. Celine and Jesse have an ability to transform floating, distant thoughts into profound remarks, such as Celine’s comment about the magic “in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.” With only one night together, they use every moment to discover a new secret, embark on an intellectual journey, and pull themselves even closer to one another. 

Before Sunrise creates a foundation upon which the subsequent films were built. While together the trilogy depicts a complete introspective of long-term, seemingly impossible relationships, the first film is the only one that can stand-alone. It introduces an idealistic, optimistic curiosity that gradually matures with each film. The trilogy is unafraid to expose the flaws and misconceptions of young love. Lo and behold their plan to meet again in six months fails, but they instead reunite nine years later in Before Sunset. They have to endure a considerable amount of small talk before realizing their youthful attraction is still very alive. Celine and Jesse are different now. They have matured and outgrown some of their more innocent perceptions about love, admitting that they were “young and stupid” and that they have now come to face harsh truths of reality.

What is clear by the second movie is that while this series shows the sometimes painful truth of falling in love, it also shows its ability to endure, persevere, and revive itself even more powerfully than before. In nine years, Celine and Jesse were unable to establish lives disconnected from the one night they spent together. Celine even admits that she can never truly forget anyone because “everyone is made of such beautiful specific details.” 

Every movie leaves you wondering. We never know what happens during the nine years that separates each film. We revisit Celine and Jesse in the 2013 Before Midnight installment where the couple is finally together, with children of their own, spending the summer in Greece.
Picture perfect? Not quite.

Uncertainty and insecurity plagues their relationship. Jesse feels torn from his son and Celine struggles to balance her work and home life. Before Midnight is less about the magic that brought them together but instead the natural disorder that comes from relationships.

It’s hard to walk away from the trilogy without feeling simultaneously hopeful and full of despair. On one hand, I felt a sour sense of cynicism when I realized even idealized romances are not perfect. Each movie gradually strays away from the innocence that brought the couple together as they realize the chaos that comes with passing time. It is not that they love each other less, but that the natural turbulence of life is not kind to relationships. Even though you want to believe it, love is not straightforward. Jesse and Celine may have fought all odds to be together, but it does not ensure that the rest of the journey will be smooth.

Although I felt as though with their age they lost some of their curiosity and optimism, there is something to be said for the endurance of their relationship. Their once perfect connection may be damaged, and bits of pieces may be beyond repair; but the foundation of their relationship will always remain the same. It was established in the first movie that while they can easily go weak at the knees with the notion of falling in love, they are still fiercely protective of their individualism. Their ability to speak their minds, acknowledge differences in opinion, and hash it out if need be has been a constant throughout the series. Before Midnight visits the most unstable moment in their relationship, but they challenge each other in ways we’ve seen before. As with every movie, we are left with great uncertainty as to what will become of the couple. In fact, there is no promise that there will even be another installment. As a viewer who has fallen deeply in love with the couple, I have inherited the youthful spirit of the first movie and hope that somehow they can recapture it too. After all “Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”