The series is fascinating because of how each film is framed. Before Sunrise is the typical romance film. Jesse and Céline have a “meet cute” on a train. After they have lunch together, Jesse is to get off at Vienna while Céline continues on to Paris. Before Jesse disembarks, he convinces Céline to spend the day with him. In this scene, he intentionally calls tropes common to romantic tales: What would Céline think many years later if she never got off the train with him? Would she feel regret, or would she feel she made the right choice? Céline joins him for the day, and this decision affects the two over the next two movies.
Their day in Vienna is a charming day. They walk down cobblestone streets, ride the Wiener Riesenrad, and drink wine in cafes. They talk about various parts of their lives, particularly their romantic life, and part when Jesse has to take a train to the airport. The two, having grown very attached in the short time they spend together, arrange to meet in Vienna six months later. In this movie, the two are young and at hazy periods in their lives. They’re both looking for adventure, something to shake up their mundane lives. Both of them are hoping to have this fantastic tale and hope that it leads to something great.
Before Sunset destroys the illusion. The movie begins nine years later, with Jesse at a book signing in Paris. He published a novel based on the first movie, and when Céline shows up at the book signing, he spends the afternoon walking around Paris with her before he has to fly back to America. We learn early on that the two didn’t make their appointment because Céline’s grandmother died around the time they were supposed to reconnect. The two, now in their thirties and more mature, realize how careless they were in their youth, as they didn’t exchange contact information nor did they know any other basic details about the other.
It’s not okay. While Before Sunset showed the issues that came from losing their idealism,Before Midnight demonstrates what happens when they regain their idealism, only to have the crushing banality of domestic life conflict with their desires. Jesse wants to be closer to his son, but Céline doesn’t want to give up her life in Paris. What should have been a romantic night to escape from their daily lives became a night where the two completely unload every single weight they’ve carried over the last eighteen years. For once, the way Jesse and Céline talk to each other becomes tools to fight each other, and there’s no real victor in this fight.
However, the series, no matter how dark things get, does always have things work out in the end. Jesse and Céline are ruled by nostalgia—Céline’s waltz from Before Sunset being a great example of how they look back on their time together. They both have ideals and dreams, but life never really works the way they hope it would. Despite this, what does always work is that they do work for each other. Jesse and Céline have a fundamental understanding of one another, and even if that gets buried by work or parenting, there’s still that connection they felt on that train back in 1994.
This series is one of the best trilogies ever made. It’s a bold experiment to make a series of films where each installment is set so far apart, but it works because you see the growth and change with the characters in the film and from the way the film is made. You can watch all three films and see Hawke and Delpy age, you can see how they evolve over time, but they’re still the same people you came to love in the first movie. Linklater’s directing has gotten better with each installment, and each film is ultimately better than the last. It’s a series of movies that shows natural progress. If they decide to make another movie in 2022, it would be fascinating to see how Jesse and Céline are in their fifties because we know there’s a chance for so much growth and to see if anything would remain the same.