A&E / Archive

The “Before” Trilogy: A look back at Richard Linklater’s underappreciated postmodern and unique romantic drama trilogy.

When thinking of the greatest movie trilogies of all time, what comes to mind? It could be the groundbreaking “Dark Knight” superhero trilogy from Christopher Nolan, the epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” the original three films in the “Star Wars” saga, or maybe even “The Godfather” trilogy even despite its lackluster third entry. One trilogy that isn’t recognized enough in these conversations is Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy of dramas, which consists of “Before Sunrise” (1995), “Before Sunset” (2004), and “Before Midnight” (2013). The Oscar-nominated director has a knack for telling stories that take long periods of time to make. 2014’s “Boyhood” was filmed over the course of 12 years, and the “Before” trilogy took nine years in-between sequels. All three of the films end on a  cliffhanger, and the long periods of time between the films create a greater sense of anticipation than superhero movies.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke need to be lauded for their stellar performances in the trilogy, especially considering the amount of time that passes in between each film. It can be hard to come back and play the same character years later; just take Harrison Ford in the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie or Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part: 3” as prime examples of that. Delpy and Hawke break the mold and remain consistent in their portrayals of Celine and Jesse throughout each entry of the trilogy. Their characters grow and age in the nine-year gaps between movies, but they never feel like impersonations of younger versions of the characters. The two have an impeccable rapport, which is needed in films that are very dialogue heavy. They make it so easy to believe that they meet spontaneously in the first installment, and their chemistry keeps you bought in throughout the entire series. There’s an argument that lasts for about thirty minutes in “Before Midnight” that
will be enjoyed by anyone who liked “Marriage Story.” The weight of the entire series is placed on the shoulders of the two leads, and they did more than their fair share to carry it.

As mentioned, all three “Before” movies are very dialogue-heavy and lack any sort of action or fast-paced scenes. They’re simple stories by nature but take advantage of every minute of their runtimes. It’s a tightwire act to try and keep conversations engaging, and it’s a trial that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke all pass
with flying colors. Twenty-minute scenes at dinner tables or on boats fly by and the relationship between the two leads blossoms with each conversation.

All three films in the “Before” trilogy are superb and deserve more recognition when the greatest movie trilogies of all time are talked about. The latter two movies each received an Academy Award nomination for “Best Adapted Screenplay,” but they still feel underappreciated. They’re not as big as “The Lord of the Rings,” or as culturally significant as “Star Wars,” but they provide a romance arc that takes eighteen years to complete. The trio of films were recognized and released in a beautiful box set for The Criterion Collection in 2017, becoming Linklater’s fourth, fifth and sixth entries in the esteemed physical media company. The trilogy puts a different twist on romance movies and offers something completely different with endings that are more contemplative and don’t always offer the resolutions the audience expects. All of that being said, the third entry in the trilogy, “Before Midnight”, was released in 2013 and here’s hoping for a surprise fourth entry in 2022.

Sources: The Criterion Collection, IMDB

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