The Before Trilogy: A Journey Through Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight

In February, as thoughts turn to celebrating holidays like Presidents’ Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s the perfect time to explore the world of romance films. Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, which includes Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, stands out as one of the greatest love stories in cinematic history. Directed and co-written by Linklater, these films take us on an emotional, 18-year-long journey following the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). From their chance encounter on a train to Vienna to the complexities of their evolving relationship, these films explore the joys and pains of modern love.

Before Sunrise: A Promising Beginning

Before Sunrise, released in 1995, serves as the captivating start to the Before trilogy. Jesse and Celine meet on a train, deciding to spend a single day and night together in Vienna before Jesse’s flight. This seemingly brief encounter, however, leaves a lasting impact on both their lives. While some may be hesitant to watch a movie primarily centered around dialogue and character study, Before Sunrise manages to captivate viewers through thought-provoking conversations and the undeniable chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. Their discussions peel back the layers of their characters, making them feel incredibly real and relatable. Though the script occasionally veers into overly poetic territory, the raw honesty and exploration of love make Before Sunrise an essential part of the trilogy’s narrative.

Before Sunset: A Meeting Nine Years Later

Before Sunset, released in 2004, picks up nine years after the events of Before Sunrise. Jesse, now a successful author, crosses paths with Celine for the first time since their initial encounter. The film follows their conversations as they walk through the streets of Paris, revealing the regrets and unhappiness that have shaped their lives. The screenplay, co-written by Hawke and Delpy alongside Linklater, shows significant improvement in wit and realism. The characters have aged and evolved, resulting in deeper and more profound discussions about life and love. While the pacing and lack of pauses between dialogue can feel overwhelming at times, the film’s final twenty-minute sequence stands out as a tender and touching exploration of their relationship.

Before Midnight: Confronting the Hard Truths

Before Midnight, released in 2013, serves as the concluding chapter of the Before trilogy. Jesse and Celine are now parents to twin girls, but their relationship faces new challenges. The film takes place during their vacation in Greece, offering stunning visuals and a minimalistic plot that allows for extended conversations. The first two-thirds of the film follow the expected pattern, with discussions about love and the complexities of their lives. However, a sudden and intense argument in the final act shatters the romantic illusions built in the previous films, exposing the darker emotions lurking beneath the surface. Hawke and Delpy deliver standout performances, conveying a wide range of emotions and adding depth to their characters. The ending leaves viewers with mixed feelings and forces them to contemplate the complexities of long-term relationships.

The Central Themes and Impact of the Before Trilogy

At its core, the Before trilogy explores themes of love, passion, sacrifice, and ambition. Throughout the three films, Jesse and Celine grapple with the idea that true happiness may always remain elusive, and their decisions come with consequences. The passage of time is palpable, as the films span nearly two decades and reflect the changing cultural landscape. From the poetic dialogue of Before Sunrise to the refined conversations in Before Midnight, the trilogy demonstrates the growth of its filmmaking and writing, ultimately creating an impactful and realistic portrayal of love’s complexities.


The Before trilogy, composed of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, stands as a remarkable cinematic achievement in the love story genre. Richard Linklater’s direction, combined with the brilliant performances of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, brings Jesse and Celine’s relationship to life, making them relatable and memorable characters. These films take viewers on an emotional rollercoaster, exploring the highs and lows of love, as well as the profound impact it has on our lives. With its thought-provoking dialogue, realistic portrayals, and timeless themes, the Before trilogy rightfully holds a place as one of the most meaningful and successful film trilogies of all time.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are the Before movies based on a true story?

No, the Before trilogy is not based on a true story. While the films are fictional, they tackle universal themes and emotions that many viewers can relate to in their own lives.

2. Can the Before trilogy be watched as standalone films?

Although each film in the Before trilogy can be enjoyed independently, watching them in chronological order provides a deeper understanding of the characters’ journey and the evolution of their relationship.

3. What makes the Before trilogy unique compared to other romance films?

The Before trilogy sets itself apart through its realistic dialogue, intimate conversations, and the way it portrays the complexities and challenges of long-term relationships. The films emphasize character development and emotional depth, creating a more authentic love story.

4. Do I need to be a fan of romance films to enjoy the Before trilogy?

While romance is a central theme in the Before trilogy, the films offer much more than traditional love stories. The exploration of human connection, personal growth, and the passage of time makes them appealing to a broader audience beyond just romance enthusiasts.

5. Can I expect a happy ending in the Before trilogy?

The endings of the films in the Before trilogy are open to interpretation and are not conventionally happy or sad. They capture the complexities of real-life relationships, leaving viewers to reflect on the choices made and the consequences that follow.