When it was announced that there would be a third installment to the Before series, I smiled to myself. What a treat, I thought. I am not a huge fan of love stories (my idea of a love story something akin to Wuthering Heights), but the two Before movies got me hooked in a huge way.
For the uninitiated, Before Sunrise is a story about an American, Jesse, and a French, Celine, who meet on a train to Vienna. They start talking, disembark in Vienna and roam around, talking mostly, and they fall in love. They promise to meet each other again in exactly six months at the exact same spot where they say goodbye to go their separate ways.
Before Sunset takes place in Paris nine years later. Jesse is a successful novelist and is in a Paris for a book signing event. As he turns his head, he sees a blonde smiling at him, and does a double take. It’s Celine. She has read his novel, a story culled from their time together in Vienna and, knowing he’d be in town, sought him out. They spend the afternoon walking around Paris and, like before, mostly just talking. Jesse is (unhappily) married with a son; Celine is in a relationship. The film ends with Celine telling Jesse he’d miss his flight home and Jesse replying, “I know.”
Before Midnight is nine years after Before Sunset. The film opens with Jesse seeing his son, Hank (from his failed marriage), off at the airport in Greece. Jesse and Celine are a couple with twin daughters. They are vacationing in Greece where Hank joined them but is returning to the States before the rest of the family returns to Paris. Like its predecessors, Before Midnight consists of long scenes with long dialogues.
I think of the trilogy as an evolution. In Before Sunrise, there were just two young people falling in love, dreamy-eyed and looking forward to happily-ever-after. In Before Sunset, there were third parties, and Jesse’s devotion to his son made divorce an unpalatable choice. The romance is strewed with regret and “what ifs” — what if they had met again as they had promised at the train station…??? In Before Midnight, the divorce was long final but Jesse still suffered pangs of guilt for not being there for his son on a more frequent basis which distance makes impossible. Celine, on the other hand, had feelings of failure having had to give up a lot of her personal dreams to raise their daughters.
The reality of the dialogues is both frightening and amusing, unnerving yet still dreamy and romantic. It’s like looking at a relationship without rose-colored glasses. It’s like facing up to the fact that although most relationships start with romance, long-term commitment requires something more than passion (and even lust) in order to last.
The anti-thesis of fairy tales that most girls grow up with. And it is for that very reason that I wanted my daughters to see all three movies. They were babies when Before Sunrise came out, they were too young to appreciate Before Sunset when it was shown but they are at the right age to understand Before Midnight. But I wanted them to see the first two films before embarking on Before Midnight. Which they did.
I wasn’t very sure how they’d react to the overly long dialogues and the lack of bombastic visual effects which have become the benchmark of filmmaking in their generation. But they loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Alex likes Before Sunrise more, but then she’s 19 so, perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising. Will they like Before Midnight just as much? Oh, I hope so. I think so. Yes, I think they will.