The 'Before' trilogy and why Celine should be every girl’s idol
Updated: Feb 20
Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are possibly the closest things to perfect romantic films we’ll ever get. Starting in 1995, we follow Jesse and Celine from the very beginning as they explore heartache, parenthood, and Vienna. Earlier this month, Ethan Hawke, who plays our American lead in the Before trilogy, hinted at a fourth film, so (just in case) here’s the journey so far for Celine; our strong-willed and passionate protagonist.
Before Sunrise (1995): a picture of sophistication
June 16th 1994 on the train to Paris, Celine is unfortunately seated next to rather loud couple arguing in German. Not exactly the serene setting she was hoping for in order to read her book in peace, she gracefully moves across the carriage to take much quieter seat, unbeknownst to her that her very own Prince Charming sat opposite.
In the first film, Jesse is consistently moving from one place to the next, whether it be America to Europe, or girlfriend to a new girlfriend. His head is always in the clouds, but it’s the mystery of ‘the girl on the train’ and her beauty that overwhelms him. Celine is just as carefree, but it takes Jesse’s charm to convince her to disembark before her journey to Paris is complete. Sure, university awaits, but she yearns for pleasure and new experiences in the here and now just as much as she looks forward to them in the future. Don’t mistake this for love at first sight, though. If anything, Celine is more than aware she has her whole life ahead of her, but in the back of her mind lingers a fairy-tale of true love, which Jesse opens as easily as a lock and key.
As the strangers explore a city just as new to them as each other, Jesse and Celine grow fonder – within a matter of hours they go from awkward, often unnoticed gestures of wanting, to sex under the stars. The connection they share is obvious through conversation alone and they discuss everything from love, sex, and fear. Celine’s fear, she says, is the “pressure of being a strong independent icon of womanhood and not making it look like my whole life is revolving around some guy.” You don’t need the other films to prove this is a fear she overcomes. Simply the promise to meet Jesse in Vienna again (in sixth moths time) is evidence she is allowing herself to fall for the “crude, dumb, vulgar American” without compromise.
“Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” - Celine
Before Sunset (2004): letting her guard down
Unfortunately for the new lovebirds, six months is far too soon. It’ll be a whole nine years before Jesse and Celine set eyes on each other again and in that time, a lot has changed. Family is still a main priority for her, hence the reason she stays with her dying grandma instead of keeping their promise. Jesse, on the other hand, did keep his half of the bargain (as reluctant as he is to admit it), but the carefree charmer we once knew now has responsibilities of his own. A father and a husband in a loveless marriage, the only joy Jesse seems to get is when he’s writing – and it just so happens one bestseller includes Celine.
In a turn of events, this time our leading lady seeks out Jesse when his book tour takes him to Paris. She’s still as passionate as ever, but a flame has gone out. Regarding love, no longer does she cling to the hope that ‘what will come will come’. Instead, heartache and some awful relationships have left her just as loveless as Jesse, who points out there’s no laughter in his home.
It’s in this film we finally see Celine not just put her emotions aside in order to be the strong woman she always wanted to be, but instead essentially break down on account of all the men whom she loved who left with full hearts, while she remained empty and unfulfilled – that includes Jesse. “I don’t believe in anything that relates to love. I don’t feel things for people anymore.” Deply’s tears and emotive rants are astonishingly are raw, made even more entertaining by the boyish charm that Hawke brings to his role with failed attempts to interrupt. In a rage, Celine brings up Vienna nine years ago and spurts, “this night took things away from me and I expressed them to you, and you took them with you. It made me feel cold, like love wasn’t for me.” Of course, Jesse’s book and what the past nine years would lead to aren’t the reason she hasn’t moved on. As he would prove by staying by her side, they’re still madly in love.
Celine: “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane."
Jesse: “I know."
Before Midnight (2013): mother dearest
Flashforward another nine years, and would you believe it? They managed to stay together. Jesse’s son, Henry, join the couple and their twin girls (Ella and Nina) on holiday in Paris before he’s taken back to live with his mom, which Jesse isn’t too happy about. If there’s anything we know most of all about him, it’s how much he loves his children, so it’s painful to watch him try and cope with his firstborn so many miles away. However, despite how much Celine loves Henry too, her ambitions and her dreams haven’t changed. Paris is her home and that’s that. Sure, Jesse can suggest they move back, but Celine pins that as the moment their relationship will start to crumble. Jesse laughs it off.
On holiday in Greece now, it’s clear he shouldn’t have. They enjoy a stroll on the beach, but back at their luxurious, romantic hotel room, the cracks begin to appear. What she first claimed to be terrified of a whole eighteen years ago, Celine fears has become a reality: her life revolves around a man and his wishes. “You know what my secret fear is, with every men? That they all want to turn me into a submissive housewife.”
Again, Hawke and Deply bring nothing but pure emotion to their roles as the argument unfolds, growing more and more extreme with the two not only accusing each other of cheating (though neither really believe what they’re saying to be true), but Celine declaring, “I don’t think I love you anymore.” No matter how caring and nurturing we see her become, the role of mother has taken her away from the joy she once found in little things: reading, singing, playing guitar, but that doesn’t mean she’ll ever back down from the principles her life is built around.
"I fucked up my whole life 'cause of the way you sing." - Jesse
Luckily for us, Prince Charming comes to the rescue and the two are somewhat happy by the end, so there’s still a chance for a Before… Something in 2022. I wouldn’t get your hopes up, though. Although he can’t give a yes or no answer, Hawke does say, “I do feel complete in that the first one starts with the older couple arguing on the train and by the end of the third one we’ve become that couple.”
Written by Libby Briggs