Cinema Chats: A Column

Emma Truchan, Editor-in-Chief

   Love, specifically romantic love, is perhaps the most explored theme in all of entertainment. Rom-coms, epic romantic dramas, and everything in between have shown the most passionate human emotion in so many ways. Most of these movies, however, focus on a single point in a couple’s relationship, and the audience is left wondering where the characters and their relationships go from there when the end credits roll. Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy chronicles the life of a romantic relationship, disclosing every detail of a love’s evolution to his audience. Following the relationship between an American man (Jesse) and a Parisian woman (Celine) from a brief encounter to parenthood, the Before trilogy uniquely portrays love’s interaction with personhood and age, begetting a breathtaking, tender, and sincere ode to romance.

   Linklater aptly explores the complexity of love, and how it plays into every aspect of one’s life. However, the trilogy also explores the impact of romantic connection with one’s personhood, and the way persistent individuality plays with romantic connection. Most explicitly stated in the final installment, Before Midnight, the biggest obstacle that romance faces is the fact that people never change, at least, not in the core of who they are. Celine observes that Jesse has the same mannerisms and concerns that he did during his twenties, and Jesse consistently notes Celine’s constant, ambitious values and passions. Yet, at different points in their relationship, these qualities lent the couple to either affection or conflict. This idea of the separation between the state of a relationship and individual identity peaks in Before Midnight, when Jesse’s fellow novelist states, regarding the success of his marriage, “[My wife] took care of herself and I did the same, with plenty of room to meet in the middle…. We were never one person, always two.” Linklater undermines the idea of a soulmate, but argues that losing one’s self in another is not the true essence of love; being truly unified with another is impossible, and the constancy of a person does not guarantee the constancy of love. Rather, love is evolving space that fits in between two abiding personalities.

   In other projects, such as Boyhood, Linklater has experimented with cinema’s equivalent of a longitudinal study in personhood and the human condition. The Before trilogy is an extension of this great experiment. The fleeting, electric connection established in Before Sunrise is juxtaposed with the decrepit, time-weathered relationship presented in Before Midnight. As Jesse realizes in the final installment, “It’s tough out there in time and space.” Upon the release of  Before Midnight, the series had existed for 18 years, living a fully fledged life of its own. Through the continued observation of Jesse and Celine’s relationship, Linklater captures the entire effect that time imparts on them. More than examining time’s effect on the individual personalities of Jesse and Celine, which he affirms are more or less unchanged, Linklater tests time’s effects on love; unlike the permanence of personality, love is fragile. With this framework, Linklater is able to experiment with how age adds nuance to a relationship, how it makes resentment fester, how it tests the “unconditionality” of love, how it kills romance, and how it revives romance, too.

   The dynamic state of romance — its fervent inception, gradual demise, and every turn in between — is a concept emphasized throughout the trilogy. Before Sunset aptly displays the great “in between,” and shows the less-explored state of rediscovering love; not simply love for another person, but a restoration of a belief in romance. The second installment established the cycle of initial romance, to disillusionment, to renewed faith in love. While Before Sunset examines this cycle from the perspective of Jesse and Celine ending relationships to begin one together, Before Midnight documents this cycle from a contained relationship. Much of this romantic evolution comes from their unrelenting personalities either unifying in a shared goal or pitting against the other when conflict arises, further emphasizing the concept that individual personality holds a more stable position than that of any relationship. There comes a sense of satisfaction from both pessimists and romantics — a long-haul relationship can crumble under the unrelenting weight of time, yet it can also be reinforced. Ultimately, what Linklater conveys is the idea that love, especially love with a rich history, cannot be pigeonholed into one state. The condition of a relationship constantly slides on a spectrum from adoration to resentment.

   The content and message of the films constantly strikes a balance between naivety and jaded disillusionment, truth and pretense, permanent and transient, separate and unified, love and reality. This balance is what makes the series most impressive, and imparts a great sense of truth onto the characters, the story, and the broader message of the project. This emerges not only from the length of the relationship, but from the synthesis of immaculate writing, acting, and directing shown throughout the series. Despite what may be considered a whimsical premise established in Before Sunrise — with a brief introduction leading to life-long romance, all to the background of a European vacation — the composition of the trilogy is incredibly genuine, empathetic, and engaging.

   The Before trilogy is the ultimate ode to romance — not only the freeing beauty of fresh love, but equally to the weary battles that plague a lasting relationship. Just as Jesse states that he accepts Celine for all she is — her craziness, her passion, her brilliance — Linklater similarly accepts and celebrates romance for everything that it is.