The Before Trilogy: Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight – Love Over Time

Richard Linklater: Creating the Movie Magic

The Before trilogy consists of celebrated three-part romance films directed by Richard Linklater. Before Sunrise, 1995, Before Sunset, 2004, and Before Midnight, 2013. It captures a relationship as it “begins, begins again, deepens, and strains over the course” of almost two decades.

Chronicling the love of Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), from their first meeting as idealistic twentysomethings, to the disillusionment they face together in middle age, The Before Trilogy also serves as a document of a boundary-pushing and extraordinarily intimate collaboration between director and actors, as Delpy and Hawke imbue their characters with a sense of lived-in experience, and age on-screen along with them, claims “The Criterion Collection”.

The films are considered minimal, consisting mostly of monologues and casual conversation with extended dialogue between the characters. Contrasting ideas and perspectives on life and love are detailed, with the series referencing time, self-discovery, age; it is considered an exploration of postmodern romance.

Before Sunrise, 1995.

co-written by Linklater and Kim Krizan.

…When Love can come as a complete surprise:

Before Sunrise is set in a single night in Vienna as Jesse, an American student traveling Europe, and Céline, a French student visiting relatives, meet on a Eurail train to Paris. After they hit it off on a train bound for Vienna, Celine and Jesse impulsively decide to spend a day together before he returns to the U.S. the next morning. They wander the streets of Vienna and fall in love, but they go their separate ways and agree to meet again in the future.

Delpy, Hawke and Linklater headed to Vienna for a three-week intensive workshop ahead of the summer 1994 shoot and continued revising the script throughout 25 days of filming.

Made for just $2.5 million, “Before Sunrise” opened the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and formed a collaborative partnership between Linklater, Hawke and Delpy that led to two sequels, “Before Sunset” (2004) and “Before Midnight” (2013), and decades of friendship, wrote Ashley Spencer for The New York Times.

Ethan Hawke: “Meeting Julie was like meeting a character from a novel, like Anna Karenina or something. She’s a very deep person. I’d never felt so American and so dumb in my life.”

Julie Delpy as Céline, Before Sunrise, Columbia Pictures, via Getty Images

Julie Delpy:” He (Ethan Hawke) was like a puppy, so young and sweet. He hates that, but, really, he had a beautiful naïve quality about him. I mean naïve in a good way, naïve but very smart at the same time.” New York Times

Before Sunrise, Reviews:

The New York Times:

“On a tiny budget and at the mercy of Viennese trains and Ferris wheels, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke managed to create ’90s movie magic.”


… by James Berardinelli:

“Before Sunrise is about life, romance, and love. It magnifies the little things, paying scrupulous attention to the subtleties and mannerisms of body language. There’s one scene where Jesse has to restrain himself from brushing away a stray lock of Celine’s hair, and another wonderful moment in a music listening booth where the characters nervously avoid eye contact. This film is an amalgamation of such memorable scenes, yet, as they saying goes, the whole is more than a sum of its parts. Questions about fate and the transitory nature of relationships are raised, then left open for the audience to ponder. There are moments of unforced humor, and times of bittersweet poignancy. Before Sunrise speaks as much to the mind as to the heart, and much of what it says is likely to strike a responsive chord — a rare and special accomplishment for any motion picture.”

Julie Delpy and Ethan hawke, as Céline and Jesse, in Before Sunrise, 1995, Columbia Pictures, via Getty Images

Nine Years later…

Before Sunset, 2004,

written by Linklater, Krizan, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy

Before Sunset takes place nine years after the first film, and is set in a single afternoon in Paris. Jesse, now a married father and a best-selling author, meets Céline while on tour promoting his latest book, which retells their meeting in Vienna. They wander Paris and lament on not following through with their plans to reunite. At the end of the film, Jesse goes to Céline’s apartment, deciding to miss his flight home…

Nine Years later…

Before Midnight, 2013,

co-written by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy. Hawke and Delpy also star in the trilogy.

Before Midnight takes place nine years later, and is set in a single day on the Peloponnese coast in Greece. Jesse and Céline, now a couple with twin daughters, argue over Jesse’s desire to relocate to Chicago to be closer to his son, Hank, while Céline wishes to stay in Paris to take a job with the French government. Despite their relationship being tested, they eventually reconcile.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Havke as Céline and Jesse, in Before Midnight, Columbia Pictures, via Getty Images

The films were distributed by Sony Pictures (under their Columbia and Classics labels for the first and third films) and Warner Bros. Pictures (under its Independent label for the second only), while all three were produced by Castle Rock Entertainment; Before Midnight was also produced by Venture Forth and Linklater’s production company, Detour Filmproduction.

The Before trilogy received widespread critical acclaim, nominated for two Academy Awards, two Writers Guild of America Awards, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for Delpy for Before Midnight. The series is also a commercial success, grossing $61.5 million worldwide against a combined budget of $7.5 million. Although discussed by the filmmakers and widely rumored, a fourth film is not in development.

Richard Stuart Linklater, born July 30, 1960, is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. Richard was among the first and most successful talents to emerge during the American independent film renaissance of the 1990s.

He is known for films that revolve mainly around suburban culture and the effects of the passage of time. His films include the comedies Slacker (1990) and Dazed and Confused (1993); the Before trilogy of romance films, Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013); the music-themed comedy School of Rock (2003); the adult animated films Waking Life (2001), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood (2022); the coming-of-age drama Boyhood (2014); and the comedy film Everybody Wants Some!! (2016).

Linklater is known to have a distinct style and method of filmmaking. Many of his films are noted for their loosely structured narrative. The Before trilogy and Boyhood both feature the same actors filmed over an extended period of years. He has received several Academy Award nominations and won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival for his work on Before Sunrise. He also won a Golden Globe Award for directing Boyhood. In 2015, Linklater was included on the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.

Richard Linklater, 1995, photo by Archive pictures/Getty Images