9 Ways the Before Trilogy Plays With Time

Time tickles the senses of almost every filmmaker. Think about it yourself, innumerable characters in movies are either running out of time or travelling time or commemorating the past or preparing for the future or unravelling history. But there are some movies where time is silent but way too strong. It is effortlessly visible, kept untouched and yet is wonderfully choreographed.

Richard Linklater is a wizard when it comes to designing time in movies. He plays with it and fearlessly experiments with time so realistically that we are almost unaware of it. It almost hypnotises as he unconsciously makes us live in pauses, celebrate seconds after seconds and rejoice stillness. Whether it be Boyhood, Tape, Slacker, or his experimental first project It’s impossible to learn to plow by reading books, Linklater has given us bold and fearless piece of art that plays with time.

But it is The Before Trilogy that stands monumental when it comes to romanticising time. Linklater kept this one real. It teases every time you watch it as the moments captured seem so untouched and realistically vulnerable. Apart from the stellar performance by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, it is the entire narrative and its relationship with time that keeps this trilogy unshaken. Once you begin to dissect the film, it will surprise you how Linklater has harmonized time to make this masterpiece. Here are 9 ways the Before Trilogy plays with time:

1. The Story

Let us accept that we cannot forget the obvious- the Before trilogy talks about relationships over time. It shows all its hues, the magic underneath and the tribulations. The complicated and equally strong Jesse and Celine bring about the unavoidable in relationships- how love blooms like the sunrise and how it criss-crosses with individuality, imperfections, priorities and vulnerability as it proceeds from the sunset to the midnight.

2. Titles

Yes, the titles seem too obvious but sometimes it is just too apt. Not only it captures the stages of the relationship that the characters are going through but it sets the mood. It prepares you for the slowness of the stages of the relationships just like how the sunrise, sunset and midnight creeps in slowly into the day. The titles also coincide with the timing of the setting in the movie- Jesse and Celine meet in the morning (Before Sunrise), they meet after 9 years as the sun travels down the other half (Before Sunset)and they fight as they approach midnight (Before Midnight). If one comes across the titles for the first time, they already get the feeling right but of course Linklater comes with surprises.

3. Story told in (almost) real time

This is the part that divides the audience. Linklater boldly gives you a choice- you will either love this film or simply not understand it. As mentioned earlier, Linklater has been known to experiment with time to give a more realistic touch. In the trilogy, it is clear that he wants to capture the reality of relationships and he does so with a real-time approach in its cinematography and screenplay. You at a stretch become a part of Celine’s and Jesse’s life almost as if you are peeping in their life through a window. You see the little things that go unnoticed and it is possible because the trilogy is hell-bent towards showing reality not separating with authenticity. As you walk with them and bite your nails when they fight over half an hour in their hotel room with little or no changes in the scene, it shows most of the things you cannot explain about relationships.

4.  Long continuous scenes show the nuances

The Trilogy surprises you with its long continuous scenes. The car scene in Before Midnight is 14 minutes long! Every technique is an outcome of a choice. One can tell the same story in so many ways. The long shots capture their relationship perfectly. We know the characters only through their conversations and the long shots allow us the opportunity to come closer to the nuances. It gives more time for the acting to sink in as well. The awkward expressions when Jesse gets a little offended, Celine’s sudden spree of mood swings, they countering each other’s arguments are very much the soul of the movie. The little things can only come to surface when a shot gets enough time to get cooked completely without many cuts! Yes, it demands patience but the interesting characters balances it out perfectly.

5. The reel life time leap of the characters coincides with real life!

Celine and Jesse met after nine years in Before Sunset and the film released nine years after Before Sunrise! The same happened with Before Midnight when the film released nine years (again) later after showing the status of their relationship since they met nine years ago in Before Sunset! The best part is none of it was pre-planned! Moreover, the screenplay and the development of the characters were done by the actors too. The real life events of the actors shaped the characters and their acting. The characters were a product of endless discussions between the actors and the director between the filming of the sequels and that surely reflects in the chemistry between the characters.

6. We meet them, as they meet them in Before Sunset

The very fact that Celine and Jessie haven’t met each other as long as the audience haven’t met them makes it surreal. This is where the thrill begins, the audience is as curious to know about Celine as Jessie. The audience know just as much as the characters know. They do not and cannot predict. Therefore, we walk with them, as they walk with each other. We ask the same questions they ask each other – Did he turn up in Vienna nine years ago? There is this unique relationship the film builds with its audience especially if they have seen the prequel. Needless to say, the climax blends everything together- the uncertainty, reality and the foolish helplessness that cripples Jesse as he smiles away at a dancing Celine.

7. Filling the time leap

In all of the movies, we do not know what happens to Celine and Jesse. We only see them after nine years and the story opens up in a linear manner which means there is no chance of predicting too. Linklater keeps everything uncertain- the endings, the status of their relationships and he does it so convincingly. The most noteworthy part about the story is how he chooses to fill the nine-year gaps that the audience and the characters do not know about- Jesse’s failed marriage, Celine’s activism and how the night in Vienna had affected their personal lives. When we are all fooled that they are perfect for each other and it turns out it is not in Before Midnight but it is not shocking either.

8. Time is the crisis

Time is also the enemy in the trilogy. Celine and Jesse run out of time when they just get to spend one night together in Vienna. Jesse has a flight to catch and simply a couple of hours left to be with Celine. Therefore, it is time that tries to keep the characters apart but we all know what a stickler for time Jesse is in Paris, don’t we?

9. Jesse’s stories about time

Alas! Jesse a writer himself romanticises time in his stories. Remember the time-machine letter he wrote to make Celine smile again in Before Midnight? What about the story that Jesse tells the reporters about the man who travels time and meets his high school sweetheart in Before Sunset? Also, Jesse recites W.H Auden’s ‘The Years shall run like rabbits’ in Before Sunrise? Doesn’t get any better, right?

Read More: Movies Like the Before Trilogy