Back in 1995, there was a small, independent film about Jesse and Céline, two people from different countries (U.S.A. and France), that meet in yet another country (Austria) and spend an entire evening together.
On first glance, there’s not much to Before Sunrise: it’s two people walking around and talking. That’s it. However, that’s the greatness of the film, which was made for a paltry $2.5 million. (To put that figure in context, Robert Downey, Jr. was paid twenty times that amount for The Avengers). The script is brilliant, taking seemingly mundane topics of conversation and making them fascinating within the context of a movie. We the viewers are eavesdropping on the most exciting part of a romance - the spark at the beginning - as two people who are physically attracted to one another spend a night in a strange city before they are to separate at first light. They are sure that this night is the only time they will ever see each other, so they share too much and the connection becomes stronger than it would have under normal circumstances.
Without giving anything away, the two reconnect nine years later in Before Sunset, when they bump into each other and spend the day together before they once again have to disconnect at dusk. Although equally wonderful as the original, the second film may be even better because we know these characters and are interested to find out what they’ve been up to in the near decade since they said goodbye to each other. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Now, after another nine years (18 total for those non-mathletes), the two once again cross paths in Before Midnight, which will be released on May 24. I haven’t seen the film (and I’ve tried to avoid spoilers but I unfortunately saw a few things while researching for this piece), but I’m sure that it will be just as great as the first two, because the director (Richard Linkletter) and stars (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) are also caretakers of the film. Linkletter has co-written all three films and Hawke and Delpy have co-written the last two, proving their connection to the characters.
The films are small - the first made $5.5 million, the second $5.8 million domestically - but they are made on the smallest of budgets, allowing the creative team behind the films to see their vision through to the end without having to answer to clueless studio executives, keeping them realistic throughout.
The group of fans of the films is small, but devoted. They resonate with people because they deal with real world themes, conversations, and issues in a real way. Nothing is outlandish or ridiculous. There’s no overreaching. Aside from the happenstance of running into someone three times around the globe in 18 years (certainly possible, if not entirely plausible), there is no need to suspend disbelief.
Can you fall in love in one night? Can you remain in love without seeing someone for nine years? Can you just pick up right where you left off? Is it fate or just coincidence? Is it meant to be? Do you have control over your own actions and emotions? These are all questions that the film tackles, mostly implicitly. It is up to the viewer to come to his or her own answer.
There have been trilogies that expanded our imagination and technology (Star Wars, Back to the Future, Toy Story), made billions of dollars (The Dark Knight), and won multiple Oscars (The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings). The Before Sunset trilogy will not be credited with any of those, but it should be praised for taking a seemingly boring and ordinary idea - two people wandering around and talking all night - and making it in a riveting piece of film about human nature and the interaction between men and women. Then, it did it again. And (presumably) one more time. In short, it is the greatest trilogy that the vast majority of people have never seen.
Perhaps that is its ultimate legacy. Unfortunately.
Christopher Pierznik’s first novel, Sacrifice Fly, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. He is also the author of The Hip-Hop 10. A former feature contributor and managing editor ofIHateJJRedick, he has also written for XXL, PleaseDon’t Stare, Amusing My Bouche, Reading & Writing is for Dumb People, and others. He works in finance and spends his evenings changing diapers, washing baby bottles, and drinking craft beer. He once applied to be a cast member on The Real World, but was rejected. You can like his Facebook page here or follow him on Twitter here.