by guest blogger Prima Santika

It’s LOVE in your twenties, and then thirties, and then fourties. From love you can call the first which seems to be grander than life at that time, goes to the one when you think you either doubt or master the term love itself, and finally to the one that prevails when your life [and your body] is no longer pretty. The “BEFORE” trilogy wonderfully explores them all.

What’s called the “BEFORE” trilogy is the three movies entitled BEFORE SUNRISE [1995], BEFORE SUNSET [2004] and BEFORE MIDNIGHT [2013]. These three movies are made possible by three people, the Director Richard Linklater, the Actor Ethan Hawke and the Actress Julie Delpy, who co-write the movies together [except for the first one where Ethan and Julie are only acting]. I don’t really know how they do it technically, but all I can personally say for them is that they must be the best team in making a movie imitation from real life. You will feel connected to these movies. Not to the characters or to the stories, but merely to the conversations, which is a lot! So, if you’re not a big fan of listening to what characters are talking in a movie, then these movies will put you asleep in five minutes, guaranteed. But if you have a keen interest in life [not only, but mostly about, love], then these ones will feed your hunger head and touch your tender heart.

Throughout the trilogy, the movies follow the two main characters, Jesse and Celine. A boy and a girl in the first movie, who become a man and a woman in the last one. That’s exactly what they are as characters, no more and no less, simply male and female. What they do for living doesn’t really matter, and even in their fourty with a son and a twin daughters, they’re not referred to as a husband and a wife. It’s interesting, actually.

One more thing we should aware about these movies is that all of them are made in approximately real-time storyline. In the first movie, it happens from an afternoon to the next morning in Vienna. The second one is set in around two hours of one afternoon in Paris. And the third one is within several hours of an evening in Greece. Yes, they’re all located in those beautiful places in Europe. Maybe they deliberately compensate the high effort of your ear with a few beauty shots for your eyes.

So what happen to them in those three decades of their lives? Let’s start talking about them, Jesse and Celine.


In summer 1994, a 23 years old American boy Jesse spends the holiday in Europe, only to find that his girlfriend who goes to school in Madrid cares very little about him while he’s there, and then he breaks up with her. In spending several days before he gets on his airplane to go back to America from Vienna, he buys a Eurail ticket and travels around Europe alone. In his last train journey to Vienna, he meets a beautiful French girl named Celine.

Celine, slightly younger than Jesse, travels on the same train. She’s going back to Paris where she lives after visiting her grandma in Budapest. They meet and start talking to each other because a married couple who sit near to Celine are arguing loudly in German language. So loud that forces Celine to move away and sit across to Jesse’s. Driven by the same curiosity of what the couple are arguing about, Jesse and Celine, who both talk no German language, exchange glances and quickly start introducing themselves. They talk about the German couple for a minute or two, then change the subject, and before they know it, they never stop talking afterward. Celine is smart, and Jesse is destined to be a writer. None of them can resist the attraction. A perfect combination that makes all their clever conversations possible.

The train finally stops in Vienna where Jesse should go off and Celine should stay inside. Jesse who feels empty and originally romantic, offers a proposal to Celine. He asks her to get off the train with him, spend the rest of the day and night without any hotel reservation because there’s no money for it, and wander about the city of Vienna until the morning comes, when she will catch the train back to Paris and he to America by airplane. A crazy idea it is, but the most romantic one indeed. The attraction is there to play their games, and their youth agrees to play with destiny. It’s called experiment! 

They may not grow liking each other better if it were only physical attraction between them. They both go beyond that, far beyond, and yet only by the simplest way possible. Talking. And walking. And talking again. They kiss once in a while, and eventually have sex after a long liberation on much discussed possibilities, but their true intimacy lies beneath each word they exchange.

The morning finally arrives, their journey has to end. Love is there between them, but they realize it can’t do much to keep them close while apart half across the world. On the last minute at the train station, suddenly they feel the urge to meet again. They promise to each other that six months from that day, at the same morning hour, at the same spot in that train station in Vienna, they will meet. But before the time comes, no contact will take place, as they both believe that long distance communications will drive them away. They exchange no numbers, no addresses, and not even their last names.


Jesse is a writer. Based on his experience of one night love with Celine on the streets of Vienna, his novel gains a big success. One afternoon in 2003, he travels to Paris on a book tour. Celine still lives in Paris and works in an environmental organization. She knows about the book tour and she goes to it, particularly to meet Jesse, an old friend she met nine years ago in Vienna. Yes, they never see each other again after that morning in the train station, not even after the six months as they promised. Celine could not make it because her most loved Grandma in Budapest died right on that day, while Jesse...well, Jesse made it, actually. Brokenhearted as he was finding Celine was not there in Vienna, he went back home and wrote a novel to commemorate that one loveliest night of his life. That is how they meet again. A casual meeting as a friend visiting another friend in Paris. An old friend with the whole nine years to catch up.

By the time they meet, Jesse only has few hours before his plane will take him home to his wife and son. Jesse is married, while Celine is always between relationships. They share information and experiences just like good friends do. By talking. And walking. And talking again. But there’s no kissing this time. Good friends don’t do that. They’re not trying to rekindle their long overdue love here. No respectable woman would offer her love, and no good husband would ask for it. And that’s just what they are, a couple of lovers trapped in an awkward condition, because they know that for whatever situation they’re in right now, their love is still there. Each of them lets it out from their guts, admitting their miserable lives without each other. It’s depressing, but in the same time sets them free from hiding it all along. They just don’t want to act anything upon their love – if it’s still can be named as love. Or to be precise, they’re trying so hard avoiding it.
The time is approaching to end, it’s time to take Celine home. A small, unarousing hug marks their goodbye in front of Celine’s apartment, but apparently there’s still time for a song Jesse asks Celine to play. They get inside Celine’s apartment, still talking, nothing physically more. In there, Celine plays a guitar and sings a beautiful waltz she wrote herself, which is about her one-night-stand love with Jesse. Afterward, Jesse sits very relax, no hurry, on the sofa, smiling and still mesmerized by the singing performace, while Celine dancing alone imitating Nina Simone played on the CD, and reminds him playfully “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane”. The movie closed with Jesse’s reply “I know”.


It’s 2012 now, Jesse and Celine are an unmarried couple, who live together and raise together their biological twin daughters. They’re like married without the wedding ring. They live in Paris. Jesse is divorced now, and he has only limited time, once every while, to see Henry, his son who lives with his mother in Chicago.

The movie sets in one evening in Peloponnese, south of Greece, where they all, Jesse, Celine, Henry and the twins are having a summer vacation. It opens at the airport where Jesse drops Henry there because he has to go back home to his mother, after spending several weeks of great times in Greek. There’s a father-son dialogue which seems like nothing at first, but turns out to be everything that matters eventually. It will become one of the central problems in the movie.

The scene then move to Celine and Jesse in the car, on their way back from the airport to Patrick’s house. Patrick is a Greek fellow writer of Jesse’s who invites them over to Greece for the vacation. In the car, Celine and Jesse talk about things. From little things like how Jesse forgets to shave, to heavy issues like Celine’s stressful career situation. It’s a perfectly casual conversation, just like what married couple do, but if you’re sensitive – or if you’ve been married long enough – you will sense a problem or two emerging from this dialogue.

In Patrick’s house up in the hill with a breathtaking view down the ocean, they have the last luncheon with Patrick’s friend and family, as Jesse and Celine will be back to Paris the next day. There are three generations of couples, dining and talking at the same table. There’s a husband and wife just about Jesse’s age, a younger couple in their early twenties, and a senior couple - Patrick and his woman best friend - who both are maybe thirty years older than Jesse. There, they talk about life and love and how they’re different for each generation. It’s interesting to listen to, and it gives a background of how Jesse and Celine perceive a relationship, and also how they argue decently in a social event. And once again, it’s just like what married couple do.

The middle aged couple give a gift for Jesse and Celine, a one night fully-paid hotel room downhill near the beach. It’s intended only for Jesse and Celine alone, with a promise that they will look after the twins for the night. They insist upon it although Celine is not really up to the idea. However, they take it anyway.

The afternoon is lovely, Jesse and Celine walk to the hotel. It’s a long walk and they do it gladly, marking that this is the first time in a very long time they have the time for their own. And yes, it’s also just what married couple do, loosing intimate time over their busy daily life. They end the afternoon sitting in a cafe, watching the sunset across the bay, and then check in to the hotel.

In the hotel room is what this movie all about. They start the evening in easy cozy state of mind, making out as a prelude to sexual intercourse, but suddenly a call from Henry arrives, which sets everything off and turns the night into hell. They have a big fight over whatever feelings they’re obliged to keep from each other to maintain their family – or in this case “their arrangement” – going well. It ends with Celine flies off the room, saying to Jesse that she doesn’t love him enough.

Celine sits in the cafe where they saw the sunset earlier. Jesse then comes with a play, pretending he’s been traveling time and has a letter from the 82-years-old Celine in the future. Being a writer he definitely can pull out something like that. But life is no play right now for both of them. There’s a resentment from Celine, followed by letting go from Jesse, saying that if Celine doesn’t find his devotion to their family as LOVE, then she must be blind and he might as well give everything up. Silent is bound to happen for a minute where Celine puts herself together and finally comes around, asking about the time-traveling as an offer of peace. The movie ends at that point, with  hope of a better reconciliation.

Now, Let’s TALK! 

That’s what Celine and Jesse do throughout the trilogy, and at the same time that’s what so wonderful about these movies. Talking! The conversations are just marvelous! Smart and funny, deep and heartbreaking, but never over-dramatized, even when they’re angry at each other. They make it so real! It’s just like the way we talk in our everyday lives. And those dialogues are the ones that put you glued in your seat, feeling happy, feeling sad, putting a grinned face, amazed face, agreed face, and probably even producing a bit of tears in your eyes. It’s all done only by both of them talking. It’s simply amazing! 

I’m not going to reveal in detail what they’re talking about. Not that I don’t want to, but more because I can’t. You just have to experience yourself to feel what they ping-pong each other that brings you all kinds of feelings. However, here I’d like to address these three movies without any particular order, and conjunct them with what I personally understand about life.

I’m at the age not far from Celine and Jesse in every movie, so I practically grow up feeling and understanding the same stage they are. Having said that, I must conclude that the most heart throbbing of the three is the last one, Before Midnight. The movie is like stabbing you right to the core of your heart. It’s so real, I have goosebumps watching it. And you don’t have to be in the exact same problems they’re facing in the movie to feel connected to them. You just BE in a long term relationship and living together. That alone will put you right in their shoes. It’s not like single people can not enjoy it, because they can, they really can because this movie is THAT good, and it will broaden everyone’s knowledge about being married. But there’s a different feeling between watching this movie as the outsider, with watching it as the real player. That’s just how close this movie in portraying real life problems. And I’m so glad I have the chance to see it as a player.

The previous movies, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, are just as good as the last one in the writing and acting, but in both movies Celine and Jesse don’t face a real problem together. They have individual problems and they try to communicate them throughout the movies. You can still feel the happiness or sadness, and love or resentment in their dialogues, but it can easily be put aside if they want to. There’s no string attached between them. Nothing they say or do will push the button that sets them angry at each other. There are angry scenes in both movies, but it mainly because they’re not happy with their lives or with the situation they’re in. The button doesn’t exist until you’re in a relationship, and more over, when you’re married.

Marriage is both the strong part of the movie Before Midnight, and – for me personally – the lack of the couple, Celine and Jesse. The movie is so good and realistic in portraying married life, while at the same time the couple in the story are not married. But maybe, we can see this movie as a testimony of how fragile a relationship between man and woman – with children I might add – if they’re not married.

This movie is not meant to like or dislike marriage, just like it’s not meant to defend the man or the woman character in a relationship. It merely puts on a plate a bunch of problems that real people are facing. There’s no suggestion of practical solution in this movie, so the audience will be left empty handed if they’re looking for a solution. However, one little part of their problems is solved and confirmed here, and it might be considered as the most important part, assuming that if this part is saved then the other problems will find a way. That one part is LOVE.

Love is always the one strong string between Celine and Jesse, since the day they first met in Vienna, until the day they die – if they’re not going to marry ever – somewhere, most probably in Europe [just kidding about the Europe part, hahaha]. Marriage is the product of law or religion, which they certainly don’t have a unity on both. Celine is French, Jesse is American, and they both do not attach themselves to any system that devotes to God. It’s not like marriage is impossible for them. They just don’t want to embrace the idea. And without marriage, nothing can bound them together but love, and it makes their relationship very VERY fragile. A fight, a jealousy, a boring daily routine, a little discomfort of living together can break their relationship easily, just like what Celine and Jesse are arguing for about half an hour in the hotel room. And if Celine doesn’t come around after fleeing off the room by saying “I don’t love you anymore!”, or if Jesse doesn’t come after her to the cafe and says “I love you no matter what!”, their marriage-like relationship will certainly end without any hesitations and consequences what so ever.

I’m not saying that marriage will  guarantee a long lasting relationship til the day you die, but it certainly will set up boundaries that make everyone harder to leave. Love is indeed an important ingredient in a marriage, but believe it or not, without love marriage can start and survive. Love is always in a vague definition, while marriage is more formative. In Before Sunset, Jesse says about the kind of love he felt for his wife when he decided to marry her, “What is love if not respect, trust and admiration? And I felt all those things.” And there he was, getting married as a form of “a simple action of committing yourself and meeting your responsibility that matters” as he tells Celine about it. People can get married for different reasons. Love, money, sex, duty, tradition, law, religion, and so on. And there are also more reasons to stay in a marriage, like children and family. In Before Sunrise, Jesse tells Celine that their parents could’ve been divorced had his mother not been pregnant with him. They stayed in a marriage for the better life of their kids. Marriage embodies a family. It puts rights and duties for the husband and the wife, which love is entirely without. Marriage can work without love. It’s a system. Love is not.

Having said all that, Before Midnight is once again a movie about love, not about marriage, just like its presedence, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. It works best when they question about “do you still love me” or “do you still want to live with me” which are the questions for the heart and their honesty, rather than “if you leave me, you’re obliged to do this” which is more practical. But the problems are all about married life, so married people will appreciate Before Midnight a lot better – just like I do – than single people. And talking about love in a married life, it’s no longer similar to what they feel while they’re single.

In Before Sunrise, they meet and they love, all flowery, all brand new experience. In Before Sunset, they meet and they flirt, playing with forbidden love because Jesse is married, admitting their long lasting love to each other. It’s heartbreaking yet sexy in the same time. Before Midnight is one hundred and eighty degrees different. It will complete their understanding about love.

In Before Midnight, Jesse apparently has more advantage in experiencing love in-and-out of a marriage, while Celine is still connecting love to romance, something that she admits in the luncheon as going down after they have the twins. What this movie wants to highlight is that love comes as an acceptance to both sides – the brilliant and the miserable – of life with your partner, especially the miserable. In the course of nine years for Celine and Jesse, romance has gone, sex  is overrated,  and each of them is growing to become somebody they’ve never expected. Feelings spared, sacrifices made, fightings unavoided, and yet they still want to share life with each other. If it’s not love, then what is? 


Hi, everyone! I’m Prima Santika from Indonesia. I live in Jakarta, the capital – as well as the biggest cosmopolitan – city in Indonesia. I’m currently working in a telecommunication company. I was born in 1974, a husband to a beautiful wife, and a father of a handsome 5 years old son. I have published my first book in early 2012, entitled THREE WEDDINGS AND JANE AUSTEN. It’s a novel in Indonesian language,

This is my second piece for FLY, a piece of writing about my other interest outside Jane Austen books,  MOVIES. I personally thank Maria Grazia for the opportunity to post it in her blog. I hope you've enjoyed reading it 

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