Approaching Romance Differently: An Investigation into Richard Linklater’s, Before Trilogy and its relationship with the Romantic Comedy Genre.
Richard Linklater is arguably one of the most prolific and diverse filmmakers to emerge out of Hollywood in recent times. With a career spanning over thirty years and with nineteen feature films to date, Linklater has produced a plethora of work, each stylistically distinctive in its own right. These range from his break out film, Slacker (1990), cult classic Dazed and Confused (1993), the family orientated hit School of Rock (2003), all the way through to his Oscar nominated Boyhood (2014). However, it is Linklater’s Before Trilogy that stands out as his greatest cinematic achievement to date, or, as Gilbey (2014) refers to it, “The crowning glory of Linklater's career” (p.20). The Before trilogy is comprised of three films, Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). The films and their approach bear some resemblance with François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, which follows the character of Doinel over five films spanning a twenty year period. However, the Before Trilogy is, arguably, more ground breaking and revolutionary than the Doinel series, as it looks at love over the course of three films, each set and made nine years apart. Each film provides a brief window into the life and relationship of Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke, and Céline, played by Julie Delpy. In Sunrise, young travellers, Jesse and Céline, meet by chance on a train and spend a romantic night together in Vienna. The couple are aware their time together is limited, with Jesse having to catch a plane at dawn, and, before they part, they agree to meet again in Vienna six months later. In Sunset, nine years later Jesse and Céline meet again by chance, this time in Paris, and it is revealed they did not keep to the arrangement made in Vienna to meet six months on. Despite having changed significantly they reconnect over the course of an evening with the film ending on the suggestion they will get together. A further nine years later, in Midnight, this suggestion is in fact confirmed, and Jesse and Céline are now in a long-term relationship, holidaying with their family and friends in Greece. Since the release of Sunrise in 1995, and subsequently the release of Sunset in 2004 and Midnight in 2013, there has been much discussion in academia about the films and their genre classification. Speaking shortly after the release of the second film, Linklater admitted that even he was unsure about the genre of both Sunset and Sunrise, saying they were “technically romantic comedies maybe, but I don’t acknowledge the genre stuff too much” (2004). Despite some disagreement amongst scholars, it is widely accepted that the Before films belong to the Romantic Comedy genre, a genre that for Grindon (2011) is wide and complex. As best described by both Deleyto (2009) and Hettich (2013) the Before films exist very much within the independent discourse of the Romantic Comedy genre. Due to the fact Midnight was only released five years ago, much of the discussion still circulates around the first two films, either individually or collectively, with very little scholarship tackling the trilogy as whole. However, this not to say that the scholarship on the Before series, in regards to its genre classification, is at all lacking, with scholars like MacDowell (2017) recently writing on the subject. The fact that Midnight shares many similar characteristics with its predecessors also means that much of the existing literature is still very much applicable to the trilogy as a whole. The primary focus of this dissertation, however, is not the genre classification of the Before Trilogy, as it is an area that has already generated much academic discussion. This dissertation will, instead, look to build on this discussion and work on the basis that the Before films do, in fact, belong within the Romantic Comedy genre. It will seek to identify why the Trilogy occupies such a unique space within the genre, examining what it is about the films that makes them stand out so acutely from their more conventional counterparts. Whereas much of the existing literature on the films tends to look at each film individually, and only briefly examines the three films and their unique qualities, this research project will provide a more in-depth analysis, looking at the trilogy as a whole.