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How the effortless charm of Ethan Hawke buoyed the 'Before' trilogy


Well known for his slacker philosophy that rejects the structures of societal norms for a counter-cultural view on modern life, filmmaker Richard Linklater has created a filmography that has become a breeding ground for ambitious pot-smoking youths across the world. Whilst his style can be easily satirised, the filmmaker holds a genuine philosophy and approach to each of his projects, with his character of Jesse Wallace – played by Hawke himself – the Before trilogy perhaps best represents this free-spirited energy. 

Capturing a certain spontaneous European freneticism, Hawke’s Jesse joins Celine, played by Julie Delpy, as they become swirled in a romantic whirlwind of youthful excitement, travelling across the streets of Vienna, drinking, talking and musing about the wonders of travelling. Taking place in a single day, Before Sunrise explores the inner boundaries of the people that exist in the ephemeral moments of fleeting joy, perfectly capturing the potential of life’s spontaneity. 

Defining themselves by the absence of time, whilst being inextricably tied to its ceaseless stride, Jesse and Celine are victims of their own youthful exuberance as they depart at the film’s end, unsure of when they will next see each other. It is in these two lead characters that the film entrusts all its charm and sophistication, with both Julie Delpy, and particularly, Ethan Hawke, acting as a conduit for the voice of Richard Linklater.

Seizing the moment, Ethan Hawke’s Jessie is an energetic, youthful thinker, suffused with the same energy as the bohemian pupils of Lee High School in Dazed and Confused, just with more style and philosophical edge. In one of his many flowing conversations with Delpy’s Celine, he utters: “You know what drives me crazy? It’s all these people talking about how great technology is, and how it saves all this time. But, what good is saved time, if nobody uses it?”. It’s a line that breathes Linklater’s philosophy and essentially carries the film’s core themes of finding authenticity in lived experiences, conversations and relationships rather than materialistic gains.  

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Richard Linklater’s third film, following Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise was inspired by a real-life encounter the director had with a woman in a toy shop in 1989. Walking around Philadelphia, the two of them conversed deeply about their life, leading Linklater to devise the script for the film alongside writer and actor Kim Krizan. Writing the screenplay in 11 days, Linklater then spent nine months casting the film and after seeing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy perform in a rehearsal beside one another he decided to officially cast them.

Partially rewritten by both Hawke and Delpy once they were brought on board, Delpy told Creative Screenwriting: “Ethan and I basically re-wrote all of it. There was an original screenplay, but it wasn’t very romantic, believe it or not. It was just a lot of talking, rather than romance”. 

Embodying the spirit of the trilogy itself, Ethan Hawke buoyed the Before story with an effortless charm that invited sympathy, understanding and genuine affection, making his progression throughout the three films the main focal point. A mouthpiece for the slacker philosophy of Richard Linklater, Hawke imbues the film with a crucial throughline that investigates self-discovery through a personal and social voyage. As Hawke struts through the streets of Vienna, he may as well be the director himself, acting as a crucial, compelling voice of the trilogy.