If Linklater, Delpy and Hawke find it in themselves to conjure up a third episode, it will have to be because of the one great advantage that they brought to Before Sunset: that they were no longer entirely the same artists who made Before Sunrise. That is, they had grown and experienced their times and their lives across roughly the same stretch of time as have Celine and Jesse. There were perspectives and life experiences that they could only have imagined when they made the first movie. Likewise, their forty-something visions as persons and as artists will bring new possibilities to the table that could not be anticipated before their time. Both as writers and as actors/directors, then, the possibility of continuing to flesh out characters over the course of their real and fictional lifetimes could create a body of work that could not otherwise exist without the dedication of decades. What a possibility!
All other films that follow characters across decades do so with writing coming from one particular point in time, and are all too often characterized by a unified perspective that belies the feeling of decades of life. It was one of the strengths of the second film that there were contradictions of perspective with the first film: the characters had grown and were not afraid to disagree with their younger selves, or in fact not to even bother recognizing that they said things that contradicted themselves from Before Sunrise. In these vignette glimpses into their lives, that is a welcome realism in a story so character-driven.
I would hate to think that these three writers would fall into the Hollywood cliché of the next chapter being the "Oh, do we break up?" chapter. There is so much drama in life other than the question of "do they stay together or don't they?" Too obvious. Too cheap. And, as we have seen in Before Sunset, these are characters who already know breaking up. At this point in their lives, if they are going to get together – if indeed Jesse's marriage ended – they would be doing so with a clear and conscious dedication toward making it last.
So what would be the occasion of one of our once-a-decade glimpses into their lives? Shall we join them for another serious encounter with one another? ("Before Midnight?") We all recognize that such self-conscious, uninterrupted moments are more difficult in a period of life characterized by having and raising children. Could a third film dare to not have them in a stretch of meaningful conversation, but rather in a hectic "day in the life" set of scenarios? However many of these days that Celine and Jesse actually have, is there a drama and value in such a day that can be conveyed to us in a film? As many have recognized, what makes for a good life does not necessarily make for a good story. (Or maybe we have yet to produce many artists who can convey such goods successfully.)
If we were indeed going to join them for one of their particularly full and thoughtful encounters with one another, I could see us visiting them during something of a "state of the union" conversation. An example: In A Severe Mercy, the lovely and powerful autobiography of his love affair with his wife, Sheldon Vanauken recounts how occasionally he and his wife would have a "Navigators' Council." (They loved sailing together, hence the nautical language.) Here was a couple who had explicitly set themselves the reckless goal of keeping and nurturing their "in-love-ness," having seen all the things in life that dulled love in other couples' relationships, particularly what they called "creeping separateness." So, they would stop and spend an evening in conversation assessing the state of their love: what in their lives currently affected or challenged it, where they had been, and where they wanted to go. And, in plotting their course for the future, dedicating themselves to being even more in love in the coming year than they had been in the previous one. Something of this sort would ring true to what we have seen of Jesse and Celine, without recourse to imagining that the only possible drama left before an established couple is whether or not they break up.
Michael Anthony Novak