Before the End

Creator's Statement

Speculation amongst film scholars, fans and critics as to whether there will be a further sequel to The Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise 1995; Before Sunset 2004; Before Midnight 2013, dir. Richard Linklater) has both intensified as the nine-year gap between these films and a possible fourth film draws in, and been diverted into ideas of how Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) might be coping with the global lockdown occasioned by the pandemic. Frequently questioned in interviews such as those carried out on 30 April and 12 May 2020 by Cameron Bailey for TIFF Originals’ Stay-at-Home Cinema with Hawke and Delpy respectively, the actors have remained non-committal and even dismissive (See Hawke: v=QU7swrG4mcU and Delpy: Nevertheless, these interviews for TIFF, which took place before online screenings of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset respectively, offered evidence of how Hawke and Delpy were coping with the pandemic and therefore invited consideration too of the condition of the characters with whom they are so indelibly associated. Before the End responds to the demand of the fanbase for a fourth film in the Before saga by cutting together the shots of Hawke and Delpy listening to questions and responding to Bailey’s comments as if they were engaged in a video call from their respective locations during lockdown. The intention is to suggest Jesse and Céline as I had already imagined they would be around now in Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater (2nd edn. 2018), “on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean and in a losing battle against nostalgia that will be in its final stages” (2018: 136). Before the End is meant to suggest how these characters, rather than just the actors, are separated from each other by the lockdown demanded by the pandemic. On a transatlantic video call, it seems, Jesse and Céline now observe and avoid each other in looks and gestures that recreate as a video call the most beloved scene in the original trilogy, that of Jesse and Céline in the listening booth of the Viennese record store in Before Sunrise. To this end, Before the End purposefully reprises the song that is used in place of dialogue in that scene, ‘Come Here’ by Kath Bloom, which now has added poignancy due to the separation of Jesse and Céline that is underlined by the medium of the glitchy video chat. 

By these means, Before the End seeks to engage with the demands of the fanbase, the persistent association of the actors with their roles, and the ethos of the saga, namely the idea expounded by Céline in Before Sunrise that “If there's any kind of god it wouldn't be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” Extrapolated to suggest the impact and context of the global pandemic, this attempt to close the little space in between people is, of course, massively exacerbated by the conditions of their respective lockdowns. How does one share something in a world defined by physical distancing that is as yet without the 'magic' of a vaccine? At the same time, the recognisable protagonism of Jesse and Céline responds to the persistent demands of fans, many of whom are in lockdown too, while also suggesting the legacy and even responsibility of film in general and this series in particular to bear witness to what is happening at the moment in a way that actual film production is struggling to manage by conventional means. As its title suggests, Before the End is pessimistic about the relationship between Jesse and Céline but optimistic about an end to the pandemic, even though as of writing there is no vaccine and deaths in the US near 290,000 while those in the UK are over 60,000. Thus, the video ends with a resigned and abrupt wave from Céline-Delpy and a moment of seeming regret from Jesse-Hawke that is wholly in line with their characters, answering the oft-asked question of where they are now, which is separated, of course, but still longing. 

The footage of both Q&As was downloaded from YouTube and edited with Final Cut Pro. All scenes of dialogue were excised and the silent shots of Delpy from the 12 May Q&A were lined up alongside those of Hawke from 30 April. Jump cuts between this footage were paper tigers, only confirming the medium of the video chat for this reunion, while the fluidity and realism of the piece was nonetheless enhanced by a few freeze frames and the addition of occasional pixellation that attempts to represent an experience of the pandemic that plays up our dependency on online communication. And essentially, this fan’s attempt to close the space between now and a much-missed but open-ended film saga that may have ended in 2013 struck a nerve of sorts when it went viral at the end of May 2020 after I posted it on a Facebook site dedicated to the Before trilogy ( and it was tweeted by the B-Film research centre at the University of Birmingham. Picked up by numerous film magazines and newspapers worldwide, including several from Spain, Russia, Brazil, Ghana, Greece, Brazil, Italy, the Phillipines, Taiwan and Iran, Before the End was the subject of an article on Indiewire (Sharf 2020) that helped the video accrue over 70,000 complete plays on Vimeo before being downloaded and re-uploaded to other platforms in China, Korea and elsewhere that allow for myriad comments but disallow any statistical information. 


Works cited

Sharf, Zack (2020) ‘The ‘Before’ Trilogy Continues in Quarantine with This Lovely Fan-Made Short Film’, Indiewire, 28 May. Online:

Stone, Rob (2018) Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater, New York: Columbia University Press, 2nd edn.



Professor Rob Stone is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of Spanish Cinema (Longman 2001), The Wounded Throat: Flamenco in the Works of Federico Garcia Lorca and Carlos Saura (Edwin Mellen 2004), Julio Medem (Manchester UP 2007) and co- author of Basque Cinema: A Cultural and Political History (Bloomsbury 2016) and Cine Vasco (2016). He has co-edited The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film (Wallflower 2007), Screening Songs in Hispanic and Lusophone Cinema (Manchester UP 2013), A Companion to Luis Buñuel (Blackwell 2013), Screening European Heritage (Palgrave 2016), The Routledge Companion to World Cinema (Routledge 2017) and Sense8: Transcending Television (Bloomsbury 2021).. He is also the author of Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater (Columbia UP 2013, 2nd edn. 2018) and he features on the Criterion blu-ray release of The Before Trilogy (2018).


Rob Stone’s Before the End intelligently illustrates—and lays bare—the deep emotional investment in Jesse and Céline’s romantic connection maintained by many fans of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy since the two alighted from a train in Vienna twenty-five years ago. Characteristic of transformative fanfiction, Before the End demonstrates this investment by offering an insightful imagining of Jesse and Céline in our current pandemic moment: the two are geographically separated, connected to one another—and their fanbase—only by the technological affordances of digital communication. Although Stone never addresses why this once-idealised romantic couple is separated—perhaps by inopportune but unintended circumstance, perhaps by design—the video implies a tension between the Before trilogy’s ethos: the attempt at true interpersonal connection and the wounds inflicted and revealed as part of such an asymptotic endeavour. Stone’s use of jump-cuts, freeze frames, and pixilation intrude on the intimate—but distanced—exchange, halting its flow in a manner both isomorphic with the reality of videocalls—ever more present in our current pandemic situation—and visualising the fissures and ruptures endemic to effortful interpersonal understanding. 

As both a work of, and a comment on, fanfiction, Stone’s use of footage from the TIFF Originals’ Stay-at-Home Cinema series is illuminating. In their respective interviews, Delpy and Hawke are asked to respond to the construction and trajectories of their characters and the role that the Before series plays in fans' lives. Often, at times, these actors are in essence talking about—but, of course, never to—one another, while fans’ comment in the chat sidebar in ways that both conflate and separate character and actor (“Are Céline and Jesse still together?”/“I love you, Ethan Hawke”). Stone’s repurposing of this footage as videocall (represented visually via split screen) is thus multidirectional: it speaks to a willed extension of the trilogy, imagines Hawke and Delpy as Jesse and Céline in a reality shared by their audience, and recognises the distinctly fictional nature of these characters and their relationship. 

Stone employs Kath Bloom’s ‘Come Here’—a song that scores the iconic record-store scene in Before Sunrise—to poignantly capture the bittersweet nostalgia indicated by the video’s title. As in that sequence, there is no heard dialogue between the famously loquacious couple. Yet, here the music is not what renders the two silent, for it is extradiegetic. As such, unlike the visual track, there are no ruptures to the soundtrack. Thus, instead of reprising that iconic scene, as Stone states, I suggest he has remembered it for us: the moment that love was sparked is laid—untouched—over all the appurtenances of physical distance and dodgy connections. 

In Before Sunset, Jesse suggests an idea for a novel that takes place in the space of a pop song. Before the End manifests and extends this notion: it warmly depicts genuine but imperfect and incomplete attempts interpersonal connection—between Céline and Jesse, fans and the trilogy, and people per se in a time when such attempts are rendered fraught and yet more vital by physical distancing—not only in the duration of a song, but its reprises and reverberations.

I first got to know Rob Stone when I realized that our books on director Richard Linklater were coming out in roughly the same time period, and I was delighted, when I read his text, to find so many engaging insights into films I’d already spent a great deal of time studying on my own. I emailed him to tell him so, and that led to a number of good things, including a fruitful collaboration a few years later when we shot a critical dialogue for the Criterion Collection on the Before series. To this day, we continue to stay in touch and remain good friends. I disclosed my knowing Rob quite well to the editors of [in]Transition when I was asked to review this video, and they had no reservations about my continuing forward with the review. I say all of this at the outset because it would be understandable to attribute my favorable review to my friendship with Rob. Yet I hope the reader will grant me some room to make my case. Part of my approach when writing about Linklater’s cinema was not to hide my affection for those films and yet to engage with them intellectually, and I suppose it’s in the same vein that I share with the reader my relation to the video and its maker before getting too far along. 

To understand what’s happening in this video, however, it’s necessary to consider an important aspect of the Before trilogy, which is how tightly all three work with one another aesthetically and thematically, even though they seem to be drifting along in a much looser manner. Especially within Before Midnight, one finds a number of ironic reversals on scenes that appear in Before Sunrise or Before Sunset. Consider, for instance, the scene in Before Sunrise inside the vast cathedral, where Céline speaks respectfully of religious impulses, and the tone, with voices near whisper, is mostly reverential; Before Midnight’s chapel scene strikes a more cynical note, with Céline’s mocking Jesse’s spirituality, the space tighter, the voices more intrusive. Similar reversals happen again and again throughout Before Midnight, so that the experience of a first-time viewer, generically, can be one characterized by frustration, since the promise of romance has not only been denied but deliberately turned inside-out, even though the ending suggests the possibility of that promise. Before the End smartly engages with the trilogy along these lines by continuing this serial dialogue through a literal (if imagined) conversation via video call: they’re side by side, but they’re not in the same frame. Are they in the same location but in different rooms? Or are they living in different locations, sharing children but leading more distant, separate lives? Furthermore, are they talking to each other? Or some other third party, part of a larger video call with others we can’t see? Before the End deliberately plays with and makes explicit many of the desires that the Before series evokes, and even, through digital pixilation and freezing, suggests in a direct, explicit way the same dynamic that the series has already created in setting up, then denying, then perhaps delivering—or perhaps not—the generic pleasure promised earlier in the films.

Beyond this, the more specific reversal that Before the End engages with is signaled in the musical choice, Kath Bloom’s “Come Here,” which plays in Before Sunrise when Céline and Jesse go into the listening booth at the record store. Bloom’s stripped-down singing beckons in a high, unadorned voice, its earnestness so initially surprising that the actors almost laugh when they first hear it. Yet it’s an earnestness the film ultimately validates, as do both characters, who smile and look awkwardly toward and away from one another in the single-take, low-angle shot of the scene. Before the End evokes the scene equally through its video juxtapositions, because so many of the clips are of Delpy and Hawke listening, but here, the awkwardness is based more on the combination of digital separation and proximity, or what Hugh Gusterson, writing about a very different subject (drone warfare), calls remote intimacy. Before the End’s mise-en-scène is one we’ve become all too familiar with during the pandemic and, equally, marks the passage of time, a major subject of the trilogy, in the shift from the real intimacy of the analog listening booth to the remote intimacy of these digital frames, side by side yet not quite connecting.

It would be easy, however, to note the relative simplicity of Before the End’s construction and suggest I am making too much of it—that I am in effect giving it more credit than it is due for the intellectual work it is doing. Watching it, nothing much seems to be happening but Hawke and Delpy reacting to the webcam, while Bloom’s song plays. But there’s something appropriate about this particular video’s apparent simplicity, given Linklater’s fascination with what P. Adams Sitney once dubbed structural filmmaking. Linklater’s early work especially is marked by this influence, perhaps no more strongly than by the filmmaker James Benning, a relationship at the center of the 2013 documentary Double Play. Structural filmmaking, in Sitney’s definition, is in some ways characterized via contrast with the aesthetic that preceded it, one that was “a movement toward increased cinematic complexity” through “more condensed and more complex forms” and “a tight nexus of content” (369). Structural films work differently, according to Sitney, and he notes a number of qualities they may have, including a particular relationship with time. “By sheer dint of waiting,” Sitney writes, “the persistent viewer would alter his experience before the sameness of the cinematic image” (374). In short, we watch something where nothing much seems to be happening—until it does, or until we do. I was thinking of this connection while watching Before the End and the ways in which audio-visual scholarship has developed to date. So many thoughtful videos could be described as “a tight nexus of content”; still others, equally thoughtful, rely more on an alteration, or a shift, in the “persistent viewer.” I think Before the End belongs to this latter group, though I would hesitate to stake out a position too defined in this regard, given the gap in historical time between Sitney’s book and our own and also the important differences between avant-garde cinema and audio-visual scholarship.

In closing, if I have not yet convinced you, then that is likely my own deficiencies as a reviewer—the video ultimately stands on its own. I recommend its publication.


Works Cited

Gusterson, Hugh. Drone: Remote Control Warfare. M.I.T. Press, 2016.

Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943-1978. 2nd ed., Oxford UP, 1979.