The Before trilogy of films by Richard Linklater are perhaps some of the most touching cinematic representations of romance, love, fate, and attraction – themes which are certainly among the most difficult to explore through any artistic medium.
In the first film, Before Sunrise (1995), the main characters Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American man, and Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French woman, meet by chance on a train in the heart of Europe. Their conversation instantly sparks a special connection, motivating them to get off at a stop in Vienna and spend the night talking, connecting and walking the streets of the beautiful Austrian capital. The following two films in the trilogy, Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), follow the lives of the characters, who reunite after the years that have passed.
Jesse and Céline, played throughout the trilogy with an incredible finesse by Hawke and Delpy, display a sincere, almost lifelike connection and chemistry. The thoughtful direction by Linklater can be explained not only by his immense directorial talent, but by the true personal story which inspired the films and it’s characters.
Sometime in the autumn of 1989, Linklater had just finished shooting his first feature film, the Austin-set Slacker (1990), which would later become a cult fixture in American independent cinema, paving the way for the director’s future career. He visited the city of Philadelphia, passing through for just one day, on his way to New York. While in a downtown toy store with his sister, he met a vivacious young woman by the name of Amy. The two agreed to go out later, and ended up spending the whole night in each other’s company – sparked by a chance encounter, and fueled by close conversations on art, life, and everything in between. In his own words:
“I just got to talking to her and then we went out later and hung out the whole night….We walked around downtown from midnight until six in the morning. It was our own nooks-and-crannies tour of Philadelphia. But all the time I was thinking, `There’s a movie here.”
“Even as that experience was going on … I was like, “I’m gonna make a film about this.” And she was like, “What ‘this’? What’re you talking about?” And I was like, “Just this. This feeling. This thing that’s going on between us.”
Richard and Amy exchanged phone numbers, but eventually lost touch. During the next couple of years, Linklater met and married his love and future wife. She gave birth in 1994 to their wonderful daughter, Lorelei, who appears in her father’s films Walking Life (2001) and, more prominently, Boyhood (2014).
Linklater did, however, follow through with his idea of making a film about his chance experience in downtown Philadelphia. Before Sunrise (1995) explores just that – the magical experience when two people form a closeness in learning about each other.
When the film hit theaters around the world, Richard Linklater admitted to secretly hoping to see Amy come to one of the projections. Word had gotten around, and he hoped that the mention of his new film might rekindle their acquaintance. Before Sunrise was widely distributed and was received with almost universal acclaim.
Amy never did show up. The second film of the trilogy was released in 2004. It shows the two characters meeting again, nine years later, during a presentation of Jesse’s new novel, based on his encounter with Céline in Vienna. The characters again talk and spend their day together, walking the streets of Paris.
In 2010, Richard Linklater learned the true reason for which Amy did not come to see his films. He received a letter from a close friend of Amy’s, who informed him that she had tragically passed away in a motorcycle accident in 1994. This happened just months before Linklater began shooting the first film of the series, Before Sunrise (1995). The last film in the trilogy, Before Midnight (2013), is dedicated to the memory of Amy. This is also when the connection between her, the films, and the director, became publicly known.
A tragic end to a touching true story, a grimly-twisted reminiscence of the optimistic tales of the great O. Henry. It serves to remind us of the mystery of chance, the wickedness of fate, and the impact that people can make on each other’s lives, at times without even knowing it.
In writing this article, I have purposefully strayed away from more personal and intimate details regarding Linklater, his family, and Amy. In the sources below, you will find some articles posted on the subject, as well as a Youtube video I encountered during my research, by a user who contacted Amy’s mother and close friend, sharing more details about the memory of Amy Lehrhaupt.