Thanks to TVO, I finally got to see a double feature of the highly regarded Before Sunrise and its unlikely successful but excellent sequel, Before Sunset. (Seriously, public TV has some good programming. Check it out sometimes. You paid for it!) Boy and girl meeting on a train by chance, walking around a foreign city and making conversations does not seem to be an intriguing concept, but who knew these two movies could have a special place in the hearts of so many people? Now I understand why.
There are so many parallels, analogies, and hints of the writers’ designed interpretations hidden throughout Before Sunrise or even across the two films, making them layered and thought-provoking enough to render multiple viewings worthwhile. For instance, right from the moment they met, Celine brought up how couples lose their hearing and stop listening to each other. That set up the whole movie, in which the two main characters truly enjoyed each other’s company and listening to what the other has to say, showing that the couple shared a bond that was more special than the German husband and wife having a fight on the train. Or as in Before Sunset, Jesse answered his reader’s question about what happened after the story in his book had ended ─ one would believe that the couple did meet up if one was a romantic, or that they never saw each other again if one was a cynic. This is a perfect answer to how the audience could interpret the endings of the two films.
In the interview, one of the co-writers, Kim Krizan, says that she has heard incredible stories of fans of Before Sunrise quitting their jobs and travelling around Europe, hoping to find their soul mates in random encounters as well. Obviously, the movie struck a cord with many, moving them to pursue the romantic dream (which Jesse would criticize, not based on any kind of reality). But for me, Before Sunset is a precious entity in that it is, if not better, at least a deeper film because the characters could build on what they had established in the first instalment and answer the question: “What has happened to them during the 9 years apart?”And in doing that, it shows the growth of the characters. Moreover, because the audience also aged with them, who Jesse and Celine are now could reflect what the viewers’ changes as well.
I am not only referring to physical changes, of course. Jesse and Celine are no longer two 20-somethings who only ponder about death, faith, love, or all things young people contemplate because they still have the curiosity to explore these ideas. They are more grounded, realistic and disillusioned. However, in each other’s company, it seems like they are transported back to that faithful day 9 years ago, when their dream, passion and love were young and fresh. They are also more comfortable with each other, cracking sarcastic jokes, sharing intimate details about their separate lives, and just flirting with the flame that is still burning.
But they both have burdens now. While their reunion highlights the disappointment in their lives, does romanticism triumph over reality? Can the audience ignore the hint of infidelity and still root for the couple to be together? What happens if they do? Do they turn into a couple that get to know each other and then grow to hate each other? Or will they love each other even more everyday because they are connected by fate? It is also interesting that Celine now seems to be the one who is more realistic, while Jesse sounds like he can not let go of the past and what might have been. The changes in the couple and how the audience project or reflect themselves upon these two characters are why these two films complement each other almost perfectly.
Some people may feel that the dialogues in these movies are snobby and pretentious. Some others may complain that they are just a waste of time because there is no real plot. But I think without the typical boy-meets-girl, fall-in-love, fight-and-make-up formula, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are more genuine in a way. Making mere conversation interesting enough for 90 minutes is no small feat. The chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is undeniable. Watching them getting to know each other by simply talking, experiencing the city, and sharing opinions on ideologies, and falling for each other over this time is closer to how two people develop a connection in reality than any Hollywood romance. Perhaps it is this portrayal of realistic romance that paints a dreamy possibility of meeting an ideal someone that has resonated with so many people.
If eavesdropping on a private conversation is your thing ─ because listening to what others say make you examine yourself, not because you are a gossip ─ and you do not need a Hollywood-style comedic supporting cast, a chase to the airport to make you believe in love, give Before Sunrise and Before Sunset a try. They must have done something right if they made even an old cynic like me want to believe finding a soul mate is possible.
Favourite Quotes: (source: the all powerful iMDb)
Celine: Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?
Celine: You know, I’ve been wondering lately. Do you know anyone who’s in a happy relationship?
Jesse: Uh, yeah, sure. I know happy couples. But I think they lie to each other.
Celine: Hmf. Yeah. People can lead their life as a lie. My grandmother, she was married to this man, and I always thought she had a very simple, uncomplicated love life. But she just confessed to me that she spent her whole life dreaming about another man she was always in love with. She just accepted her fate. It’s so sad.
Jesse: I guarantee you, it was better that way. If she’d ever got to know him, I’m sure he would have disappointed her eventually.
Celine: How do you know? You don’t know them.
Jesse: Yeah, I know, I know. It’s just, people have these romantic projections they put on everything. That’s not based on any kind of reality.
Jesse: Let’s say that you and I were together all the time, then you’d start to hate a lot of my mannerisms. The way every time we would have people over, uh, I’d be insecure, and I’d get a little too drunk. Or, uh, the way I’d tell the same stupid pseudo-intellectual story again, and again. Y’see, I’ve heard all those stories. So of course I’m sick of myself. But being with you, uh, it’s made me feel like I’m somebody else.
Celine: When you talked earlier about after a few years how a couple would begin to hate each other by anticipating their reactions or getting tired of their mannerisms-I think it would be the opposite for me. I think I can really fall in love when I know everything about someone-the way he’s going to part his hair, which shirt he’s going to wear that day, knowing the exact story he’d tell in a given situation. I’m sure that’s when I know I’m really in love.
Celine: Memories are wonderful things, if you don’t have to deal with the past.
Jesse: Life’s hard. It’s supposed to be. If we didn’t suffer, we’d never learn anything.
Jesse: Oh, God, why didn’t we exchange phone numbers and stuff? Why didn’t we do that?
Celine: Because we were young and stupid.
Jesse: Do you think we still are?
Celine: I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.
Celine: Even being alone it’s better than sitting next to your lover and feeling lonely.