I wasn’t one of those people that watched Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in the theater when it came out in 1995. The movie came out in a time when I was too young to drive myself to the movies and even if I did go to the theater, it was for a flick that was carefully chosen as I couldn’t afford much on my $15/month allowance. A few years later, I saw maybe 2 minutes of it on TBS as I was flipping through the channels. I knew what movie it was but I have a rule where I never watch a movie from the middle (unless I’ve seen in before) so I didn’t linger on the channel.
In 2001, I heard about this movie Waking Life and checked it out. It was the first Richard Linklater movie I had watched and although I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in the beginning, by the end of my first viewing, Waking Life became one of my favorite movies. I most definitely looked at consciousness and dreams differently after watching it and I also even started reading the short stories and novels of Philip K. Dick because of one of the segments in the movie. I watch Waking Life now every couple of years and it never gets old.
There was one scene in the movie with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and I knew that they were playing their characters from Before Sunrise so I finally ended up watching Before Sunrise soon after I first watched Waking Life.
In Before Sunrise, Hawke and Delpy’s characters Jesse and Celine meet on a train in Europe and after a conversation in the dining car, Jesse convinces Celine to disembark with him at Vienna, where Jesse has to catch a flight in the morning. The two end up wandering around the city and just …talk. And I loved it.
In the movie, the characters where in their early twenties, the same age I was when I first watched it. There was something about their attitudes, their outlook on life, that resonated with me. I related to it in a way I never really had with a movie. Beyond that, the romantic in me loved that these two people made an instant connection with one another after a happenstance moment of sitting near each other on the train.
The sequel, Before Sunset, came out in 2004. Not only did the movie come out 9 years after the first one, but the passage of time reflected in the movie was 9 years as well, which makes sense but one rarely sees a sequel portray the exact time passed. I feel like if this were a Bollywood flick, the hero from the first movie would still be the same age in a sequel, despite the number of years that passed. It’s almost like how Aamir Khan can still play a college student at 45.
This time Jesse and Celine are in Paris. Nine years have passed, putting them in their early 30s. Although the first one takes place over one night, a compressed timeline for a movie as it is, the second one takes place in real time, lasting less than an hour and a half.
Watching Before Sunset was a different experience than watching the first one. I left the theater knowing that I liked the movie, but not sure how I felt about it. The youthful optimism from the first movie was gone, replaced with what I first believed to be cynicism but then identified as being more realistic. The characters had aged and experienced life in the last 9 years and were in a different place than when we first met them so it was only natural that the tone of their conversations in Paris were a reflection of their life experiences that occurred in the gap of the first and second movies. I had to respect that and so the more I watched Before Sunset though, the more I liked it.
Weirdly enough, depending on the stage in my life of when I watched the movies over the years, the two would swap places as to which one I liked better.
The ending of the second movie begged for a sequel but I was still quite surprised to find out they were working on the 3rd movie, to come out 9 years after the 2nd one.
Short of the upcoming Superman movie*, I’m not sure I was ever this excited for a movie to come out so when I saw that as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, they had not only a special screening of the movie with the director in attendance but also a conversation with the director the day before, I jumped at the chance to go. By that time, the movie had already been viewed at Sundance and SXSW and I didn’t want to read too much about it. I had also avoided watching the trailer, so watching it weeks before the official release was the best way for me to watch it as clueless as possible.
Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the original film (I know!!), is set in Greece. I don’t want to say anything about the actual plot and about where Jesse and Celine are in their lives but I will say this, that as the credits rolled after the movie finished, I knew that Before Midnight is the movie that it needed to be.
After the screening, came the requisite questions that weren’t really questions, with people providing their analysis of the trilogy and asking the director if he agreed. After one such comment, Richard Linklater pretty much said that he set out to make something honest. And really, that’s all that anyone needs to know about these movies – that they are honest takes on love and relationships through the perspective of two people. Well, also folks should also know that there’s a ton of talking so if you’re not down with that, all good, but these probably aren’t the movies for you.
Here’s hoping that in 9 years, we will get another movie about Jesse and Celine. That would be most awesome.
* I’m cautiously excited about the new Superman movie. I’m not a fan of the director’s comic book adaptation of Watchmen, but I’ve heard some good early buzz on this movie and it does look pretty good. I really didn’t care for the Superman Returns movie from back in 2006 so I’m just hoping this one doesn’t break my heart too.
NOTE: I feel like I should put this caveat – these movies are rated “R” and just because I love them and recommend them, it doesn’t mean they are family films. FYI :)