How can such a minimalistic story be overflowing with so much emotional connection? I almost find it impossible to comprehend. In 1995, Richard Linklater made Before Sunrise, and it was about how two random people met each other on a train and spent one fantastic night together, knowing that after they parted, they might never see each other again. It’s such a harrowing thought. And the characters that the movie focused on — Jesse and Celine — were so natural with each other, so intrigued by every little thing the other said, and so genuinely happy to be in each other’s company, that it pained me just as much as it pained them to not know what the future would bring. In many ways they are the perfect couple, and I suppose that’s where the connection is.
Nine years later, and that connection has only gotten stronger. Much stronger.
Before Sunset is just as much a reintroduction as it is a continuation of its predecessor. Yes, the characters are the same, but after nine years, how similar can they truly be? They’ve both changed for sure. The question is: how much have they changed? We are now in Paris; Jesse (Ethan Hawke) has published a bestselling book, and it’s no surprise what it’s about: that one night he spent with Celine (Julie Delpy). He’s promoting it in a small, tucked away little bookshop when he spots Celine standing off to one side watching him with longing eyes. He almost stumbles in his speech. At the mere sight of her, he is immediately taken back nine years to that night in Vienna. They decide to meet up after the promotion, and yes, from there they walk and talk, not as young lovers, but as new acquaintances with a history of love.
But they talk about different things. Don’t forget, they’re nine years older than when they first met. Topics like childhoods and ambitions are no longer important; they are adults now, deep in the working world. And so their conversations match their maturity. We learn that Celine is an activist and that she’s deeply passionate about it, and for most of the movie’s first half, we are listening to her, just as Jesse is. He’s the quiet one; his silence impatiently concealing the euphoria within. We know he’s been longing for this moment (he actually made the rendezvous they had planned just before they parted ways in Sunrise; Celine did not). But it’s not till the entire movie has run its course that we fully understand just what has happened with our lovebirds over the last nine years.
When I watch Jesse and Celine, it immediately occurs to me how lucky they both are. They’re lucky not because they happened upon each other in a train, but because they are both uninhibited in expressing themselves. They have a lot to say. Even when there’s silence, their silence is speaking. How often do we yearn for a partner who can talk as much as we’d like them to? Most people are not fond of awkward silences, and so it’s almost a miracle that Jesse and Celine have so much to talk about.
Ethan Hawke looks older. He doesn’t have the long flowing hair and the goatee of nine years ago. His face has wrinkled, but his outlook on life hasn’t. His character is still outgoing, but being in Celine’s presence again has filled him with a childlike quality. He jokes a lot more and seems to be glued to her side. Julie Delpy, in all honesty (and much to her credit), looks pretty much the same. She’s still cute and cheerful, but she seems a bit more serious now. There’s a scene in Jesse’s chauffeured car where Celine confesses how she truly feels, and we are told that her one night with Jesse didn’t have a positive effect on her. She says she’s become more empty, and that the past nine years have hollowed out any idea of love and reality that she used to have. Little does she know how crumbled Jesse has been too.
Before Sunset has the same structure as its predecessor, but its characters venture on a different journey. Their motives are different. They are not driven by the blossom of new love, they’re driven by the memory of what they once briefly had. It’s both a happy and a sad situation. Happy because they are wonderfully happy together. Sad because they can never seem to be with each other for more than a day. And I so want them to be. I want them to be married, and to have children, and to see them converse with their kids as effortlessly as they do with each other. Who knows what would’ve happened if they had both made their rendezvous. Fate comes into play now. Should, could, would. No one will ever know. All I know is that Before Sunset is a glorious movie, filled with real emotion, real characters, real conversations, real nostalgia, and a really frustrating ending (which ironically almost brought me to tears). Before Midnight, I am waiting for you.
Best Moment | I’d have to go with the ending. Till now I cannot believe it ends the way it does. I wanted to bite my chair. But it’s good, because what Jesse and Celine have is uncertainty, and so uncertainty is what we, the audience, must have too. As The Guardian says: the ending of Before Sunset is “one of the most tantalising and ingenious endings in all cinema”. I’d have to agree.
Worst Moment | Nope.