Following up to the highly unique and fantastic Before Sunrise that came out 9 years earlier, Before Sunset continues to follows the story of Jesse and Celine as they meet all this time later. The movie, just like its prequel, is shot in real-time format and is almost exclusively just the two strolling around while having highly engrossing conversations with one another. The film was able to retain a lot of what made Before Sunrise such a genius movie and the team deserves due credit for that.
More than anything else, I think Richard Linklater is a very patient director. And I mean that in the best way possible. We don’t usually discuss these things in my posts, but economically speaking, Linklater took a huge risk in waiting 9 years before releasing this sequel. After seeing Before Sunrise take off, he could have immediately start shooting Before Sunset to capitalise on all the intrigue that captivated people after watching the first film. Instead, he chose to wait 9 years before shooting and releasing the film, by which time it was quite possible that people would have gotten over their intrigue and fascination or would have even forgotten about the film series. In hindsight, we see that his risk paid off as the series is considered one of the best trilogies of all time even though it is far from being the most commercial of films.
Another aspect of the movie which I love is that while we see clearly that the characters have changed; aged, we also see how certain parts of their personalities still exists from before. And they even bring it up later during the movie during one of their conversations. But what I mean for instance, is Celine again feels like a very authentic, articulate and smart person with an amazing personality while also retaining that slightly neurotic side of her personality. The two characters have an almost tangible chemistry just like before. Jesse is a romantic just like before. Even other than that, the sequel plays homage to Before Sunrise as this time Jesse talks about his idea for a new book as opposed to telling Celine his idea for a TV show in the first movie. Little things to keep the continuity and manipulate the same intensity of our feelings for the characters as in the first movie.
The one thing that plays differently in this film, is the conversations. While in the first movie I believe that mostly discuss their family and their upbringings, in this film, that part is reserved for only a third of the film’s duration. Predominantly, their conversations in Before Sunset, are about their relationships and about their regrets. More than anything else, their curiosity regarding how different life would have been if they had met in Vienna as they had promised each other nine years back. Therefore, I have come to conclude that this movie is most about retrospect than anything else.
Like this monologue from Celine about relationships where she clearly talks about not being able to move on. How she values something from every person that she has ever been with. And I think that is what makes her such a beautiful character because she always seems genuine and authentic and she is that person who would see a someone as a whole rather than reduce them to one last bitter memory. And that is a very realistic but also healthy way of looking at things. At least that’s what I have come to believe. I see all the time that we often remember our past relationships in a bitter way. In a “good riddance” kind of way because we come to hate someone that once meant so much to us. We reduce their entire existence to just one bad incident in our heads. Maybe it’s just a defensive step to protect ourselves from feeling our turmoil and maybe it helps us move on quicker. But I think it’s equally detrimental for our future relationships as we begin second guessing our judgements about people by becoming to opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum about these things.
Having said that, I do believe that a reason behind both of them being unsuccessful in their future relationships since Before Sunrise, is that they kept looking for versions of each other in their partners. Jesse even says that he kept thinking about Celine obsessively right before his marriage. And to quote Jesse to himself, “Maybe it’s the sense of entitlement. Like whenever you feel like you deserve that new pair of shoes. You know it’s okay to want things as long as you don’t get pissed off if you don’t get them.“ He is unhappy in his married life and he cannot get over the feelings that he deserved more and he could have a better life had he been able to meet with Celine all that time back in Vienna. On multiple watches, you begin to realise how statements made by the characters earlier in the film come back to their present circumstances. Another example of this is when earlier in the film Jesse says “More recently I’ve started to think that me, you know my personality, I don’t have any permanent place here in eternity and the more I think that, I can’t go through life thinking this isn’t a big deal.” This thinking probably also makes him feel like he is entitled to a better life than the one he currently has.
Another little touch that I love in this entire trilogy, is how they are in the middle of deep conversations and suddenly some mundane thing will come up and interrupt (at least pause) their current conversations. Like when Jesse asks Celine if she is in love with her boyfriend and before she can answer, they have to collect tickets from the collector and Jesse has to borrow her phone to call his driver. Like no matter how magical a moment may seem, you cannot ignore or escape the real world.
And just like the real world, Jesse and Celine need to realise to stop living in the past and they need to realise to stop trying to escape their feelings. Both the characters are all talk for the major part of the film. That too highly engrossing, soul fulfilling talks that can only happen between two emotionally intelligent people. But, when it comes to it, they themselves hide their feelings from one another. Until the very end. But when they finally do confess, it is magical. See for yourself.
It is time we all realise that we need to stop escaping what we feel and to learn that It is better to speak than to die. That so often the thing that prevents us from getting all that we ever wanted, is ourselves.