Sunday, May 19, 2013

Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise is largely just a running conversation between its two main characters, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American, and Celine (Julie Delpy), a French student. Strangers meeting on a train, they spontaneously decide to get off together and spend the night roaming Vienna, understanding that, after they leave, they will most likely never see each other again.

Nothing these characters have to say is especially groundbreaking or insightful. They're not neurologists or geneticists or war heroes; they're just dweebs, as are most romantics. If you've never tried online dating, maybe browse around the profiles on some of the dating sites, and you'll very quickly discern a pattern in the self-written "About Me" sections. Well, first of all, disregard about 90 percent of the dudes on these sites, because they're all either 1) muscled douche bags with shirtless selfie pics looking for hookups, or 2) really creepy bearded or mustached guys with no self-awareness, who, in their loneliness, have turned to weirdo hobbies like wood-whittling. Among the remaining "hopeless romantic" types (even if they are not explicitly self-described as such, though many of them are)—both male and female, but obviously I've perused more female profiles—a majority (not all, certainly) seem to fall into one of two categories: either 1) they describe themselves as "simple" or "just your ordinary [insert hometown] gal"; they enjoy dining, the beach, sincerity, or 2) they describe themselves as "not your typical girl"; they are "pretty weird" or "unusual" (hopefully you can handle that), often with a "sarcastic sense of humor" (you better be able to handle that!), and they prefer wit and "intellectual conversations." I oversimplify, of course, but these words do come up in people's descriptions of themselves with alarming frequency, which, in the case of the latter group, is, you'll grant, a tad ironic. What you realize, coming away from that, is that there are not very many original personalities out there, and, no matter what we may believe of ourselves, most of us are not the exception.

What is understood in Before Sunrise, however, is that, while the content of even our most seemingly profound "intellectual conversations," is, in fact, rarely original or objectively interesting, the dialogue can become intensely interesting to the participants, when there is a romantic chemistry there leading them to become invested in one another's personalities more so than in any specifics of what they are saying. At least for a while.

That Jesse and Celine's time together is limited is a blessing in disguise, because the two really don't seem compatible for the long-term, despite their both being romantics. Having arrived in Europe to spend time with a girlfriend studying abroad, he's the kind of guy who will literally cross an ocean (uninvited) in order to find his end in another person. But some bad experiences have also cultivated in him a reflexive cynicism that makes him hard to tolerate for long stretches. Meanwhile, Celine is transparent and unguarded, tending to assume the same level of sincerity in others. But, whereas he seems in need of an other half, it's harder, despite her transparency, to pinpoint what she's after, because she herself doesn't seem to have a definite object in mind. She's looking toward something as yet formless, unarticulated, not finite. Mostly, I imagine what would doom their relationship is that she would never be as emotionally co-dependent in it.

And yet, there probably is a deal of truth in what Jesse predicts. Celine probably will end up marrying a decent guy and settling into a stable life. And she probably would, years down the road, have wondered about that guy she didn't pursue, not because she'd be unhappy with her marriage necessarily, but just because she'd be having that kind of a day or moment when she couldn't help herself reflecting.

I didn't find Before Sunrise to be an especially profound film, but it felt authentic to an extent. I'm more intrigued by the sequels. Not knowing anything about them, other than that they pick up the story nine and eighteen years later, I'm especially interested to see how Jesse might mature as he grows older.

I had this coworker once, a single mom, whose day consisted of working six hours, then leaving early to pick up her kid from school, preparing dinner, doing the laundry, and basically occupying herself with typical all-consuming motherly duties. But, at work, she would always relate to us these crazy stories of her youth—growing up on the East Coast, then, at the age of nineteen, trekking across the country with her roommate, no destination in mind, getting into all kinds of trouble, before finally settling in San Diego. She had led such a colorful life, but that was all before any of us at work had ever met her. When asked if she ever got the itch to go adventuring again, she didn't hesitate to say no. Although she cherished the memories of her youth, she was a different person now, and she was adamant that being a mother to her son provided her more joy than anything else she had ever known. Even so, I couldn't help wishing that I could have known her as her young adventurous self, and I said as much.

"Sounds like she was a fun person," I joked.

And then she joked that she would rather know my ten-years-older self: "I bet he'd be pretty cool."

I was already cool, of course, but what she meant was that she looked forward to the day I would finally grow up and become an adult, instead of the generally nice but flighty man-child she saw me as. If I ever see her again, I'm sure she'll be disappointed, because I pretty much crystallized into who I'll be the rest of my life at age fifteen, which was when I first saw The Matrix (kidding!). But I also kind of get what she meant, because now I'm really curious to see how cool a grown-up Jesse might be, if he ever grows out of being such a grating douche bag. Guess I'll have to hunt down Before Sunset next.

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