Only today did I notice the easy, gentle manner in which Jesse reaches out to brush Celine's lock of hair away from her face only to realise that she may not think it appropriate considering they'd only just met and draws his hand back abruptly, an action strangely mirrored by Celine in the second film as she reaches out cautiously to comfort Jesse when he tells her about his agonising nightmares but she recoils suddenly as he turns to face her with tears in his eyes.
I remember having thought the film was flawless beginning to end when I first saw it. And as it so often happens with films you've seen a long time ago and loved and then revisited, you find yourself wondering why it was that you didnt notice any of the flaws before, few though they may be, which you can quite clearly see now. No movie you've really loved the first time around ever really matches up to the memory you have of it. Thats why, unlike school girlfriends, I find the very idea of watching Titanic every year highly silly and cringe-inducing, while they moon over Leo's long-departed boyish charms.
I also remember having thought of the ending of Before Sunrise as perfect. I thought the hasty decision to meet at the same station six months from their magical night was wonderfully romantic and I was certain that they do meet. I mean, how difficult cud it be? If fate brought them together once, it wud do so again. In fact, I cud have bet that thats what happened, unaccustomed as I was to films that did not have happy endings.
And then last week, I saw Before Sunset, the prickly sequel that continues the conversations the protagonists started ten years ago. Except, this time, Jesse and Celine are more jaded, less idealistic, more bitter, less trusting and the movie doesnt feel so beautifully romantic as the first one did. In fact it feels fraught with anxious tension instead of the languorous dreaminess of the first film.
We learn that Jesse and Celine did not in fact meet at the station like they'd promised each other, that they spent ten years of their lives apart. Now they meet as if by sheer chance, clever old fate bringing them together again to show them how much time and happiness has passed them by. She is in a relationship with a man she does not particularly care for and admits it has been this way with many previous relationships. He puts up with a loveless marriage only for the sake of his son, his only source of happiness in life. Thus, in the second film, he unconsciously traces the same path that his parents had taken with their unhappy marriage, something he said he disapproved of in the first film.
To me, ensconced in my little world of facebook and mobile phones, it seems unbelievable that they never found each other all those years, having never even told each other their last names.
The second film seems to be about missed opportunities and second chances as much as the first was about taking a chance when you feel you have a connection with someone.
Ethan Hawke's pretty poutiness from the 1995 film is replaced by a solemn weariness that goes well with his now-lined face and noticeably forced smiles while Julie Delpy's upbeat confidence, that I so admired from Before Sunrise, is still there but is probably tempered with maturity and a certain wistful quality that I swear wasnt there before. At the end of the movie, we still dont know if the two end up together like they're meant to, or if rational, adult decisions get in the way of true love.
I dont even know if this time I really want them to get together as much as I did before. Perhaps I have also grown more cynical and jaded about the idea of love and happy endings. If they do get together, maybe they end up like every other couple their age, in a limbo between happy contentment and peaceful resignation. If they dont, maybe we'll have another film, set ten years later, with the characters in their forties, continuing their energetic conversations once again.
As I was watching the movie today, I cudnt help shake off the gloomy feeling that time only ever runs in one direction and ultimately runs out. And not only becoz like the characters, I didnt want the night in the movie to end. "The years run away like rabbits." Hawke pronounces in his phoneticatured imitation of Dylan Thomas' voice. Something I'd only laughed at a decade ago, made me really think this time.
Earlier in the movie, Jesse and Celine are in a cemetery when Celine tells him about having come to the same place as a teenager and noticing another teenager's grave, thinking, Wow, we're the same age! And now Celine was twenty-three and the dead girl was still thirteen. Thirteen forever, she says. Only by dying can we stop the onslaught of time on our bodies.
And as I turn a year older, maybe my big birthday gift should be realising that the older we get, the more people we know, the more we learn, we not only have a lot more to lose, but also a lot more to gain with every chance we take.
And for posterity, this, my favourite lines of dialogue from the first film,
Jesse: Sometimes I dream about being a good father and a good husband. And sometimes it feels really close. But then other times it seems silly like it would ruin my whole life. And it's not just a fear of commitment or that I'm incapable of caring or loving because... I can. It's just that, if I'm totally honest with myself I think I'd rather die knowing that I was really good at something. That I had excelled in some way than that I'd just been in a nice, caring relationship.
Celine: You know, there was this older man I once worked for. I think, 52 years old. He said he'd spent all his life working. Working to build his career. And now, all these years later, he wished he had done something else. Married a good woman. Raised children. Had a family. Loved. I mean, think about it. You know, I believe if there's any kind of God it wouldn't be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt. And, isn't everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?
P.S. I really dont intend this post to make a lot of sense. It was just to clear my head a little.