Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sweetcakes and milkshakes

Its been ten years since I first saw Before Sunrise, I was 12 years old then. I distinctly remember watching it on Star Movies and thinking it was so romantic to spend a night walking around a European city with someone you've just met and feel an immediate connection to. Today I saw it for the third time and tomorrow I shall be twenty-two. Nearly the same age that Celine is in the film. Of course, now I understand more of the subtext in the conversations that the film largely consists of. I also see the remarkable acting that goes into scenes like the one in the listening booth where Jesse and Celine are forced to stand close together, and they look awkwardly away from each other, nervously avoiding eye contact.

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.


T. said...


incredible that u were watching it too! world movies right?

and while I dint think abt it so much i think its one of the better movies of the romantic type ever made! more thoughts on it when i call to wish u.

btw, werent u the one who was saying ethan hawke looks oddly handsome as a vampire in daybreakers??? or was tht isha? i forget! :-P

She makes me think. said...

Lovely movie. That scene you've mentioned... in the listening booth.. is so well enacted! The tension between them is hauntingly tangible. In fact, the entire movie has so many events, things, thoughts, feelings, conversations which feel absolutely real. Make me go, 'yes! this is soo true!' Really romantic and Celine is very beautiful and attractive in being smart and real - normal, simple, pretty. Made me feel like jumping in and taking Jesse's place. :P Though, yes, the ending and what happens later is a sad. Maybe? Nevertheless, the desire to experience something as perfect as their romantic night, even for only a night, overshadows any fear about the gloominess and pain in the end, and makes me still want to replace Jesse. :)
Lovely dialogue to end your post. I couldn't find anything to begin with. I saw the movie and wanted to write something on my blog but couldn't. Kind of like dumbstruck. Ended up writing just a title with nothing in the post. :P

R said...

I can't really talk about the two of these movies simply because there's nothing I can say that can describe how beautifully haunting they were or even how wonderfully Jesse and Celine weren't just scripted or acted, but were actually Real people who stayed with me for a long time. I liked the second movie better cuz i guess it was less idealistic and more cynical and jaded, which generally does happen as time and relationships pass you by.Yet it found a way to have honest conversations, and even show that real romance or love might just be possible. Hope =)
Anyway, I've been rambling. I love the dialogue you put in. That and the song.

Pankaj said...

beautiful analysis. really makes me want to watch the movie. and think about love, how one grows jaded, the importance of magic, and fleeting time. wow, only 22, i expected you to be a little older than that. happy birthday!

Anonymous said...

I watched the two movies a couple of months back. By God, I have never ever seen a better romantic movie. The dialogues were insane, the acting beyond words and the thoughts the two movies left you with...I was a very different person after I was done with the movie and its sequel.

Tangled up in blue... said...

T., :) I agree..they are definitely among the very best romantic films ever made. I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one such recent film which again depicts a very real relationship without letting sci-fi get the best of it. Unfortunately, I cant think of any more. Any reccos?

And btw, that was totally Isha who was crushing on Ethan Hawke in Daybreakers (which is again an awesome film I thought)..I do not get off on vampires of any variety :P But I do think Hawke looks very cute in Dead Poets' Society in that dork way of his. And Gattaca, too..I just realised Hawke makes nice movies!

Tangled up in blue... said...

SMMT, I sooo get! :D Celine is very lovely and real and pretty and smart and all that..but you know whats really awesome about her? That she's not perfectly likable and still we like her and root for her! And that is all Julie Delpy's talent! Haha, and I get that bit abt being dumbstruck, too..I wrote a big rambling post that I saved to drafts which I trimmed mightily so that it made some semblance of sense! There were that many thoughts in my head! :D

Tangled up in blue... said...

Riddhi, I love your comment! I love the way you say how you loved the second movie precisely becoz it was more cynical and still found a way to be honest abt it, without airbrushing reality, right? And hope! Absolutely! :) And thanks! :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Pankaj, thank you, man! I am so delighted you said "only twenty-two" coz I was feeling horribly old this whole past week! I still cant get into that whole being a twenty-something groove coz in my head I dont want to age a day past sixteen! :D Wishful thinking or what? ;) And please do watch one or both movies and tell me what you thought, I love your movie analyses too! :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Leo! Lovely comment! Thats exactly what I felt! They changed me, too! becoz they stayed with me..the thoughts they stirred up in my head! :)

--Sunrise-- said...

Dear girl, such a lovely lovely delightful blog post to read!! You don't know how happy it makes me to find fellow Before Sunrise/Sunset fans... I swear there are not many in my friends base (no matter how hard I try and force-feed it to them... sigh!). I am not going to dissect or comment on your notes on the movie because there is no point, except to say that you have struck a chord in me with this post. Oh, and your post makes sense to me, maybe not all of it as I don't know all of you but I totally felt these words! Sorry I am babbling I am so excited for some strange reason. I just went through mgeek's archives and found a post on Before Sunrise and earlier today I was talking to a friend about an ex and Before Sunset came to mind and now your blog post - is the universe trying to tell me I should go watch the movies again or what? :)

One of my favourite quotes from the movie that keeps coming back to me time and time again because (like another blogging friend of mine said), it feels like it is me talking:

People just have an affair or even a relationship, they break up and they forget, they move on like they would have changed brands of cereals. I feel I was never able to really forget anyone I’ve been with, because each person has their own specific qualities, and you can never replace anyone. What is lost is lost. Each relationship, when it ends, really damages me. I never really recover. That is why I’m very careful with getting involved, because it hurts me too much… or even getting laid – actually, I don’t do that. I will miss of the person the most mundane things. Like I’m obsessed with little things. Maybe I’m crazy. When I was a little girl my mom told me I was always late to school, so one day she followed me to see why I was late. I was looking at… chestnuts falling from the trees and rolling down the sidewalk or ants crossing the road, the way a leaf cast a shadow on a tree trunk – little things. It is the same with people. I see in them little details so specific to each of them that move me, that I miss and will always miss. You can never replace anyone because everyone is made of such beautiful specific details.

Ah. Beautiful!