Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (18 and 9 years later)

I was fourteen when I first saw Before Sunrise. I'm pretty sure I saw it more than once in the theater, but I definitely remember it's one of the few films I've owned on VHS, Laserdisc (my family were early adopters), and dvd. It's a film I've loved for years. It's a film I still know most of the lines and facial expressions, even though I had not seen it in at least two years. Yet when I sat down to watch it with my husband Friday night, I was amazed to discover the film resonates more with me now than it ever has.

Let me back up. In case you're unfamiliar with this film, it's the story of Jesse, an American, and Celine, a Frenchwoman, who meet on a train. Jesse is heading to Vienna, where he flies out the next morning. Celine is returning to Paris after visiting her grandmother in Hungary. Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna, and they explore the city and talk all night. This description will likely either make you want to see it (and why haven't you seen it already?!) or sound incredibly boring. It's not, and the chemistry between these two is phenomenal, while their conversations are funny, wise and fascinating.

At fourteen, I was already nomadic. I yearned to explore more of the world in person rather than just through books and films. I wanted to meet Jesse on that train, except I wanted Jesse to be European because I'm the America. (Truthfully, I would have loved to meet Celine on that train too, as a Parisian best friend still sounds amazing.) In so many ways, Before Sunrise was what I wanted out of life at the time. As I got older, that desire shifted, but I've always been one to look around, especially when traveling alone. Even though I'm not looking for love, I've had some amazing conversations with strangers on airplanes and trains. After all, I love to hear people's life stories (in real life and in fiction.)

Yet as I watched Before Sunrise Friday night, I was surprised to see it resonated more with me today than it did eighteen years ago. Perhaps it's partially to do with age. At fourteen, I wanted Before Sunrise to be real. At thirty-two, I see how incredibly rare this relationship is. At fourteen, I looked up to Jesse and Celine because they were nine years older. At thirty-two, they're nine years younger than I am. But it's also made more rare because of the continued story, something no one--fans, actors, or director--saw happening. Allow me to tell you how Before Sunrise ends: Jesse and Celine vow to meet on the same train track in six months. They don't exchange phone numbers or email addresses because they want to keep the magic of this night.

Before Sunset came out in 2004 and picks up with Jesse and Celine nine years later. It's a phenomenal film, and I still recall the nervous excitement I felt as I entered the theater in the summer of 2004 to see the film. I found out many years later, Mr. Nomadreader was there too, but I wouldn't meet him until over a year later (this story is one of many--the number of events we were both at, and places we both frequented before we met is almost comically long. It's also evidence that Atlanta is a really small town in a lot of ways.) When I left the theater, I declared Before Sunset my favorite film ever. I saw it several times in the theater and immediately bought it on dvd. As I traveled alone in Europe that summer, Before Sunset was heavily on my mind. I tried to recreate parts of Jesse and Celine's walk around Paris. I was intoxicated with the idea of a chance meeting with a stranger during my month of traveling Europe alone. (Spoiler: it didn't happen, but I did read a lot of great books, have some delightful conversations with strangers, see an incredibly number of historic sites and museums, and have one of the most amazing experiences of my life, which culminated with meeting up with two of my best friends in Greece for the 2004 Olympics.)

When I watched it Friday night, however, I think I preferred Before Sunrise. It's an increasingly silly comparison, of course, as it's harder to truly think of the films separately because they so beautifully form a picture of these character's lives. Admittedly, it's hard to think of them as fictional. In Before Sunset, I am suddenly the age of Jesse and Celine. It subtly shifts my perspective on some of their decisions, but their chemistry, physically, intellectually, and emotionally, is still amazing. I also have some idea of where their story is now, and it's the first time I've seen the film knowing where they will be nine years later.

On Friday, Before Midnight, the third film, comes out in Des Moines. Mr. Nomadreader and I are going to see it, and I cannot wait to see the next chapter in Jesse and Celine's lives. How will it impact my feelings on Before Sunrise and Before Sunset? I'll weigh in with my thoughts next Tuesday. How will I feel when I watch it in nine years when (fingers crossed) the fourth film comes out? Time will, I hope, tell.

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Before Sunrise and Before Sunset from Amazon.

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  1. I love these films, too! And, I can't wait to see Before Midnight!! I'm going to have to wait a bit, as it will eventually make its way to my small town at some point. So, definitely post about the movie as I'm excited to find out how wonderful it is ;) I love how you and your husband were at so many of the same of events when you didn't know each other - I think that says so much about how much you have in common - how cool! I have to say that reading your post makes me want to re-watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset ;)

  2. People have told me for at least 10 years that I need to watch these. Have I? No. I don't know why! I guess they just fell off my radar.

    I had an encounter sort of like this, but I was too chicken to do anything about it. I've always been sort of afraid that my fear has kept me from a much more interesting life. I'd say that's likely the only thing in my life I'll regret. And now I need to watch these films.

  3. I also plan to have a little Before Sunrise/Sunset marathon this week. I adore both movies. But because of where I live, I'll have to drive 2.5 hours to see Before Midnight (which I sooooooo plan on doing).

  4. I love these movies too. I was in college when I saw Before Sunrise for the first time. Since then I've watched them both so many times and I just can't wait for the final film. I think it's fascinating how different movies can resonate with us at different moments in our lives.

  5. These movies resonate with me more each time I watch them, so of course I went to see Before Midnight this weekend! I look forward to hearing what you thought of it before I overshare.

  6. I've never heard of this one but I looked it up on flixter and it has ridiculously high ratings. I added it to my Netflix queue! (How crazy you and your husband were both there!)


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