Before Sunset ★★★★★

Notes for "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"


Baby, you're gonna miss that plane.

I know.


I've been trying to figure out how long it's been since I last saw this movie, and it's been at least three of four years, which... just sort of blows my mind? Because watching it again felt like I could've seen it just last week.

Total transparency: I'm tearing up trying to figure out what to say about this.

There were details and moments I didn't remember, obviously, but the overall familiarity of Before Sunset is haunting. I remembered the boat and the car ride and that first sequence in the bookstore, when Jesse's talking about Celine and then she appears, just like magic... but I didn't remember how deeply moving all of those little moments are on their own. If Before Sunrise weaves together fragmented dreams about connection & intimacy & understanding, then Before Sunset is a slow burning reality check about responsibilities & sex & unsatisfied desires.

The nine years between Jesse and Celine has disarticulated the fantasy of Before Sunrise. Both of them, in their own ways, try to salvage what they can from that night, from their memories of that night: Jesse idealizes and immortalizes his version of that night in his novel, Celine retells a version of that night to herself to make bearing the burden of their intimacy easier, they both talk about sex as if it were something without stakes or without consequences.

Their two roads of life are informed by their memories; here, they converge under what appear to be magical and nearly impossible circumstances. As the sun sets, so does their ability to keep pretending that night did or didn't happen as they remember it. There is no time for courtly, romantic love. As we walk through Paris, we walk towards the unavoidable, effectual truth of prosaic love, of real love, of love with repercussions and pain.


Memories are a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past.


I could write forever non-coherently about this film, so I am going to force myself to stay oriented around the first scene and the final scene.

So: what sort of mastery does it take to pull off those first few flashbacks we see, when we're in the bookstore? As Jesse, nine years older and nine years changed and nine years sadder than who he was before, attempts to answer someone’s question, moments from Jesse and Celine’s night in Vienna silently pass by. In theory, this should come across as cheesy and cheap — how lame is it to so immediately call upon the past, to romanticize their youth, to ogle at what once was for so briefly and now no longer is? But it works here because we know Jesse so well: these moments flash across the screen and it’s like we’re being invited into his own personal curation of memories. What matters is not the youth that’s gone, but that the night still lives on, not just in his book but in his recollection.

And as I’m writing this, I’m remembering now too that at this point, not everyone knows what happened from that night in Vienna until now. I remember the first time I watched this, I was almost literally holding my breath, waiting to see where Celine was, wanting to know what her life looked like with Jesse’s. I was sure they’d met up in Vienna again on December 16th. I believed this was still a courtly, romantic narrative.

I wish I could back to the moment when I first noticed his wedding ring. On this viewing, I remembered to look for it when he started talking about his idea to write something that happens during the short duration of a pop song. He talks with his hands. And there it is: that ring, that promise, that vow — we don’t know who he’s with, and maybe it’s just because I’ve seen this before, or maybe it’s because I’m more cynical now than I was when I first saw this, but I know. We know it’s not Celine. The clock struck midnight, they turned into pumpkins: here’s reality. Here’s the end of the fairytale. Here’s the real world once again.

Oh. When it cuts to Celine. From the past to the present. She’s there, and she’s older too, and she almost doesn’t seem real in her white sweater. She’s back. And now we’re really in this. We’re in for an evening with Jesse and Celine again. Here we go.

So much can be said about how beautiful it is that Jesse and Celine really appear to have this otherworldly, seemingly effortless connection, but I think there's also something really special about their initial awkwardness. He's so in awe of her, she's got so much to unpack with him. They toe around things, he makes jokes that don't land, she worries about being too neurotic. When they first come together, it's like that moment when you wake up from a beautiful dream. That terrible, ugly, crystalline moment where that feeling of ephemerality floats away from you, and suddenly there's a weight to you that there wasn't before, and boom. You're back. And the only place go from that lost dream is forwards, relentlessly.


I wanna try something. I wanna see if you stay here or dissolve into molecules.

And where Before Sunset relentlessly goes is into the future. Jesse and Celine have both tried to keep one foot in the past, but their lives have been stilted, for better or for worse, because of it. I think it's the moment in the cab when they both realize they haven't moved on from whatever they were holding onto it. It's in the cab that they realize they need to move forward.

So they go into Celine's apartment. So Celine plays him a waltz. So Jesse, baby, you're gonna miss that plane, and he knows, and he's fingering that wedding ring, and this is it. It's a seemingly hopeful ending, but one loaded with repercussions. Their roads of life has united once again, but with several costs -- costs that were never even on the table in Before Sunrise. This is the cost of nine years gone by, of other relationships, or a marriage, of a child.

Jesse does not dissolve into molecules when Celine touches him. He stays. Actually, I'd argue he comes back, from whatever depths of longing and desire he dug himself into over those nine years away from Celine. And then I'd argue further that he brings Celine back, too -- from her worries, from her neurosis, from her obsession with loving the little things about people so much that it makes her drive them away. It's not a perfect reunion, but it's a necessary one that happens under extraordinary circumstances. What are the odds? So much smaller than the guaranteed setting of the sun.

Yet... here they are. They're both about to do something. They're both about to try this crazy and burdened and beautiful thing all over again.

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