You know that late-night feeling of head-numbing, heart-thumping, eye-rubbing melancholy you get after you’ve finished watching a really, really good movie? The bittersweet pull that makes you go damn, before you retract into your own little world of what ifs and wonders and whimsicalities as you keep thinking about whatever you just watched?
Yeah, well – I think I’m suffering from a bad case of the blockbuster blues. After having watched Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise last night, I swear on my life that I have never watched a movie that has – within the span of a hundred minutes – wrought out of me the innermost realisations of my memory; nor have I ever watched a movie as raw, real and utterly dexterous with the flutterings of the human soul. I may only be 15, but this is a movie I’d willingly watch again when I’m 51, or 105, or 501. (Who knows, by then I might have found my own Ethan Hawke.)
To provide some brief context, Before Sunrise is a film about two strangers – a man from the US and a woman from France – who meet on a train, get off at an impromptu stop and end up falling in love. And no, it’s not a ‘ya-di-ya-ya what a wonderful coincidence, let’s get married today’ kind of movie. As the two spend the day in Vienna, basking in each other’s company and telling each other things ranging from petty jokes to philosophies on life, they gradually become fond of each other to the extent where you could, well, say that they ‘fall in love’ (I use the apostrophes not because I’m being sarcastic, but because what develops between them means so much more than what can be said in three words). It doesn’t really have a plot, per se; it’s more like an on-going series of dialogue strung together to create one, big conversation.
Why did I adore the movie so much? Let me try put this in concise, cohesive words.
The movie perfectly captures the awkwardness of first encounters and the insurmountable compatibility of two young individuals who, although not always in accord about all the astrological, philosophical thoughts that cross their minds (but always end up reaching breathtaking, beautiful conclusions on life anyways), after stumbling over words and amateur topics of conversation, subtly become two people who you literally cannot believe met on the same day as the night they spend together. The way the director develops their relationship isn’t rushed or strange in any way whatsoever – it’s so natural and free-flowing that at one point you just want to stop and ask, ‘how did I get here? When did I-‘ , until you shrug it off and let yourself fall back into the blissful depths of the movie. The fact that the entire movie is dialogue makes everything all the more better – there are no ‘filler scenes’, and all you get is 100 minutes of pure, full-hearted human conversation.
Nothing seems scripted, and the little moments when you can clearly see in the protagonists’ expressions that both know they have found a lifelong friend are so wonderfully captured, so fleeting, that you are ravenous for even a split second more of seeing what they see, knowing what they know. It isn’t often that you randomly meet someone on the train you end up talking to for hours on end, even going so far as to get off at the same stop as them to spend whatever time you have in a place you’ve never been. It’s even rarer to find out that this someone really clicks with you, and to think of the fact that the beating human presence beside you – the only sense of familiarity you have in such temporary circumstances – didn’t even know your name the day before. I can’t put it into words, but the tenuousness of human encounters are captured so wonderfully in Before Sunrise.
But what I loved most about the movie was how they captured the farewell. It isn’t all a feel-good romance: despite the fact that the movie, over the course of a single day, records the budding relationship between two fun-loving strangers, the inevitable fact is that the two protagonists – and the viewer, too – know, fully, that the only night they spend together is most probably their last. And although this reality is set aside for the majority of the film to make room for the tenuousness of new, ambiguous love, by the time the sun rises and the two are about to part at the train station – at this point two desperately hopeful, yet hopeless, individuals who don’t want the other to fade away – the reality is so gripping and heart-tripping the viewer is unable to do anything but endure their farewell with their heart caught in their throat.
The feelings run so strong in that final scene, and the painstaking grimace of the man, Jesse, as he boards his plane back to the US highlights the capriciousness of fleeting love (and, perhaps, the message of the entire movie): once it’s there, it occupies every little crevice of your consciousness, leaving you elated and unable to think of anything else; but once it’s gone, in its place lies a gaping hole that remains empty for days, perhaps months, unable to be satisfied by anything but irretrievable memories. That, alas, is the reality.
But the contrasting smile of Céline that soon follows contains an auxiliary note that begs to differ: despite its tendency for pain, love, however short, also always leaves behind a sugar lining of hope… the hope that maybe one day, life will give you the chance to relive whatever you had once, and that it’s simply a matter of time.