» Before/After.
  • Before/After.

    Jul 13th • Posted in culture, love, personal, travel, writing

    I finally finished Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy: Before Sunrise (1995,) Before Sunset (2004,) and Before Midnight (2013.) If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d suggest you do, in order. For those who aren’t aware of what the Before trilogy is– essentially, two twentysomethings meet on a train in Vienna and end up spending one beautiful night together. There have been two sequels, and the trilogy plays with the element of time and relationships: does timing matter? Is it important? The two main characters spend the majority of the films connecting over their fundamental ideas about love. Over the span of the three films, we see these two characters shift their perception of relationships and love. When I say I finished the trilogy, it’s because I finally watched the last movie. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed… but it broke my heart and my idealism about romance and love faltered quite a bit because of it.

    The movies are endlessly relatable because many of us have been there, or are still there. While I might not be in my thirtysomethings like Jesse and Celine are in their second meeting (Sunset,) I find myself relating to the cynicism and heartbreak of the characters in Sunset, but giggling over the hopeless romanticism of the first film. I’ve had encounters like Jesse and Celine’s before– where time played me like a fool and I had less than 24 hours to connect with someone. (I even wrote about it on this blog.) But I face relationships from thirtysomething year old Jesse and Celine: a bit jaded, apprehensive and broken– holding dearly onto the past, while barely clinging onto the present. Or living in the present and realising that many of the best opportunities have passed, or have come from the sheer timing of things. While the whole movie focuses on the act of them talking, you slowly start to realise that their circumstances have occured from miscommunication, and that they’re still struggling to express themselves and trying to communicate.


    This hit hard after I watched the last movie in the trilogy (Before Midnight.) If Sunrise was my Amsterdam encounter, and Sunset is the way I feel about relationships at the moment– Midnight is my fucking nightmare and the thing I’m scared of the most. You’ll find in the first two movies, that they are communicating by talking and getting to know each other. Spoiler Alert: In Midnight, they’ve been together since their last encounter, and the entire movie is spent bickering and fighting. Most long-term relationships I’ve encountered (perhaps not been in myself, but certainly encountered) have had this element of playful bickering, fighting and teasing. But when you watch the characters in this movie playfully fight– you realise that there’s a lot of shit hiding behind those remarks that each character will add to his/her arsenal once the real fighting begins. I guess I’m afraid of this happening to me once I enter a long-term relationship because of my endless list of flaws, neuroticisms and quirks. Though these characters have retained certain aspects of their being throughout the core of the films, it’s quite fascinating to play with time and see how their personalities blow up when placed in certain situations.

    Throughout the entirety of the series, Celine (despite her hiding behind cynicism and numbness) retains this wide-eyed idealism about love: she craves this idea of unconditional love, that there is one person out there in the world that will love her despite her neuroticisms and insecurities. And boy, does she have a lot of them. In Sunrise, we see Celine as this brave, independent feminist with career, ambition and drive– she trailblazes forth and buries herself in work because she’d rather focus on something else than this gaping emptiness that is her love life. In Midnight, this person is broken and insecure: she’s in her 40’s, not aging as gracefully, stagnant and unhappy with her work and home life. She has given up much of  her independence and ambition for the man she loves. As a twentysomething  year old with an ideal career trajectory and the same sense of romantic idealism– this is scary as hell to watch. And bless Ethan Hawke’s character, Jesse, for playing the role of the man perfectly… attempting to talk through an issue that he thinks the fight is about, when Celine herself is aware that the fight is made out of a composite of different things, built over the past nine years and set off by one little remark about moving.

    I’m scared of that happening to me. While I couldn’t relate to message of the movie at this point in my life, I know that eventually it’ll be something that hits close to home. I hear stories about women giving up their career for love all the time: my mother being one of them. When she told me that she was a year or so from finishing her Ph.D, but instead, moved to Hawaii to marry my father– I cringed. I would never want to face that dilemma, but I’m starting to realise that more people come across the choice between love and work more than I’d like to believe. I’ve even witnessed love crumble and fall apart because of the animosity of former spouses, children and money. Sometimes infidelity ruins relationships– which is a point of contention in the movie. I empathise and see the frustration both parties feel, but sometimes communication is difficult because ultimately shit happens in life.

    While drowning in the angst of my first love, a younger me asked some high school classmates during what was supposed to be a philosophical rumination on our relationships with others: “Is love ever enough?” And while idealistic, optimistic me (my friends are rolling their eyes right now: despite my cynicism, y’all know I’m a softie) wants to believe that love can work if the two people love each other enough. But let’s be real. Sometimes love isn’t enough. The type of love you want isn’t always the kind you need. That being said, you can also love someone with all your heart, but it might not be the type of love that the person ultimately needs. Or maybe we’re not meant to truly be monogamous. Perhaps love exists– nay, thrives– when the concept of faithfulness to a partner gets thrown out the window. After watching this movie, I’m more inclined to believe that an open relationship may be the best option for long-term lovers. Monogamy would still work if the wronged party didn’t instantaneously cut things off. Love is complicated, and the people we love will always be complicated.

    But, in the face of true love, we have to be willing to forgive, pick up and start again.

    Because (and I’ll leave you with this):

    • I can’t explain how much I love this series to people who haven’t watched- experienced- it.

      For me, the films are an exploration of love in its different forms and creations in our lives; as we grow and interact with it. I don’t think Jessie and Celine’s relationship would’ve worked if they had met up as they’d planned- they simply weren’t ready for each other, they simply weren’t ready to sacrifice (Sunset).

      As much as I love Sunrise and Sunset, I think Midnight is the most accurate portrayal of love and relationships. I don’t see it quite as .. grimly as you do, though. In Sunrise and Sunset we don’t see the work of a relationship, the nuts and bolts that actually make it up. We only see the beautiful promise of one. In Midnight, we see the little and big compromises of love, of negotiating love and each others’ dreams. In Midnight, we see the reality of it: it is a compromise, it is sometimes giving something up, it is a true partnership. Midnight, for me, was a really realistic understanding of a relationship that people are invested in and want it to work. They fight, they shout, they scream at each other; but they also fight for each other and for their relationship. It is also filled with laughter and teasing and lust and knowing. They do know each other: exactly which buttons to push, exactly how to apologise, exactly how to love. They push each other past those points, those lines of ‘do not cross’ that we draw.. but they, somehow, still seem to be able to recover- and I think it’s because they want to recover. I think that’s so beautiful because I think that’s what love manifests itself as- that’s the nuts and bolts of it- you hold it more precious than yourself, but you don’t treat it as a glass figurine: you test it, you throw it to see how far it goes before you run over to it. It is battered, it is cut, it is torn.. but it is not broken. And I think that’s what love really is, that’s how relationships work and continue to work: you work at them.

      Now, will I ever be able to do that? I don’t know. I never quite related to Celine’s understanding of feminism, but my feminisms work differently. I can give myself that space, but do I want to and am I ready to are very different questions. At this moment in time, probably not. I want to have that relationship with myself first before I share myself with anyone else. In that sense, I’m more like Celine in Sunrise: the possibility exists, but it probably won’t survive unless I’m ready for it.

      • It’s a beautiful exploration of relationships, but I think I feel grimly about Midnight because I so relate to Celine throughout the majority of the films. While yes, my idea of feminism doesn’t exactly equate to hers, I’ve been brought up to be fiercely independent and career driven that it’s all I really *see* at the moment. As for the concept of polygamy/polyamorous relationships, I’ve been dabbling with the idea of open relationships for awhile. While I’m still uncomfortable with the idea, it’s sort of a compromise that I’ve been dealing with in my own romantic life. But perhaps my cynicism and grimness stems from the lack of healthy romantic relationships in my life– for which I completely understand.

        I get what you’re saying and I agree with you, but I think I also see it from a much sadder perspective because I’ve seen relationships like theirs, and unfortunately, a lot of them do end. Admittedly, I haven’t been in a relationship that has reached the depths of theirs so the word “compromise” was never in my vocabulary. I think it’s because I invest so much of myself in relationships that I end up broken. Like I said, I see myself as the Celine of Sunset, where I’ve held back from healthy attachments because I don’t want to get hurt anymore. I attach myself so fully that it’s difficult to want to give.

        But I’d love to chat about this with you more as none of my friends have watched/experienced the films for themselves and it frustrates me because I’m absolutely floored by how great they are.

        • I am fiercely independent and incredibly ambitious but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that is as much an idea of myself as it is true. I am dependent on people and it would be false of me to pretend otherwise. Why then, do I cast a romantic relationship into another understanding of ‘dependence’? Does it truly make me dependent in a different way? Or do I feel as though it makes me vulnerable and I’m afraid of that? I think those are feelings that require unpacking and interrogation because it conflates so many different issues.

          I have seen such relationships thrive (my parents, for example) and I’ve witnessed them break- and while that is sad, I don’t see love as something that owes it to me to exist always. I don’t believe in forever as a construct because it doesn’t allow for things to change and shift and grow and break. For me, that’s the basis of existence that it happens- that stuff evolves and breaks and disappears. I think if we don’t allow for love to do that too, it’s destined to break anyway.

          I don’t know much about healthy relationships but I do know that all relationships are work. If you don’t work at it, if you don’t fight for it and nurture it, it will die. It is true for all relationships that you value- with your parents, your friends, your tribes, your lovers. And if that is something to be worked at, you have to put yourself into it. While that is a terrifying thought, I’ve put enough of myself into ridiculous spaces that I should’ve known better about to also learn that I am not finite, that my efforts are not finite, that the love I have to give is not finite. Caution is one thing to learn- and an important one, but to hold back completely, to deny others as much as I deny myself isn’t doing me or anyone any favours. That is not healthy either, and it certainly isn’t a healthy relationship with myself.

          ‘Compromise’ is a heavy word. I talk about it to my mum a lot. I tell her that there are things I refuse to compromise on (my ambitions, my dreams, my selves) and she always tells me that compromise is what our worlds are built on. It is true. And loath as I am to admit it, I compromise everyday. I may not compromise on my dreams or my ambitions, but then I’m compromising on love and relationships and cities. I may always leave a place and her peoples behind because adventure beckons (another thing I haven’t compromised on so far) but I left behind people I loved. So, I compromised. I don’t see this as right or wrong (and I hate it when people tell me stuff like oh you won’t always have your career, you must never compromise on love…w/e, I don’t have patience for such crap) because I think things are more fluid than that. I think it’s all the work that you put into priorities and dreams and ambitions and selves. Love is not only one kind and it will evolve and change and grow and shift and it will, as long as we work at it, thrive.

          On polyamory/polyandry, I think so much of it is about trust- trusting yourself first (and unconditionally) as much as you trust somebody else. I don’t actually think Celine trusts herself all that much- and she definitely doesn’t trust Jesse; both as a result of their relationship (Sunset) and as a consequence of her own self-doubt (Sunset again). Which is why I love that last scene in Midnight where Jesse introduces himself to her again, because it keeps bringing it back to that moment of love, of beautiful possibility, of magic. Because they trusted that moment, and they worked at it.

    • Gabriel

      I had no idea those were his movies. He is absolutely brilliant. I am so going to go binge watch these movies asap!

      I am glad I found your blog from 20sb.net. If you are interested in music and literature or poetry check out my blogs.

      http://playfulparadox.blogspot.com/

      http://macrorecords.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/take-me-away-10/

      • Thanks for the visit, Gabriel. Yeah, Linklater is great. I can’t wait for Boyhood to come out.

    • I honestly have never heard of this trilogy until now. Just by what you wrote about it, I feel like I have to watch these films. I’m adding it to my movie watch list!

      • The whole trilogy is outstanding, and I’d add it to your list. :) Boyhood, his new film, is also something I’d look out for. I’ve been wanting to watch it for awhile– but it’s in limited release.

    • I think I need to watch this. Though I am not sure if I can take any emotions that are going to come out of it. For quite some time now I have felt a lack of love, likely because of past relationships and just how my current relationship is. Don’t get me wrong, I love my boyfriend of six years to pieces, but the more I think about it, the less idealistic and the more damn realistic I get about this thing called love. It’s stupid (in a nutshell).

      I won’t lie, I fell in love with my best friend at some point, and the thing is, I let myself be dragged around and treated like crap for a while before I realised that hey, man, I’m going to love this guy unconditionally, I just know it, so what does it matter? I sort of stopped believing in love.

      “But when you watch the characters in this movie playfully fight– you realise that there’s a lot of shit hiding behind those remarks that each character will add to his/her arsenal once the real fighting begins.” I don’t know why exactly, but this gets to me. I feel like I can relate. I feel like this is one of the worst things that can happen in a relationship, and sometimes you just KNOW when you have hit that point. I think I have, actually. I find myself getting gradually more annoyed at my boyfriend’s quirks, things I used to find quite amusing. I honestly don’t know. I’ll always love him, I know that. But I feel like after a while I have grown a bit away from his quirks. Maybe gotten over them, a bit. Maybe just… grown out of them. It scares me and upsets me to think you can grow out of people. It’s a stupid and harsh reality that love doesn’t always last forever. Who the hell put in our minds these notions of true love and endless bliss? I just want to tell people to GET REAL sometimes when they make comments like “I will never get a boyfriend” or “I will never get over him”, but then I stop and realise, well, we’re all like that, and we know it.

      In all honesty, I fucking hate reminiscing over love, because goddamn is it painful. I have sort of taught myself to be numbed by it. I think in the end, I decided that loving someone unselfishly, without expecting anything in return, and just loving someone simply for who they are… if you can do that… is going to cause the least pain. But then I realise, that’s probably what “true love” is after all. Just brutal, and just friggin’ real.

      • I think what draws most people to the Before trilogy is its sheer honesty in its depiction. While some of the movies (the first two) might seem somewhat farfetched in its approach– the conversation, the interactions, the subtleties between the two characters are realistic enough to empathise with/to. I’m a Psychology major, so I’m trying not to read more into what you’re saying (but I can’t help it! Yikes!) But if you ever do need anyone to talk to about things, I’m an email away. :)

        As for watching the films, I’d urge you to do it. The reason they exist is to entertain, and also to help examine your own relationships, love life, partners, etc. What I got from the movies could be completely different from what someone got from it (see Risha and my conversation above if you want to see how intense it gets,) and you may get something else from it. Ultimately, I feel like love is what someone makes of it. Love doesn’t really suck in and of itself– it is the people we choose to be in love with, and the way love grows or fades. Sometimes love changes. And unfortunately, our standards of love do not match our partners. In this case, you, yourself need to decide if that’s enough for you. If it is, stay with that person. If not, you are allowed to grow up and be with someone else. It’s your choice in the end.

        Love is not perfect. Just real.