» 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):