Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight Trilogy as a mirror of feminist fantasy and reality

Note: this post contains potential spoilers. If you haven’t watched those movies yet, but would like to, then you may want to hit the “back” button of your web browser.

One of the more captivating movies I ever watched was Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), which captures the magic of falling in love with a stranger. It is a bittersweet movie, as the main protagonists, Jesse and Celine, only have around 24 hours in Vienna, Austria, to fall in love, knowing full-well that they will not be able to make it last. The story is a bit contrived. Celine is a middle to upper class French lady, while Jesse barely has enough money in his pocket to get back to the US. It’s a movie, not a documentary, but it captures really well the insecurity surrounding initial sexual contact. Yeah, I know, that’s nothing you dudes with hundreds of notches on your bed post can associate with, but you got to start somewhere, right?

She: “Kiss me already; what are you waiting for!”, He: “Um, er, I wonder when I’ll get the chance to kiss her.”

With a bit of suspension of disbelief, it’s a rather heart-warming movie. Even the toughest bros may shed a tear or two at the end. The most emotional scene is not the tearful departure of the lovers, who make a promise to meet again in exactly six months’ time — in the universe of the movie, mobile phones and the Internet did not exist yet. Instead, I found the subsequent montage that revisits locations those lovers for one night frequented the most moving. Only this time, they are devoid of people, with the exception of one scene, where an elderly lady clumsily makes her way across a lawn:

The circle of life

What I found so incredibly powerful about this montage was the encapsulation of the medieval carpe diem motive — take a lover for tonight, because there may not be a tomorrow. That scene also beautifully illustrated that the emotional connection you may feel towards certain locations has little to do with the locations themselves, but much more with the people you’ve spent time with. Thus, your wistful memories of the past, let’s say you’ve enjoyed a summer of love in the South of France in your teens, are only coincidentally tied to a particular location. Should you happen to visit, on your own, the beach you lost your virginity at a decade ago, you may be startled at how underwhelming that once magical place will appear to you.

Before Sunrise had an existential quality that was wholly absent in its two sequels. One could plausibly make the argument that the existence of Before Sunset (2004) taints Before Sunrise, which was left open-ended. Instead, we get a definitive answer: Jesse showed up six months later, but Celine couldn’t make it. Shucks! However, Jesse made it big as an author and embarks on a reading tour. As luck would have it, he also drops by in Paris, and there a visibly aged Celine awaits him. At that point the movie already falls apart. In Before Sunrise the actress playing Celine was already getting a bit too old to fall in love with, but a story woven around those two lost souls rekindling their love after 9 years, with a woman who, by that time, has started to become invisible to most men, is a bit too much. The movie is, in its core, a rehash of Before Sunrise. One night in Vienna about a decade ago created an emotional connection for Jesse that ended up controlling his life, or something like that, and now they have an afternoon. Instead of a train, there is a plane waiting.

Not so hot anymore

Before Sunset is in an unfortunate position. I consider it a superfluous movie even, as it is too unrealistic. As the older guys among you certainly know from first-hand experience, our aging does not cause us to find women our age attractive. Quite the contrary, every guy of sufficient sexual market value keeps going for younger women. You settle down with one, and, in the ideal case, you end up in a happy relationship because the two of you decided to tie your lifes together. By the time she’s in her early thirties, she has already become the mother of your children. On the other hand, the appeal of a single mother of that age is non-existent. Yet, Jesse still falls head over heels in love with Celine again. At the end, he misses his flight and, presumably, stays over.

My expectations for Before Midnight (2013) were modest. As it turned out, Jesse stayed over for more than just a few nights. He never left. Okay, so far so good. While the second movie in that trilogy was not very convincing, particularly in contrast with the first one, the third one is again a return to realism, but not quite like you may expect it. We went from young, romantic, idealistic love to unrealistic love to — the horror of deranged Western women. Jesse still looks pretty good in that movie, but the same is hardly true for Celine, who is now in her early to mid-forties. The central part of the movie has a fat and rather unattractive Celine flying off the handle, insulting Jesse in the worst ways imaginable, essentially calling him an insensitive douchebag and shitty lover, and all of that came out of thin air.

When I watched Before Sunrise the first time, I considered it a fairy tale for adults. When I watched it the second time, with a gal I had deeply fallen in love with, it didn’t seem like such a fairy tale anymore. Before Sunset was a movie I couldn’t quite connect with, but Before Midnight made me recall a best-of of deranged Western furies. Celine losing her shit may seem exaggerated to those of you who have never witnessed a genuinely crazy woman. Yet, that movie captures it extremely well. It was almost too close for comfort. Jesse takes all the abuse Celine hurls at him like a champ cuck, though. In real life, bullshit like that is a serious threat to your mental health, so you better walk out. At least that’s what I did when some of the women I had been dating showed who they really were, because I ignored early red flags in my (early) naivety. Well, you live and learn. Jesse doesn’t quite learn. In the end, Celine walks out, and, just like in a feminist wet dream, it is Jesse who essentially begs her to forgive him. Linklater turns him into a spineless pussy.

Jesse hitting rock bottom

In short, Jesse went from romantic lover and loser to successful first-time author and cuck to successful established author and college teacher to mega-cuck. If there is a fourth part to that series of movies in 2022, it will probably show a middle-aged Jesse getting harangued by his hag of a wife 24/7, or maybe we’ll see him living in a squalid one-room apartment, while Celine is living the high-life financed by alimony payments, and getting it on with male refugee gigolos.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, but keep the comment policy in mind.
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5 thoughts on “Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight Trilogy as a mirror of feminist fantasy and reality

  1. “It was almost too close for comfort.”

    I can still recall your pained expression watching the scene in Before Midnight, when Celine went batshit crazy on Jesse in the hotel room. There, there 🙂

  2. On the other hand, in Before Midnight we finally get to see some tits… not bad, but their 1995 version would have been better.

    My feelings regarding all three films more or less mirror what you describe here, although I dont find it so unbelievable that he would fall for her again in the second movie. After all, how often has it been talked about in this blog and forum how beta guys are ensnared as providers in their ’30s by the same females they unsuccesfully chased and desired in their 20s.

    Jesse might still be naive enough that he does not recognize his own SMV (in particular if his success is just beginning), or maybe he is not really that succesful or famous after all. The crowd attending his presentation at the beginning of the film is not exactly a multitude, looks more like a literary niche.

    1. Great comment!

      A big difference between Jesse and the typical beta guy is that the former has a pretty high SMV. He is good-looking, and he is doing well for himself. In fact, in the second movie the imbalance in looks is impossible to deny as Jesse is, overall, much higher in SMV than Celine. (In the third movie, the difference is nothing but mind-boggling.) When I think of beta males getting trapped by scheming females who hit the wall, then it’s normally about guys those women would not have fucked in their prime.

      The second movie isn’t fresh on my mind, but I recall Jesse being framed as an internationally successful author, but presumably not at the same level as Dan Brown or Stephen King. Yet, he is able to make a living as an author, which is no small feat. In the third movie Linklater sends a mixed message. On the one hand, Jesse is still described as a successful author, with a new book out, hanging out with a seemingly affluent crowd in Southern Europe, but on the other it is revealed, during the fight with Celine, that he is teaching part-time, probably as an adjunct, at a local college. The latter seems unlikely for an author who is balling.

  3. It’s been quite a while since I commented here last time – but I’m still an avid reader of the blog.

    I find your astute analysis noteworthy, because – at least for me – the first two Linklater films in my memory are connected to the start of my own journey into the world of “game”, a long, long time ago in 2004.
    I remember very well watching the second movie at the Filmtheater am Friedrichshain in 2004 in Berlin. I was awestruck and found myself very much “romantically” moved. Since I hadn’t seen the first film at all, I bought the DVD and watched it afterwards as well. I think you are right in your overall assessment, that those movies support and reinforce the femicentric idea of “love” and “romance” and “relationships” as tangible and worthy ideals for men to follow. At least at that very time I felt that way as well.

    Of the third film I had so far only seen its movie trailer – and didn’t found the trailer mouthwatering enough to watch it at the movies – I thought it would be more or less a rehash of the second installment. Intrigued by your blogpost and the comments to it I finally saw it yesterday at home and I must say that I’m quite shocked by the feminist mess it is, and by the concentration of negative emotions into which the overall story arc has turned into in this movie.

    As romantic and enchanting as the first movie is, the third one is just sobering. I remember it being marketed as the typical chick-flick “relationship-yada-yada”-movie for frustrated +35 women… and that’s exactly what it is.

    Maybe it was unavoidable that this most recent film turned precisely out the way it has – otherwise it probably wouldn’t have got financed anyway. After all, movies which do not specifically cater to female vanity and selfishness rarely become popular…

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