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?
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:
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.
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.
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.