R for language and innuendo. At the core of Before Sunset is the idea that Jesse is tapdancing around having an affair. The movie doesn't really address the morality of this decision head-on. Instead, it focuses on the relationship between Jesse and Celine. The two also get lightly graphic about their sexual histories and choices, meaning that the vulgar language actually carries a vulgar connotation. It's pretty deserving of an R-rating, both for intended audience and for content.
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
I know that I'm going to watch the third one. I mean, I just know it. But there's something about the Before trilogy that both enthralls me and infuriates me at the same time. I have seen my fair share of Richard Linklater movies. If I had that time and the readership to justify making a "Directors" page, you could probably see that I have made my thoughts on Linklater pretty clear. There are times that I adore him and there's times that I roll my eyes at him. The Before series definitely reminds me of some of the stuff that annoy me about the director. Part of that comes from the fact that I simply have completely unreasonable expectations about the guy.
I guess the annoying thing for me is that I kind of want him to sell out. That's a horrible thing to say, right? I mean, Linklater is famous and loved for a reason. But part of me thinks, completely unjustifiably, that movies like the Before series and some of his later independent feeling films, are easy for him to write. I'm going to try to redeem my thinking in a second, so please bear with me. The thing about independent film is that it is almost experimental by nature. The studio system does something one way and has developed a clear formula. But independent filmmakers do things another way. They break the mold when they make movies. The idea is that they have something new to say and they want to say it in their own fashion. Linklater totally does this. In my heart of hearts, I really like Linklater. But he also seems to be going to the same well time and again.
If an experiment is to see if something works, he keeps running the same experiments over and over. Yes, Before Sunset is a commentary on time passing, both in the fictional world and in the real world. Ethan Hawke tends to like this kind of stuff, as evidenced by Boyhood. But looking at the Linklater ouevre, he keeps making movies about white people taking wittily. Very little of the story is plot driven. Instead, it almost seems to be this fly on the wall element to movie making. "Isn't it interesting how philosophical people can get when they think that no one is watching?" Before Sunset is an example of a fun date. The element that makes it a bit interesting ties into the title of the film. Because there is a deadline on the date, we realize that there has to be a change in the character before the end of the film. Instead of some grandiose gesture like we see in many rom-coms, the only requirement is that the protagonists either change or stay the same.
But for all my criticisms that Linklater tends to stay in his little niche, I do enjoy these films. I mean, you have to be okay with boring. Both Jesse and Celine are likable and irritating as heck. I suppose that's Linklater's sweet spot for characters. Maybe they are all facets of him as artist and writer. But Before Sunset begs its audience to be a little bit evil while watching. From Celine's re-introduction, Jesse stands as a sympathetic character. The events of Before Sunrise defined Jesse. He was so moved and wrecked by Celine standing him up, that everything in his life revolved around the girl that got away. I don't know what kind of spouse would be excited to allow her spouse to write about the real love of his life, but that's simply something we have to accept. Because the moment we know that Jesse has a spouse and that he has technically (almost in a legal sense only) moved on, Jesse kind of becomes the bad guy. Our sympathies shift from Jesse to Celine.
But even Celine is a deeply frustrating character. Celine chooses to encounter Jesse on this tour. Sure, Jesse laid out one of the most overt breadcrumb trails in cinema history, writing a novel about their romance. But Celine wants to seduce Jesse. Even when she finds out that he is married, she doesn't draw clear lines. (I'm still placing most of the onus on Jesse, considering it looks like he's actively trying to cheat on his wife with the girl that got away.) But the two intentionally, and completely unabashedly, wander into discussions about sex. They touch and flirt. This isn't even an attempt at closure. So when Celine grows irritated with Jesse in the car, there's a little bit of "What are you doing?" from the audience's perspective.
Because the truth is that Celine is a very broken person. For as much as I gripe about Linklater returning to the same well repeatedly, he does really play the slow game when it comes to commentary on the problems with society's views on aging. In Before Sunset, Celine was meant to find the love of her life. That question of whether they'd see each other in Vienna six months later reflects Jesse's discussions with the reporters at the beginning of the story. If you are an optimist, then they lived happily ever after. If you are a pessimist, love doesn't really exist. But Linklater takes the road of the realist: sometimes things don't work out in real life as they do in movies. (I also read the irony of this sentence.) Sometimes grandparents die, or we get cold feet. But Celine is trying to be the girl she was in the '90s. She has responsibilities now. People have expectations of her to be married. And she keeps running into married men. I always thought the concepts of affairs was something that was only in popular culture, but apparently it's a thing.
So Linklater absolutely nails the concept that people are defined by cultural norms and it is not fair. Jesse absolutely sucks for what he's doing throughout the movie. That ending, where he intentionally decides to miss his flight, is reflective of a person who feels entitled. He was supposed to meet Celine in Vienna and he felt abandoned. So his morality is now completely inappropriate. He is trying to recreate a past that never technically existed. Celine is okay with Jesse abandoning his wife and child. Remember, Jesse is not simply living for himself. One of the things about marriage is that there is no "just you" anymore. There are times where I wish I could have alone time. But I also know that my alone time means that someone is pulling double duty for me. Celine's frustration about being with married men is only compounded and Jesse is both the cause and the infection that follows.
Is it a romantic movie? Yeah, I want to distance myself from that but I can't. It is wildly romantic. I need to know what happens in the third one. Is it probably going to be more of the same? Yeah. Linklater is more commenting on history progressing more than he is about specific relationship stuff. This movie is the product of being in 2004. While 9/11 isn't specifically mentioned, it does feel like Linklater is taking a photograph of the era for us to remember what conversations were like during this time. It's a bit dated sure and Hawke looks...rough (Sorry, Ethan Hawke). But it still is a romantic movie, even if it has this bummer context surrounding the film.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.