Before Sunset: a linguistic deconstruction of love

Sometime during the early 1990s Richard Linklater, made a movie entitled Before Sunrise, that told this story about an American named Jesse and a French girl named Céline, who meet on a train and disembark in Vienna, where they spend the night walking around the city and over the course of one night, and lead to their revealing more about themselves than they normally would, fall in love and make love and the following day vowed to meet again after six months. The film’s ending leaves audience to decide for themselves whether Jesse and Céline will actually meet again in six months –a fine test of a person’s perception of romantic love.

I think this film is worth reviewing since beyond concepts of romance and youthful idealized depictions of love the movie Before Sunset speaks a great deal about the anxieties that I feel are also facing a lot of us who have been quickened by the reality that what is ‘ideal’ and ‘perfect’ are illusive concepts that we may never really be realized in this life. I would like to think that this perhaps is what makes the movie Before Sunset quite remarkable because it strips us of this romantic illusion of relationships that pop culture constantly bombards us with in the media. It shows relationships as complex interactions of people, circumstances and decisions that we have to live with.

Before Sunset, begins 9 years since the events of Before Sunrise. Since then, Jesse has written a novel, This Time, inspired by his time with Céline, and the book has become an American bestseller. To help sales in Europe, Jesse does a book tour. The last stop of the tour is Paris, and Jesse is doing a reading at the bookstore Shakespeare and Company. As he speaks with his audience his eyes wander to the side, and he can hardly believe it: Céline is smiling at him.

After his presentation the bookstore manager reminds Jesse he has a plane to catch and must leave for the airport in a little more than an hour, and so just like in Before Sunrise, the characters are forced to make the best of the little time they have together, making it easier for their conversations to become ever more personal, beginning with the usual thirty-something's themes of work and politics and then, with ever increasing passion, approaching their love for each other, just as their time together is running out. And it was there that they come to realize how maturity comes at the cost of losing all sense of the passionate romance that fuelled this one single night that happened to them 9 years back.

9 years later: Jesse is married with a child an experience to which he refers to as like running a day-care center with someone that he used to date; while Céline, turned out as a cynical environmental activist charged with the disquieting trepidation that all her sense of romance has been lost in that 1 single night that they spent in Vienna 9 years ago.

In the concluding scene, Céline and Jesse arrive at her apartment. Jesse had learned that Céline plays the guitar and persuades her to play a waltz song for him. The waltz is revealed through the lyrics to be about their brief encounter. Jesse then plays a Nina Simone CD on the stereo system. Céline dances by herself to the song "Just in Time" as Jesse watches her. As Céline imitates Simone, she mutters to Jesse, "Baby ... you are gonna miss that plane." As the camera slowly pans in, Jesse smiles while nervously fidgeting with his wedding ring and responds, "I know", as the film ends. Leaving us again to wonder what happens next...

Too often we tend to idealize relationships and romance as things that we can work for or as prizes that we can earn. But reality is far more complex than that. Our digital age has wreaked havoc at this archetype notions of love and life by marrying it with consumerism and fad, which has functioned as a language of how we tend to view and attach value to things in this day and age.

We seemed to have lost what Heidegger, calls as the primordial significance of language. Take for example the word “love” as it is used today in our society.

After seeing this word used on countless greeting cards, advertisements, publications etc, the word has become impoverished. “Love” no longer carries the same meaning and significance it once did. In fact, the very process to which we attached value onto words has sort of become impoverished, because each generation adds another layer of curd over the original meaning of a word, covering it like layers of rust.  To follow Heidegger’s view there was a moment in time when someone first used the word “love” in relating to someone .

Watching Before Sunset, is an experience that compels us again to revisit the value of conversation, honesty and that of being grounded in the complex reality that we live in to which language plays a big part in forming concepts and constructs that affect the way we see and interpret things around us. The movie gives language to that complexity that we go through as we journey in this constant reality called life.

Because, language is not just about points and meanings: it is a medium of communication, but also of avoidance, misdirection, self-protection and plain confusion, all of which are among the themes of this movie, which captures a deep truth seldom acknowledged on screen or in books .


pach said...

this film is one of my all-time faves. i've memorized the waltz song hoping i'd find my Jesse someday hahaha. nice entry, Chuck! =)

Chuck Baclagon said...

hi pach, thanks for the kind words. glad you found the blog post interesting :)