Movie review: Before Sunset (2004)

We find Jesse and Céline nine years older in this sequel to Before Sunrise. They encounter each other in Paris. By chance. Sort of. Jesse is in town for a book reading at Céline’s favorite bookstore. She spied him on a schedule of upcoming events at the bookstore and showed up at the signing.

Life has caught up with both of them. Joys and sorrows. And regrets. The regret that they did not continue their relationship after that night in Vienna is palpable. We hear how that decision has impacted both of their lives, setting them down paths that have brought much unhappiness. We see, along with them, that they were meant to be together. That they were haunted by memories of the other. What might have been.

Like the first movie, this one centers on conversation between the two characters. Although awkward at first, they quickly slip into their former friendship as though not a day had passed since their last conversation. The topics of their conversations, still about facets of life, are deeper. Richer. The topics of people in their thirties who have seen a bit of pain and sorrow in their lives.

Also like the first movie, the dialogue often resonated with where I was at the same age as Jesse and Céline—early thirties in this movie. Now that they are older, they appreciate things more. Céline relates that once while in Warsaw, she did not have access to TV or shopping—her usual habits—just walking, thinking, and resting, which led to great peace and calm. She also ponders people valuing the achievement of a goal over the process, herself preferring the process.

It takes quite a while for the conversation to get around to more personal, romantic topics. Jesse is married with a child. And Céline is involved in a relationship. However, the impact that they had on the other was clearly profound. At one point, Céline rages at him, explaining how she has been closed off from others, having lost a part of herself to him. And Jesse opens up about the dreams he continually has that leaves him drenched in sweat and sobbing, as well as the dead marriage that he suffers through all for the sake of the son he loves.

As a voyeur, I shared in the regret that they felt, made deeper by the fact that they didn’t meet six months after their first meeting like they planned due to fate—Céline was in Budapest at the funeral of her beloved grandmother. Even more heart-rending, they seemed to have been in close proximity to the other without knowing it—both lived in New York City during overlapping years. In fact, Jesse recounts how he thought he saw her as he rode to his wedding. And then Céline shares that she lived around where he thought he saw her. What if he had stopped, I almost hear them both vocalize?

In some respects, it was painful to hear how deeply they were affected by the night in Vienna and how the twists and turns of their lives need not to have been. They both lament not swapping contact information in Vienna. They were young and stupid, thinking that there would be many people to connect with in life, but then realized later, as they got older, that there are only a few people that you do connect with. As time passes, that seems more and more true.

Céline discusses the need to love and be loved. It is clear that in their current lives, neither of them is really getting these needs fulfilled. They are dying inside. But being alone, Céline mentions, is better than sitting next to a lover and being lonely. A point to ponder for anyone in a relationship that is less than ideal. As is the realization Céline makes after hearing about Jesse’s horrible marriage: people think they are the only one going through tough times. But that is simply not true.

The movie ends in a similar way to the first. What happens to the two is unknown. Does Jesse get on his plane back to the US, back to his wife and child? Or does he stay in Céline’s apartment and continue the relationship they should have had? Too much heartache. Too many regrets. Too much possibility of continuing to live empty lives. Their lives are not so simple now. Either they live out the emptiness or break apart lives that they are intertwined with. Either route has sorrow and pain. But one at least has the possibility of some happiness too.

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