' Cinema Romantico: Jesse & Celine: Will They or Won't They?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jesse & Celine: Will They or Won't They?

I remember being young and post-false-feeling happy ending to a film I incredulously asked my parents, "Mom? Dad? Why do ALL movies have to have a happy ending?" The inevitable reply: "Because real life has so few happy endings." I'm pretty sure I sighed and shook my head.


I was talking with my sister on the phone for Thanksgiving and she - a fellow Tweed Jacket - mentioned the "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset" sequel that just finished shooting in Greece and tentatively set for a 2013 release titled "Before Midnight." It will bring to a conclusion the conversational romance of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). My sister expressed her desire for them to get together. But......then she wasn't so sure they should.

Should they?

"Before Sunrise" was released in 1995. Jesse and Celine were in their early twenties. He was an American riding the Eurorail to catch a flight out of Vienna. She was a student riding the Eurorail back to the Sorbonne in Paris. They chat. He asks her to get off the train with him in Vienna and hang out for the night until the next morning. They are at that blessed age when the world seems full of wonder, a night can so easily become timeless, and debating emotional issues is mostly hypothetical. They fall in love. The next morning they say goodbye without exchanging information but agreeing to meet in the same place in six months time. They depart.

So......did they meet six months later?

I was in my early twenties when I finally saw the movie two years later on DVD. I remember pumping my fist (honestly) when the credits rolled. I remember asking out a girl I worked with at the Hillcrest Hall cafeteria at the University of Iowa but doing it in such a way as to evoke a more idiotic Jesse asking Celine to get off the train. I remember my friend Caleb, upon me recounting this story, saying, "You tend to put too much of a romantic spin on these things." (Which is almost completely identical to a line in the movie.) I was hopeful and naive and idealistic. But I chose to believe that Jesse and Celine did not meet again.

Why? Because it would be more tragic that way, of course, and all the great love stories are meant to be tragic.


"Before Sunset" was released in 2004. Jesse and Celine were in their early thirties. He was in Paris on his book tour. She lived in Paris. He was married with a child. She was an environmentalist in a long-term but clearly frustrating relationship. The world was no longer as filled with wonder. Timelessness had given way to time slip-slip-slidin' away. Emotional issues were all too real and scary. And yet......

"I like getting older," Jesse says in the film. "Things feel more immediate." And it was true. If "Before Sunrise" felt like an enchanting fantasy (which is what I still love so deeply about it), "Before Sunset" felt like a genuine drama with amorous overtones. It was clear they electrified one another but it was also clear that in aging they had become sadder and more wary and more cynical. (They had also taken up smoking.) They had, in a sense, become part of that real world where, as our parents said so many years ago, so few happy endings were afforded.

Thus, "Before Sunset" had a more clear cut and, not surprisingly, less romantic ending. It implicitly implied that Jesse and Celine were about to, shall we say, get it on, thereby cheating on their respective partners even if the audience knows that the spirits would totally give them a pass. But beyond that......


I was 34 (going on 35) when I heard "Before Midnight" would become a reality. Part of me was ecstatic, part of me was concerned. Not concerned for the potential quality of the film, which will no doubt be as high as the other two, but concerned for the fate of our dear Jesse and Celine.

In "Before Sunset" Celine mentions she recently re-read her diary from when she was a teenager and realized that her "core" and "the way (she) was feeling things was exactly the same." Jesse concurs that people don't change as much as they think they do.

But they do change. I did. The core of me is exactly the same, yes. Absolutely. In 1997 when I watched "Before Sunrise" I was a romantic and when I watch "Before Midnight" in 2013 I will be a romantic. Except way back when I did not want Jesse and Celine to end up together and in the here and now I want Jesse and Celine to end up together with every fiber of my being. After all, the real world has so few happy endings.

Hells bells. I've turned into my parents.

7 comments:

Alex Withrow said...

Really interesting, insightful, amusing write-up. I love revisiting films after years and years pass. The movies don't change, we change (which does, kind of, change the movie... or something). It's all so groovy.

I can't wait for Before Midnight, really interested where Linklater and Co. takes it.

Good work here.

Lexi said...

I still don't know... I'm kind of hoping it isn't another open-ended ending, although, I suppose that would be okay... I just don't know...I really don't!

Vancetastic said...

I can't decide either. I'm kind of wondering what additional perspective Celine will have now that she's had long-term relationships with Adam Goldberg and Chris Rock.

Nick Prigge said...

Alex: Thanks, man! It really is fascinating how the core of a movie can remain the same but your own relationship to it can change over the years.

Lexi: Ah, just wait until you turn (the age we won't mention here). Then you'll understand. Then you'll want these two to wind up in one another's arms.

Vance: It would be funny if Julie Delpy just offhand referenced two guys she'd dated and her descriptions matched up perfectly with those 2 characters.

Dan said...

Nick, I'm also still trying to figure out what I expect from this third film. I'm excited to meet up with these great characters once again. The end of the second film is tricky because they've found each other and may be happy, but there are their significant others (and kids for him) that will be messed up by it. I want them to be happy while still wondering if it's really the right choice.

Regardless of what happens, I'm thrilled to have the chance to see them again!

thedelicatesoundofthunder said...

Hey man!

Great write up of my favourite movie-pair (if you can call it that).

I'm twenty-one and can't relate to some of the things you mentioned.

But on the whole, I guess I'm with you on this one. When I watched Before Sunset for the first time a couple of years ago, I felt this was it. The twiddling of the wedding ring by Jesse was what convinced me.

And now Before Midnight's announced. I am looking forward to it, but I really want it to be the last. Before They Screw Up A Magical Thing. They are the only films I've watched so far that have been so romantic and yet with such a firm hold on reality.

It does help the romanticism if the story goes on and on, but that wouldn't be practical, if you ask me. Each knows where the other lives and they are probably in touch.

So yeah, let it end, preferably with them getting together.

Good job with the write up, again!

thedelicatesoundofthunder said...

Hey, nice write up!

The Before Sunrise-Sunset movie pair is my favourite of all-time.

I'm twenty-one and I can't relate to some of the things you mentioned.

But on the whole, I agree.

To add on:

When I first watched Before Sunset three years ago, I thought that was it. Jesse twiddling the ring was a nice touch.

What makes the two movies so special was that they were so romantic, and yet maintained that level of realism. And I firmly believe from my little experience that although you can get along with a lot of people, true connection is scarce, and is thus a treasure.

And then this announcement for Before Midnight. Being realistic, we must assume that Jesse and Celine are in touch because you can't just go to a loved one's place and then lose contact altogether. That would be a deviation from realism.

I know it won't be low on romanticism. I trust Richard there.

So, putting all my expectations together, I hope it is the last one. Before They Screw Up a Good Thing. Because going on forever, though romantic, can - I don't know, what if I change (like you said everyone does) and don't like where the movies go?

Again, great write-up. Was a good read.