I really dislike Richard Linklater, and I really dislike him because of two words: Waking Life. Never has there been a more overdone “let’s rage at society because it kind of annoys us how life isn’t filled with millions of soul-wrenching cathartic experiences and relationships” pile of nothingness. It wouldn’t be so bad if friends of mine didn’t still talk about how “deep and meaningful” it was and how revolutionary its “rotoscope-amazingness” was. This movie consists of topical discussions about philosophies that are too deep to cover in two-and-a-half hours, combined with the same nonsense that wacky kid from your pre-calc class would spout while smoking a clove at Steak ‘n’ Shake.
I get what Linklater is trying to do, and I appreciate that his movies seem to hint at legitimate intellectual questions instead of just packing them full of philosophical and religious allusions and marketing them as the next Matrix. But too often, they fall short of both making the viewer think and being entertaining.
But when Linklater dies and goes up to the great movie studio in the sky, I think that Orson Welles will be sitting at the Pearly Gates saying, “Well, Richard, you directed A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation, Bad News Bears, and Waking Life, so I’m tempted to let you rot in movie hell along with Uwe Boll and Michael Bay. But then again, you did direct Before Sunset, so I suppose I can forgive you.”
Before Sunset seems like an anomaly in Linklater’s work. Its principle is very simple. It’s a 77-minute-long conversation between a girl and a guy. As boring as it sounds, Linklater’s script and the wonderful performances of Ethan Hawke and the consistently underrated Julie Delpy make this simple setup crackle with energy and multiple layers of romantic tension.
The story follows Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), two star-crossed lovers who met nine years ago on a train in Vienna in the prequel Before Sunrise. After one of the greatest pick-up lines in history, they ended up spending the night together in Vienna. But alas, after promising to meet again in six months, they were forced to part ways. In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine had more than 12 hours. In Before Sunset, they have less than an hour-and-a-half, and the camera follows them in real time as they walk about Paris, slowly uncovering how so much had changed in nine years. It would be a sin for me to reveal the details, since so much of the joy in the movie comes from watching the characters slowly and awkwardly tease out details about each other’s lives. They are two people who are very obviously still in love, but both too entangled in their individual lives to have the courage to make the first move.
So for 77 minutes they do a verbal dance around each other, with dialogue that is both clever and entertaining. It’s nothing especially poetic, and it’s nothing especially sharp, but it feels extremely natural. In all likelihood, if you walked around talking like people did in most movies, they’d put you away. Movie dialogue is usually far too serious, apt, and melodramatic. But in Before Sunset the movie just doesn’t seem to think of itself as a movie. Hawke and Delpy take control of each and every shot, and their back-and-forth is casual and believable. There aren’t any truly profound lines, but there are plenty of lines that are hard to forget just because of the wonderful context that the story builds up around itself.
Before Sunset is a wonderful movie about love lost and the sly little games we play with our words and with each other. Maybe someday I can find it in my heart to forgive Linklater’s multiple faults thanks to this gem, but until then I strongly suggest renting it.
That’s all for this week. If you have some movie, music, book, video game or really any work of art that you feel hasn’t gotten the love it deserves, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.