‘Before Sunset’: A Desire That You Didn’t Pursue Could Become a Regret


The question of whether someone is your true love or not is redundant since there is no conceivable way of answering it. More often than not, the idea of falling in love with someone is based on the assumption that he or she is going to be your true love — of course until proven wrong. Therefore, the more interesting question to ask is not who is your true love, but what is love, if not, an extension of the desire and longing of being with someone who you deem to be perfect — or at least close to one. In other words, there’s no “one” true love (or soul mate); but every time you desire to be with the “one” is when you are in love.

Jesse and Celine, who spent a perfect night in Vienna, separated, and then longed for each other for 9 years till the time they meet again in Paris, where the movie begins. Jesse (Ethan Hawke)  has come to Paris to promote his new book. As fate has it, Celine drops by at the bookstore (later we know in the film that it was more by design than fate as Jesse confesses to Celine that he wrote the book in the hope that he could find her again). Jesse and Celine spend the next hour (Jesse has a flight to catch) talking to each other. Their conversation starts with the environment then veers towards relationships and finally to their own selves. They lead up to personal details very delicately; at the beginning, they talk politely and in abstractions, edging around the topics we (and they) want answers to: Is either one married? Are they happy? Do they still feel that deep attraction? As they converse we come to know Jesse got married and Celine had been into many relationships but none worked. Eventually, both have a sort of emotional breakdown regretting the fact that they missed a lifetime they were intended to spend together. In one of the moments of poignancy, Celine reaches out to touch him and then pulls back her hand before he sees it. Later both go to Celine’s apartment wherein the final and also the most touching moments Celine plays the guitar & sings one of her creations while Jesse looks on.

The open climax of the film is also the most interesting aspect of it. While it does leave you with this uneasy feeling of “what will happen next?”, it also leaves the canvas blank for you to paint the life that you want to paint for Jesse and Celine. Does Jesse boards his plane and goes on to live his life with his wife and children. Or do he and Celine decide to stay together for the rest of their lives? It’s up to you how you imagine their lives to be. (Though, this is answered by ‘Before Midnight’, which I also feel spoils the pleasure of “not-knowing”.)

It is easy to mistake ‘Before Sunset’ for another romantic film. The truth is, it talks about love in a manner that no romantic film does. For Jesse and Celine, love is a serious business and not some pleasure-seeking fantasy. More than love itself, ‘Before Sunset’ deals with everything surrounding love: life, memories, obligations, etc. And how choices in life also shape choices in love and vice-versa. But as complex as these ideas may sound, the biggest strength of ‘Before Sunset’ is its simplicity. The focus is on the conversation — as was in its predecessor Before Sunrise — so much so that Richard Linklater didn’t even bother showing Eiffel Tower in spite of shooting the whole film in Paris, most probably because he didn’t want to divert any attention from his lead characters.

‘Before Sunset’s predecessor ‘Before Sunrise’ is equally beautiful, though less thought-provoking, while its successor ‘Before Midnight’ is funnier and more rooted but less affecting. Ultimately, ‘Before Sunset’ is about how a desire that you didn’t pursue could become a regret.

‘Before Sunset’ is such a masterful work that it is a mirror, by looking into which, you can judge your own relationships: Where you went wrong? Who was actually “the one” for you? What opportunities did you miss? What could have been? It’s one of the rare films where your own experience in life will enrich and nourish your experience with the film. So, experience it, if you haven’t yet.