One of the most common ideas of a romantic story, propagated by Hollywood, is a night or a day spent with a complete stranger. The concept to put two totally different characters in a setting where a certain time frame dictates their actions and hence, their feelings for each other has worked successfully for a great number of times. The credit to kickstart that trend goes to ‘Before Sunrise’, which in a way introduced this idea to the filmmaking world that you don’t need a story arc or tens of characters to make a great film.
How Does “the Idea” Work?
The idea that two people who have just met but won’t be together for long brings a depth to the emotions — both in the characters and the viewers — and allows the storyteller to bring out whatever shade of their personalities that they want. What brings them together, what keeps them together throughout the journey, how similar their thoughts are, how different are their backgrounds, what drives their current journeys, what are their destinations- all these questions give a great opportunity to explore the things that otherwise seem to lurk on the sidelines of other planned stories. The best thing about such films is that protagonists drive the story rather than the plot. Also, the fleeting nature of their relationship adds more intimacy and meaning to their actions and dialogues. The clock ticking on their fates incites a more passionate response from the audience. Just like everything else, the value of love is increased when an expiry date is put on it.
Chris Evans wanted to capture something similar in his directorial debut, ‘Before We Go’. It brings two people together for a couple of hours and through them, explores the meaning of love, compromise, closure and uncertainty in life. Starring Evans and Alice Eve, whom you might remember from ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’, this film might not live up to the likes of ‘The Before Trilogy’ and ‘Certified Copy’, but ‘Before We Go’ has its moments, and definitely has a fresh approach to the idea. If you haven’t yet seen the film and don’t want it spoiled for you, then you should leave this article here and come back only after you’ve watched it.
Summary of the Plot
The story of ‘Before We Go’ starts at a train station, a perfect romantic setting for any “boy meets girl” situation. Nick (Chris Evans) leisurely plays the trumpet, occasionally acknowledged by passers-by. With the closing time at hand, the crowd becomes scarce and he begins to pack up his things. We notice that Nick is taxed by some worries. His problem might not be so urgent; it might not be something that he needs to face, after all. He is still in the process of making a decision- to stay back and avoid it or go ahead anyway. Just then, a girl (Alice Eve) comes running in, evidently in a hurry to catch the last train, which she misses by a close margin. We can sense by her demeanour that this was an emergency and now that she has missed her ride, the rest of her night is going to be dictated by her need to get where she needs to go. Nick, too, senses her trouble, especially when she runs away, not paying attention to her phone that fell and broke. It becomes more problematic for her when she is told that the station is closing and the next train isn’t before the next morning.
Outside the station, he finds her standing at a corner, trying to fix her phone. Being the good Samaritan that he is, he offers to help her. She rebuffs him, at first, but on his persistence, she cools down a bit. Had Nick been having a good night, he’d have been easily able to help her. But, turns out, he’s as messed up with his luck tonight as she is. With her purse stolen and his credit cards not working, they don’t have many options at hand. However, her conviction suggests that there is no other option for her but to find a way back. Not ready to let her venture alone in a strange city at night, he resolves to accompany her. This leads them on an adventure, that includes Nick getting beat up, them crashing a party, an encounter with a clairvoyant and discovering art in hotel rooms. The experience ultimately leads them to confront their troubles and resolve their problems once and for all.
The moment Brooke enters the screen, we know that her situation is more urgent than Nick’s. This also gives us the idea that it is her urgency that’ll control the prime flow of the story. Throughout the film, we get bits and pieces of her life, until a complete picture is formed by the end. Instead of going through the same route, let’s take a direct look at what her story is actually like. Brooke is an ambitious and bright girl. We don’t know much about her childhood or even her college days, but we do know that she was good enough to land the job of an art collector in London.
After a few years, away from home and in a foreign place, she began to feel like she didn’t belong there. At that time, she met Michael, with whom she fell in love. The next time she came to America for a project, she didn’t go back. She was “the girl who recognized love and jumped”. This description gives us the idea that she is the kind of person who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t hesitate to take a risk in order to get it. This is the quality that has made her life so successful- personally and professionally. She is also the one who values her relationships. She wants to retrieve her bag, not only because it has her wallet and ID, but also because of its sentimental value which is most probably in connection to her stepson, who wrote her initials on the inside flap of it. Strong-minded and risk-taker, Brooke Dalton seems like she has everything figured out in her life. And this is exactly why she spirals out of control when one thing goes wrong.
Turns out, her marriage with Michael wasn’t as ideal as she had imagined. One day, she discovered through her husband’s emails that he was cheating on her. His visits to Atlanta were not just for business, but also for pleasure. One of the reasons she left her job in London was because she wanted to be with Michael. Finding out about his infidelity made her question their relationship. Still, she kept calm. She decided to wait it out, hoping that one day, it would go away on its own and she won’t have to deal with it.
Confrontation becomes the hardest thing to do when your whole life depends on it. Brooke couldn’t allow herself to let go of all that she had built for herself. As she had anticipated, her husband broke off his affair and things went back to normal. That was until a couple of days before her trip to New York. With another business meeting lined up for Atlanta, her husband left, and she found out through his mail that the other woman had invited him to visit her. With the fool me twice situation at her hand, Brooke decided to let all her anger out. She wrote a furious letter to him and left for New York, not knowing whether she’d be going back to him. But then, she realises that she loves him too much to let it go like that, so she decided to go back home. Only, she misses the train. It becomes even more urgent when she discovers that her husband is coming back home, instead of continuing his affair.
Uncertainty, the inability to make a decision is new territory for Brooke. All her life, she knew what she wanted and this is what made it easier for her to make decisions. This time, however, things are not so simple. This time, she has brought this upon herself. There is no way around the confrontation of Michael’s affair, and even when she loves him, she doesn’t know whether she wants to make it work or let go of it for good. She can walk away, even the psychic advises her to do so. But she can’t decide if it will be the best way to resolve her problem.
While Brooke comes across as an individual who’s mostly figured out life but has only hit a recent rough patch, Nick is someone who has lived most of his life in order to synchronise it with that of others. He allows a heavy influence of others on his life rather than giving serious thought to what he wants. He had a heart for music but he turned towards medicine. Now, I wouldn’t exactly blame him for this because people often don’t go for what they like, they go for what will help them pay the bills. Had there been a bit more backstory, I’m pretty sure he’d have revealed some person who influenced him to go for it.
Even after knowing that it wasn’t for him, it took Hannah’s efforts to make him realise that music was his true calling. Fine, everyone needs a person like Hannah in their lives. But here’s the thing. His life was still tied around hers, while she wanted her own thing. She was into graphic design and wanted a career in it, which eventually led her to Philly. Instead of thinking about where his life was leading him, Nick wanted to follow Hannah. He decided to propose to her, while she wanted to follow her ambitions. The proposal didn’t go well and she left him.
Everyone has someone whose presence leaves a permanent mark in their life, the one that you can’t move on from. Hannah became that person for Nick, and even after six years, he wasn’t able to let go of her. She continued to be an influence on him; everything he wanted to achieve was so that one day he could have one more chance with her. He allowed six years of his life to be ruled by someone who wasn’t even in it anymore. Even the reason for him to come all the way to New York wasn’t the audition, it was Hannah. He needed a sign from the universe to tell him if he should attend the wedding where he would definitely see Hannah. He needed another reason to prod him to go there, and the audition was just that. It could be a huge thing for his career, this gig could turn his whole life around. Yet, he was more concerned about his meeting with Hannah, something he had been ruminating on for all those years.
Even when he decided to give it a go, he couldn’t decide whether to go to the wedding or not. He knew that the confrontation with her might not turn out in his favour and he wasn’t ready to accept that, he wasn’t yet ready to let go of his daydreams about them getting back together. He is so unwilling to face the reality that he’ll take any distraction to give him an excuse. Brooke becomes that distraction for him, and much to his discomfort, she also becomes the reason to get him to do it.
What he didn’t anticipate in all his fantasies was that she would have moved on. Six years is a very long time, and just because he was hung up on her doesn’t mean she would be waiting for him too. His life had been stuck for more than half a decade and that’s why he couldn’t move forward. After realising that she is happy in her current life, without him, he thinks about not going to the audition. This shows how he still hasn’t learned his lesson.
The Ending: What Did the Note Say?
By the end of their time together, both Brooke and Nick accept their realities. She decides to give her marriage another chance, rather than running away from it. He decides to let go of his obsession for Hannah, and moves on with his life, doing everything for himself, not for her. Both the characters chart under major transformation from the beginning to the end of the film. We might not have any certainty about their fates, but we do know that they’ll not back out from taking a risk. Running away is not an option, no matter how pleasant it might seem at the moment. After saying goodbye to Nick, Brooke boards the train, ready to face the vague future ahead of her.
On the train, she finds the “rate your stay” card from the hotel. After taking a glimpse of how they had marked it, especially lingering on the part “Would you be likely to return”, which had gone unmarked, she sees a “turn over” note from Nick. He had left a message for her at the back. The last frame is of her smiling and thinking about what she just read. So, what was it? What did Nick say to her? In a ‘Lost in Translation’ sort of act, we receive an ambiguity about Brooke and Nick’s plans for the future. We can never know what exactly was on it, but we can surely make an intelligent guess.
One of the possibilities and the most likely one is that Nick left her a way to contact him. They never share numbers or address or email, no way to reach each other, despite the effect their meeting has had on them. Perhaps they were too consumed by the idea of their parting that they forgot to do it. Maybe, like all other romantic films, they wanted to keep their encounter as a precious memory, something that wouldn’t be tainted by their further actions. Brooke might have made good on that, but Nick wasn’t the one to let go, which is in great consistency with his character. However, he would have respected her wish and so wouldn’t have provided contact details on the back of the paper. Maybe the message was some cute goodbye and an offer to meet again if things don’t work out with Michael. We know that they made some art of their own in the hotel, but neither we nor they got to see what the other had drawn. Perhaps, Nick left her a way to reach him there.
If she ever got around to making the decision of returning to the hotel, she would know how to reach him. There was a message for her out there, and whether or not she wanted it was up to her. She had a choice. She could come back or walk away.
Will There be Before We Go 2?
I know the people who loved the film would want to know the answer to the question: whether there will be Before We Go sequel? The short answer is probably not. The reason being Chris Evans is an extremely busy actor and for him to return to make a sequel of a moderately successful film will require a lot of things to come together. I am sure there are people who have high hopes because of the way The Before Trilogy has spanned over 18 years. But you should keep in mind that Before Sunrise was an indie hit. Not to mention by the time Richard Linklater decided to make Before Sunset, the film had gained a cult status. Also, there’s no denying that Before We Go is inspired from the Before series — even the title indicates that — and to make a sequel to it would only pit the film directly against a trilogy that has gained an iconic status over time.
In the end, some things are better left unanswered. What happened to Brooke and Nick is a blank canvas now. Paint whatever picture you want to paint for them.
Read More in Explainers: Avengers Endgame | Me Before You | The Notebook