Back when I was a hopeless romantic, I loved the movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. So much so that I was inspired to take samples of dialogue and make them part of a DJ set I created for each movie.
The two happen to meet on a train and impulsively decide to get off in Vienna and spend the day roaming its streets. As they walk, they talk about life and the nature of love. Day turns to night. There’s intense chemistry between Celine and Jesse, and it ignites a desire between the two that has them questioning how could they feel intense emotions for what they mostly are to each other: strangers.
Celine and Jesse realize, due to geographic distance, it would be impossible to have a relationship and, thus, only have one night together.
The rest of the night is spent as if each second together had to be savored and consumed. They end up consummating their desire in a park and then watch the sunrise. They spend the morning on the empty streets of Vienna enjoying their last moments and then make their way to the train station where they were set to part ways. It is then they confess they’d like to make more of their desire by seeing each other again, and Celine and Jesse agree to meet on the same train platform six months later.
Here’s the DJ set inspired by Before Sunrise.
Before Sunset begins years later. Jesse is in Paris promoting a book that made use, as source material, the night they’d shared in Vienna. Celine had learned he was going to be in Paris promoting the book and decided to drop by.
Celine and Jesse reunite, and he learns why she didn’t show up: there was a death in her family. And, Celine learns Jesse is married.
They both learn the people that they once were, who had idealized love and placed it on a pedestal, no longer existed. Celine has become numb. Jesse has become disillusioned.
In reuniting, they come to understand how damaged they’d become because of that one night together. Nothing in their lives, since that night, measures up to the desire they had felt for one another. No one else has come close.
After a tourist boat ride along the Seine River, the two make their way back to her apartment, where Celine plays a song she’d written for Jesse on her guitar. The movie ends with Celine telling Jesse he was going to miss his flight back to the United States and him responding, “I know.”
In the movie, Before Midnight, we learn Jesse skipped his flight, and the two spent the next few days together, consummating their desire while barricaded in her apartment.
That’s the best I can do in summing up the movies without getting bogged into the details.
Here’s the DJ set inspired by Before Sunset.
I created the DJ sets at a time in my life where I still believed in that kind of love. The type of reckless love that glorified pain and anguish if it meant being able to touch upon desire. The kind that regards sacrifice for love as a virtue instead of what it is: an expression of infatuation and narcissism. Because of the objectification that comes from this expression, bad things happen to people who love others in this manner. It is never any good to make objects of people and place them at the center of your universe.
That was how I used to love. I should’ve known better. In fact, I did know better. For years I practiced Buddhism and loved the Fire Sermon, which touches upon the kind of desire that consumes a person from the inside out. Buddha had declared, “All is burning.” Everything that enters through the senses can be abused if consumed with the same intensity as these star crossed lovers, Celine and Jesse.
But because I was battling severe illness and depression during that period of my life, I no longer wanted to feel numb. Instead, I wanted to feel alive. I wanted to experience the kind of all too consuming desire idealized in the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
That was a dark time in my life. I survived but not before being forced to answer some of the questions posed in the movies.
In my opinion, love is not desire.
Desire is not love.
Passion is overrated.
A true expression of love for another human being is what we are willing to commit to them, for their sake and not because it makes us feel good.
Real love sometimes hurts because it demands we forgo what we would want for the greater good of caring for another human being who had given so much of themselves in return–because they love you, even when they don’t like you.
This would’ve never made sense to me in my 20s or 30s, but now that I’m an older man, it’s the only thing that makes sense.
To be caught up in the fire of passion and desire would lead people to buy into the notion of soulmates, and once we’re convinced it is written in the stars, it becomes part of our destiny to be joined to the soulmate even if it means hurting others.
That happens to be my take away from the movie Before Midnight.
The movie alludes to the turmoil that was created for Jesse in not returning to the United States. He left his wife and son behind for a life in Paris with Celine. It also shows an estrangement he feels from his son, who, in the movie, appears closer to Celine than with Jesse.
Celine and Jesse are no longer star crossed lovers and, instead, have become experts in each other’s bullshit. Finally, the movie shows that what was once a spontaneous expression of desire in the first two movies has become routine. Now that they’re parents, Jesse and Celine have to schedule a night of sex, hoping that the act would help them touch upon the desire they once felt for each other. In the end, they’re just going through the motions.
Celine and Jesse end up arguing to the point where the audience is left wondering if they’re witnessing the breakup of a relationship that had started with an impulsive decision. Jesse is no longer sure he’d get off the train for a non-idealized version of his wife.
The movie ends with the couple angry at each other but appearing to make an effort to reconcile, because that’s love.
I may eventually create a DJ set with samples from the movie, Before Midnight. If I do, it would sound the exact opposite of the soulful sounds of the first two DJ sets. Still, despite everything I’d written, I enjoy listening to these DJ sets. Listening to these DJ sets is a lot like looking at pictures of when I was a little boy. In both instances, I am reminded of a time when I believed in magic and fairy tales, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Believing was nice while it lasted. I no longer believe in love in that way.
And that is a great thing.
All is no longer burning.