Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

I love being told why I’m watching the movie

Posted by Ronak M Soni on November 15, 2009

Director Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel may have just realised one of the fundamental truths of the camera: put a man and a woman in a cramped space together for enough time, and soon the subtlest mannerisms are going to become some of the most outright and obvious expressions of their feelings.

I am talking about their two movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, recommended to me in this post, by Literary Dreamer. The basic story is that Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train and immediately hit it off. Jesse has to get off at Vienna to catch a flight to the US the next morning, so he convinces – using a virtuoso argument involving time travel and a theme, of regrets about life-changing decisions, that is going to resonate through both movies – her to get off with him and catch a later train to her native Paris. Before Sunrise is about – spans – the day and night they spend roaming around Vienna (it is a part of his original argument that he’ll be roaming around all night because he can’t afford a hotel). The next movie is about what happens nine years later.

In Vienna, the size of the spaces they occupy for a significant amounts of time grows steadily larger, from a two-seat on a tram to a music trial room to a park. Which brings me to the fundamental truth. After a while of them sitting so close together that his removing his jacket provokes her to unconsciously withdraw physically, under the pretense of arranging her hair. And then there’s a wonderful little sequence where they go into a small room to listen to a record, and both of them… let me invoke Roger Ebert here (both of whose reviews I recommend for reading only after watching the movies, as he spoils them): “each one looks at the other, and then looks away, so as not to be caught. The way they do this – the timing, the slight embarrassment – is delicate and true to life.” For me, it transcended a sweet little scene to become an outright comedy, the type in which you laugh purely out of love. By the time we’re into parks and roofs and long shots, you can recognise each little mannerism from so far away that you find their movement more interesting than the scenic locations.

Screenshot with green-lighted bit in the background. I wasn't looking at the green

I wasn't looking at the green-lighted entrance

And, of course, there’s the dialogues. They discuss everything from what’s wrong with the world to… well, I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll just say why you are sitting and watching these two movies. And they are so good, so well-placed… Against my better judgement, here’s one from early in the second one (I, however, will abstain from identifying the souce of this dialogue):

Maybe what I’m saying is, the world might be evolving the way a person evolves. Right? Like, I mean, me for example. Am I getting worse? Am I improving? I don’t know. When I was younger, I was healthier, but I was, uh, wracked with insecurity, you know? Now I’m older and my problems are deeper, but I’m more equipped to handle them.

There is, however, one problem with the movies:  the ends sucked. First, I thought it was because I enjoyed the characters so much. However, on closer thought – taking into account the fact that there’s going to be a third one -, I decided that maybe they were supposed to. Though technically closure shouldn’t happen (these two movies with closures would be truly horrible), I think I felt that there could be some amount of closure to be found in that third movie. There was the early morning, before sunrise; then there was the day, before sunset; what about an account of that night, to finish things – and the twenty-four hours – off? If it comes to India, there’s one person who’s going to be there, first day, first show. Otherwise, as soon as he DVD is out.

For now, Waking Life.

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22 Responses to “I love being told why I’m watching the movie”

  1. Thanks for linking to my review. 🙂
    So you have seen both of them. And you didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t closure? [WARNING: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN EITHER MOVIE, WATCH THEM FIRST, THEN COME BACK AND READ THE REST OF THIS COMMENT. SOME SPOILERS BELOW.] But how could one bring closure to these movies? Problems can’t be solved in a day, relationships can’t be fixed in a night (though they can be forged in one, as the first movie proves). Besides, these two movies are about fleeting encounters, which never bring closure to our lives because there are always “what ifs” involved. What makes the second movie so interesting is that Jesse and Celine get a second chance at love, but at a point that is too late for them. The only way they could have closure is if they had turned back the hands of time and had not made that one night in Vienna their only encounter, and yet, would that night in Vienna have been so special to either one of them if it had only been one night of many that they had shared?
    In any case, I eagerly await your response.

  2. Point 1: You probably have more readers than I do, so thank you for linking to my blog. 😉

    Point 2: What you say, about the movie, is true. You got the order of my reaction reversed: I watched the movie, hated the end (I liked the ideas of the ends, but just didn’t feel anything during them), then decided it was because of a lack of closure and because there was a third movie in the offing. You’re right, it probably was too hasty a decision.
    Thanks. I’m going to change the last paragraph and make it clear. This is one of the best things about a public blog, you know: it’s possible to get yourself clearer on these things.

    When I say the ends sucked, I’m talking especially about the first movie. I realised what I was being shown, I knew I was supposed to be deeply touched, but I just wasn’t.

  3. Point 1 response: I don’t know about that, but thank you. I do find that commenting on other people’s blogs helps increase traffic on one’s blog, especially on blogs with a large, intrinsically connected readership.

    Point 2 response: Movies are largely emotional experiences, and I believe that reactions can differ wildly between people because each person brings different experiences to each movie. If you had gone to Before Sunrise with my experiences and my expectations, perhaps you would have liked the ending more. And if I had gone to the movie with your experiences and your expectations, maybe I would have liked it less. By the way, if you’re looking for more closure, Lost in Translation is a similar movie, in some ways, to these two films (in the exotic location, guy-meets-girl sort of way, though the similarities pretty much stop there), so you might want to try that ending on for size and see if it fits you better. I think it makes the movie, but if you don’t like it, you’re entitled to your opinion.

    Point 3: I think a lot depends on our frame of mind when we see a movie, as well. I didn’t especially like Annie Hall the first time I saw it, but then when I was depressed about a girl and saw the last half of it, I loved it (mind you, if I had seen it from the beginning, who knows?). So, you might go back to Before Sunrise at some point and feel deeply touched by the ending. Or you may not.

  4. There we go. Agreement.

    Final clarification: ‘lack of closure’ is just a theory to explain the fact that I hated the ending.

    I’ve actually been waiting for a copy of Lost in Translation for a while now, and will be watching it as soon as I get a chance to.

  5. S M Rana said

    I don’t want to pass a premature judgement but isn’t this bollified Hollywood? Tarkovsky said that the cultural gulfs are impossible to bridge. That would be sad and I don’t agree but I find a sense of identification in an Indian movie, which I can only find in an international movie if it’s content is truly universal. One must get that “it could be me” or “I have a bit of that in me” to make anything a rewarding experience.

    I am sure both of you must have felt like that in these two films.

  6. It depends what you mean by ‘bollification’. I would say that ‘bollification’ is incorporating elements for many different target audiences in the same movie, in which case this isn’t bollified.

    Do I find that I have to relate to the characters to find it a rewarding experience? Seriously, I don’t know. I was able to relate to Naguib Mahfouz’s characters in Rhadopis of Nubia, but I still bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t in any way a rewarding experience, so obviously the converse is not true.
    You probably are right, SM. This is just me feeling slightly uncomfortable with the idea. I somehow feel it shouldn’t be true. Shoudn’t we be able to feel rewarded by an artistic experience without being able to identify with the characters? I just can’t think of a counter-example, so I have to admit that you are probably right.

    As for relation to this movie in particular, the characters and I are part of a new generation that are really similar enough for us to identify.

  7. S M Rana said

    Hamlet instructs the actors he is supervising to hold “a mirror to nature”. Art is a mirror. Any authentic movie or book is a mirror in which we glimpse our own vistas, and by extension, that of others.That is what makes it interesting.

    Do have a look at my essay on Hamlet .

  8. Last time, I said that you were probably right.
    Let me correct that: you are very much right. Also, it sounds more comforting this time.

    Turns out I’d already read your Hamlet essay earlier. I had it bookmarked in firefox for right after I watched/read it.

    Unnecessary digression:
    I’ve seen two half adaptations. One when I was fifteen when the batch two years senior to me did a play called ‘The Prince’ which had bits of Hamlet and the The Lion King alternating on the stage. Pretty inventive use of the stage.
    The second this May or June on TV. It’s set in the year 2000, in Denmark corporation and Hotel Elsinore, and I was seriously confused because of a palpable lack of Yorick. This one was pretty bad (more because of the acting and the fact that the voices didn’t suit the roles than because of the setting).

  9. And I would direct you, S.M., to my post “No Man Can Write Who is Not First a Humanist”. Art should be a mirror, but it should sometimes be a mirror of what we wish the world was like, as well as what it is.

    As for Tarkovsky, I think he’s right in that you can never really bridge a cultural divide, but each side can build half a bridge and meet in the middle of the stream. After all, the argument given for not releasing Ozu’s films overseas along with Kurosawa’s and Mizoguchi’s was that his films were “too Japanese,” yet I’d say that his films overcame the cultural divide through its universality of themes, and anyone who understands Japanese culture will get even more out of them in the way of subtleties.

    I also would argue that the Internet and the world economy has broken down many cultural divides, or at least demystified them, for many young people, especially, who are more world-wise than their forefathers and mothers were. This includes movies.

  10. Leslie said

    ”Before Sunrise” – the song by Ultraviolet Eye

    [audio src="http://www.lowartmusic.com/mp3/ultravioleteye/EthanHawk/04%20Before%20Sunrise.mp3" /]

  11. S M Rana said

    @ Ronak

    There is a 4 second Hamlet on Youtube!

  12. S M Rana said

    The best Hamlets in that order:

    1.Kenneth Branaughs 94 or 95 version, which is exhaustive and simple.

    2.The BBC TV version. It displays the text.

    3. The old Laurence Olivier version in B/W.

    Ebert wrote somewhere that everybody should set himself the task of understanding Shakespeare’s tragedies during our sojourn. I think it is in his essay on the Branaugh version.

  13. SM, you already told me about the 4 second Hamlet on my post about Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It was good stuff. There’s also Hamlet backwards.

    How is the BBC TV version any better than something else with subtitles?

    Ebert, yet again, is right.

    • S M Rana said

      With subtitles, Branaugh is the best. It’s also the most complete because he hasn’t skipped a line. And long too. (They are all long, except Olivier, perhaps ).

      BBC guys have done a commendable job of Shakespeare’s place in their entirety. It’s a very British interpretation without frills like special effects and elaborate sets. They are the closest to a staged version.

      Akira Kurusawa has given us two magnificent trancreations of Shakespeare in Japanese—Lear as “Ran” and Macbeth as “Spiderweb Castle”.

      Shakespeare in Love, which won an Oscar for best film, is a beautiful imaginary reconstructio ( fictional ) of the life and times of the great poet.

      • Did you know that because of a lack of sets, and an abundance of dialogue, people in Shakespeare’s time used to go to ‘listen’ to a play? Looks like the BBC people like to stay true to tradition.

        I loved both Shakespeare in Love and Spider’s Web Castle (which I watched under the name Throne of Blood). I have to wait for a well-subtitled copy of Ran.

        • S M Rana said

          I completely agree. Shakespeare is best taken neat, that means, read rather than watched. With a good annotated edition ( I prefer the Cambridge texts ) you really have a chance to savour and ponder and linger and soak in. After all it’s the peak of language.

  14. My Shakespeare professor in college said it best: “Shakespeare is meant to be heard.” To analyze the text, yes, it’s best to have a written copy near you, and hopefully one without many stage directions (since Shakespeare didn’t write any). But one must remember that there was little scenery in Shakespeare’s day, so the focus was not on the visuals, as they can be today, but on the words. Shakespeare was a poet of the highest rank, and a master of the English language. In that regard, something like the complete Arkangel Shakespeare would be a wise, though costly, investment (the plays are also sold separately under that label).

  15. No offense to your teacher, Greg/Literary Dreamer (I just found out your name today), but “Shakespeare is meant to be taken neat” sounds nicer to me.

    SM: I think my second encounter with the man was a Cambridge edition of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the first was an Indian edition of Julius Caesar for my ninth and tenth).

    Both of you, I have taken the liberty to correct the comments you messed up, and remove the follow-up.

  16. Well, he might have not actually said that quote (this was almost ten years ago), but he emphasized the point that you make further up this thread: most of the people during Shakespeare’s time went to the theater to listen to it. By the way, I should point out that the three masters of dialogue in movies today are Linklater, Tarantino, and Mamet (Mamet also for plays).

  17. I was just taking issue with the “said it best”.
    Now, I see that SM was talking about reading and you about listening.

  18. Now I understand. Thanks for clarifying, and sorry that we confused you! 🙂

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