Thursday, May 23, 2013

Classics: Four Reasons that Before Sunrise is Generation X's Affair to Remember By Lauren Ennis

This really is a small world after all.
In 1957, director Leo McCarey created a frame by frame remake of his 1939 hit romance, Love Affair, as An Affair to Remember. In an unusual twist, the film not only became a success with 1950’s audiences, but went on to become a bona-fide classic that outshone the original. As in fairy tales, three seems to be a charm in Hollywood, and the plot went on to inspire indie favorite Before Sunrise in 1995. Eighteen years later, filmgoers have been able to relive their nineties love affair through Before Sunrise’s commercially and critically successful follow-up Before Sunset and now the final chapter in the saga Before Midnight (opening in US theaters May 24, 2013). History has repeated itself with the success of this series that in many ways serves as another, extended, remake of McCarey’s classic tale of star-crossed sophisticates. Please note that while An Affair to Remember is an established remake of Love Affair, this review will focus upon the similarities between the Before… trilogy and the more well known An Affair to Remember.
1.     THE CHANCE MEETING: While chance meetings between lovers is a plot device that precedes even Shakespeare, the meetings between Jesse and Celine and Nick and Terry contain striking parallels. First, both couples are of differing nationalities, one American and one European. Also, both couples meet while in transit on a trip in Europe; a train in Sunrise and a cruise ship in Affair. In both instances, the man starts the interaction with an awkward conversation that nonetheless charms the woman, although she is initially reserved and guarded. Furthermore, both couples fall in love not in a clichéd ‘at first sight scenario’ but instead through the process of sharing their memories and viewpoints and slowly (maybe not as slowly in Sunrise) getting to know one another. Finally, both couples meet while in places and situations outside of their comfort zones that enable them to reevaluate themselves and gain a fresh, more honest, perception of the world around them.

Gen Xer's play telephone ironcially
2.     MAGIC MOMENTS: In both films the focus is almost solely on the characters and their interactions with one another. It is through this isolation that the audience is able to attain an understanding of and bond with the characters as we witness their bond develop before our eyes. There are select moments, however, in which the characters are brought back to the outside world through interactions with periphery characters. In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine are approached by a fortune teller while sitting outside a café in Vienna. Celine eagerly listens as the ‘psychic’ tells her of the great things that will eventually enter her life. Jesse scoffs at the idea and mocks the psychic, in a rant that Celine describes as “like a little boy looking for attention”, which provides her with greater insight into his insecurities. Similarly, Terry sees a different side of Nick when they visit his grandmother’s villa, and she sees him abandon his suave playboy persona to take on the role of a humble and loving grandson. At one point in Sunrise, the couple encounters a street-poet who offers to write them a poem that they can compensate him for in whatever manner they deem fit. In a moment of unreality in this otherwise realistic film, the poet sells them a poem that perfectly captures the essence of their night together and the uncertainty that they will inevitably face the next morning. In a parallel moment, Nick and Terry’s meeting with his grandmother serves as a break from the film’s reality as they temporarily find refuge in the old woman’s serene haven. It is during this scene that the couple realizes their growing feelings for each other, and the emotional security they find in their budding relationship.

3.     THE PACT: In both films, the couples are forced apart when their life altering trip ends and they return to their former lives. Both couples realize the importance of what they have found with each other, and refuse to let this be the end of their relationship. Rather than maintain contact, however, they instead opt to test the fondness of their absent hearts and meet in six months at the point of their departure. While this may seem like an ideal solution for Terry and Nick, who first must shed their current dead-end relationships before pursuing a new one, the decision proves disastrous in both stories. In Sunrise, Jesse and Celine maintain that any contact other than face-to-face meeting would only result in awkwardness in what they see as the inevitable “fizzing out” of their relationship. In the film’s sequel, Before Sunset, it is revealed that the plan damaged their relationship more than any awkwardness could, because Celine was forced to leave Jesse waiting in Vienna in order to attend her grandmother’s funeral. The six-month pact proves to be equally distressing to Nick and Terry as, in a strikingly similar scenario, he is left waiting for Terry after she is struck by a car on her way to meet him. In both scenarios, the couples’ love for one another is tested by the uncertainty of time and distance, only to ultimately be rekindled stronger than ever.
For good measure, the one that started it all, Love Affair

4.     ARTISTIC REUNION: After the suffering that both couple’s endure while they attempt to move on, they are eventually reunited with a little help from the muse. In Affair, Nick’s relationship with Terry provides him with the emotional security and inspiration to return to his first love; painting. During their six-month separation, he finds employment painting houses as a day job until he finally achieves success as a portrait painter. It comes as no surprise that his first truly great work is a portrait of Terry wearing his grandmother’s shawl, which serves as a tribute to the two most important women in his life. Terry meanwhile, has avoided contacting him after the car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her only connection to him after the accident is the painting, which was given to her by Nick’s art dealer after he took pity upon her. Even when Nick arrives at her apartment with the shawl, she still refuses to tell him the truth and hides her disability. It is only when Nick sees the painting in her bedroom that he realizes the truth and they finally reconcile. In Before Sunset, Jesse and Celine have had no contact with one another in the nine years since their first meeting. In order to cope with his empty marriage to another woman, Jesse writes a novel about his night with Celine that goes on to become a popular success. The book’s tour takes him to Celine’s home town of Paris, where he finds her waiting for him at a book signing. For Jesse, the novel serves not only as a celebration of their past ,but also as a declaration of his continued love for her in the present, and undying hope of meeting her again. Although Celine is initially hesitant, she eventually reveals that she still shares his feelings when she sings him a song she wrote about their night in Vienna and her desire to somehow recapture it. Through their art, both Jesse and Celine and Nick and Terry find the courage to overcome their past disappointments and give a second chance to the affairs that they always remembered.

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