Arts and Entertainment

The “Before” Trilogy and Love at First Sight

The media often portrays love at first sight with rose colored glasses and sometimes doesn’t depict it like how it is: a normal relationship with complexities of its own.

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By Sabrina Chen

Popular culture continues to maintain the omnipresent romantic idea of love at first sight. It’s one of the oldest tropes of film and literature: our two protagonists fall in love the minute they see each other, and what follows is their passionate, lifelong connection. From Anna Karenina and Alexei Vronsky in Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” to the author Mark Twain falling in love with his future wife the second he saw her picture, this concept of love at first sight often seems fantastical. One particular film directed by Richard Linklater, “Before Sunrise” (1995), is a classic depiction of love at first sight, with a sequel “Before Sunset” (2004) building on the previous film’s depiction of love.

Céline (Julie Delpy), a student returning to university in Paris, and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who initially traveled to Europe to spend time in Madrid, meet each other on a train and spark up a conversation. Jesse convinces Céline to get off in Vienna with him, and they proceed to explore the city until the next morning. They stop at cafés, stores, and restaurants and converse about numerous topics, including love, life, religion, and humanity. Jesse’s witty remarks, in tandem with Céline’s introspective musings, add to the notion of their destiny as soulmates.

The cinematography of the “Before” trilogy is alluring and intimate, bringing us closer to Jesse and Céline and immersing us in each moment, as though we are an omniscient spectator observing these two people engaged with each other. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle makes a keen observation of the power effective cinematography holds: “The point of cinematography […] is the balance between the familiar and the dream […] It is being engaged and yet standing back and noticing something that perhaps other people didn’t notice before.” Thoughtful cinematography truly does bring the minute, often unseen aspects of life to light, giving meaning to these moments while also contrasting between the corporeal and the ethereal.

The last movie of the “Before” trilogy, “Before Midnight” (2013), is far less romanticized than its predecessors. The easygoing Jesse and Céline have now grown up and face private problems. They have their first real fight and seem less romantic than before, a stark difference from the previous movies, suggesting that love evolves or may even devolve during the course of a relationship. In contrast to the nuance this movie portrays love with, the first two movies offer an innocent outlook on love at first sight. A similar movie, “(500) Days Of Summer” (2009), teaches an important lesson on love through the main protagonist, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and completely falls in love with an idealistic version of her. However, when they part ways, Tom realizes their love was far from perfect, as he had overly romanticized their relationship while failing to realize its decline. With Céline and Jesse, one must ask if their relationship can thrive outside of their youth and a scenic location. Were they overly idealizing their relationship and forgetting about their life outside of it? With the last movie of the trilogy, there’s a departure from that idealization and an emphasis on what their relationship truly is.

What “love at first sight” movies don’t show us are the problems that occur after the initial getting together and utter love phase. Problems are bound to happen in any relationship, and the said “love at first sight” could be a short-lived and even foolish love depending on the people and circumstances. Media does not frequently depict the difficult components of fast-paced love. There should be an awareness of how love at first sight is like any love, prone to complications and drawbacks, with no certainty of perfection. Though Jesse and Céline’s love story through the first two movies of the trilogy is blissfully ignorant, the final movie does a better job of representing the flaws in their relationship. We experience the evolution of their relationship as they mature from their dreamy love at first sight moments to an imperfect but real relationship.