Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
Director Richard Linklater completes his trilogy about Jesse (Ethan Hawke), and Celine (Julie Delpy) who met on a train to Vienna, spent a magical night together walking its streets (in Before Sunrise), met again years later in Paris where Jesse, unhappily married to an American, was signing copies of his novel based on their experience (in Before Sunset), and now almost 20 years after their first meeting are living together (but not married) with their two young daughters. They are near the end of a six-week vacation in Greece as guest of a wealthy writer.
The issues they face threaten to undermine that old cliché that ended romances, “And they lived happily ever after.” Jesse is not only the father of two young daughters sired with Celine, he also is father to Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), a son from his first marriage and whom he has seen just a few times because his embittered ex-wife places obstacles in their way. The two have bonded closely during the two weeks together, and after taking him to the airport for the return flight to the States, Jesse discusses with Celine the possibility of their moving to America so he can spend more time with his son. Jesse can see this only though his feeling of guilt over being absent from his growing son’s life, but Celine sees things very differently because she has been offered the job of her dreams in Paris.
The dialogue is so insightful and delivered by all the actors so well, that this film is far superior to most cinema romances. The principals prove again that they are two of the finest thespians in film. That said, as a person of faith I must say that there are aspects of this trilogy that trouble me. Although I wanted Jesse and Celine to come together in the second film, Jesse did betray his marriage vows by divorcing his wife and leaving her and his then young son to go off and live with his first love. No wonder that his former wife hates him. His absence from raising his son is of his own doing. Also troubling is that for some reason he and Celine did not marry. The Sixties-born scorn of marriage as a bourgeois institution might have influenced them, but it is too bad that the stability it brings to a relationship is denied them at the moment of stress and strain. We are left to wonder what their future will be.
1. How does this series show the effects that our choices make in our lives?
2. Can you blame Jessie’s wife for “hating” him? How was his choice, apparently made at the end of the 2nd film, one between two “goods” —his commitment to his wife and son, contained in his wedding vow, as opposed to a relationship with a true soul mate? It is easy when our choices are between stark evil and good, but what about between two goods?
3. Note in the table discussion the women are more articulate than the men. Why do you think this is so?
4. How does the film show that as we get older our values change, or perhaps, values once in the background become more important than before? How has Jesse’s son’s entering his teen years forced him to consider what he should do?
5. How has Celine’s refusal to take second place to Jesse affected their situation? What plan might they come up with that might do justice to both of their aspirations?
6. Neither Jesse nor Celine seems to have faith in God: if they did, what difference might this make?