September 28, 2015

Must Watch Before You Die #45: The 'Before...' Trilogy (1995-2013)

Several years ago, I had this really beautiful relationship with a very special girl. To be honest, it was far from being a relationship. It was just one year of phone conversations, and she did not feel for me the way I did for her. But that one year of bonding with her is one unforgettable chapter of my life. And out of all the conversations we had, I especially remember one. She was a girl of few words and, by her own confession, of limited imagination. And she hardly spoke at length and she hardly told me stories. But this one time she told me these words which were really, really special for me. She said: 

Imagine a beautiful park. You are strolling in that park, and so am I. We find each other and we like talking to each other. But there is a fence separating the two of us. Both of us know that neither of us can cross that fence. So we walk along the fence, in wonderful togetherness, having an unforgettable time, and totally loving it. And then, we need to walk away from the fence and hence we go our different ways. We get busy with our other duties in that beautiful park of ours and never meet again. You know what is the best thing about this vision, when I think of you and me in that park? I see that there is no sadness, at all.

By the time that year of phone conversations ended, she got engaged and was soon married. We have not been in touch for all these years and it is unlikely that we will ever meet again to have any of similar conversations. This chapter, this really blessed chapter of my life, is over and is now only a part of the memories of my personal journey.

But then, I have been fortunate enough to experience more such relationships, of extra-ordinary connection, with other men and women, and some have been painfully romantic. Life has been unpredictible and life has been beautiful. And I have lived it with this simple mantra - when life offers you something, you have to say yes, unless it conflicts with your conscience. If it feels right, you have to go with the flow, and at times take the plunge, and the flight you experience with your fellow-traveller can enrich you in the most unexpected ways. You just have to keep faith.

You have to keep faith when you find some special, someone you connect with. You have to let go of certain inhibitions and you have to indulge. Because if you don't do that, you can never be sure. Suppose you find a stranger on a train and you want to talk to her. But you don't and you inhibit yourself. You will never get to know that she too wanted to talk to you. You will never get to know what could have happened if you really connected. But what if you did connect and felt that there is something beyond physical attraction in play here? Would you take another leap of faith and indulge in that person, despite it looks too soon, and too dangerous, and too crazy? Instead of wondering about all these questions and regretting later in your life, shouldn't we just follow our heart and do what feels right? I have always done that. Well, almost always. And I have never ever regretted any of those moments. And no wonder I have this tremendous sense of gratitude toward life, for gifting me with all those wonderful memories.

And one of the most wonderful gifts life has given me is this trilogy of films by Richard Linklater. If these three films do not qualify as "must-watch-before-you-die", nothing would. The greatness of these films is that they have all the amazing qualities of great movies - characters, dialogue, heart-wrenching conflict and breathtaking resolutions, but then, they have more. These three films are painted with the incredible sensation of passing of time, telling the story of eighteen years in less than twenty-four hours from the lives of our protagonists. This exceptional and unprecedented use of time makes these films not only great, but most original, inimitable, unforgettable and an inseparable part of you once you have experienced them.

But then I also feel there is so much more in these films that you overlook in the first watch. I am amazed how the first two films are "movie-like" because they take you through the magical phase of romantic love. And the last film is "life-like" as it deals with a long-standing relationship that is surviving all problems. There is so much to learn from Jesse and Celine, especially how they respectfully listen to each other during their long conversations. A very dear friend very rightly remarked that the biggest reason behind the strength and longevity of their relationship is that they know how to talk and listen to each other. I rewatched 'Before Midnight' just a few days ago and I had tears streaming down my face as it ended. I totally broke down admiring the divine, soulful connection of love these two display, time and again, holding each other's hands through life's worst moments. If only, we could be like them!

Can we be like them? Can we experience togetherness and love and understanding like this "American teenager" and this "old French woman"? Can life be so kind to us as it has been to them? Are we destined for something even half as beautiful? I think the answer to these questions lies in this line from Wim Wender's 'Wings of Desire' (1987). If you look carefully, you will agree with me that this line defines every plot point in the lives of the wonderful Celine and Jesse. I hope it will define every plot point of my life, and yours: I don't know if there's destiny. But there's a decision. Decide!


  1. Beautifully written. Thank you so much sir for introducing us to this amazing trilogy a year back. It has really changed my perspective towards Cinema and Life. I consider these films as some of the most beautiful films ever written. Even my personal favourite is "Before midnight". Sometimes even i have this desire of exploring opportunities like Jesse and Celine. Just initiating a converstation with someone coz there's nothing as beautiful as a healthy conversation with a beautiful soul. Unfortunately,very few people entertain.😂

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