December 2, 2005

Dear Wendy,

Have you seen the “Before Sunrise/Before Sunset” series of films? My friends and I are having a debate over it and I want to know what you think.

Basically my question comes down to, do you think there is only one person in the whole world you could have a deep cosmic understanding with? And if yes, what if you never meet that person?! It’s kind of a depressing thought.

In case you haven’t seen the , a young man and woman meet in Paris and fall in love after one night and then they set up their next meeting, but they don’t exchange phone numbers because they are trying to be romantic and do stuff differently, but then the girl’s grandmother dies so she can’t make their meeting! And then they don’t meet each other for nine years. He gets married in the meantime and writes a book about their encounter and then she comes to his book signing in Paris and that’s how they meet again. (It’s cool because the actual were really made nine years apart, so they actually look like they’ve aged seven years.)

It’s hard to explain if you haven’t seen the , but these characters seem to understand each other right away, you can tell from their conversation (which is very intimate and deep right away) and, well, I’m frustrated because I haven’t met someone whom I feel understands me like that! Do you think that is realistic?

Thank you,



First of all, thanks so much for giving me an excuse to go to Blockbuster’s. These days I rarely have time for , but your query made it all Serious Research.

I don’t mean to smash this series if you were really into it, but I have to say I thought these films were somewhat less than stellar. While some of the dialogue was intriguing and the director clearly talented, I found the characters ultimately pretentious and annoying--especially in Part 2. And I felt the basic premise was false.

I’ll explain what I mean by jumping to the end first. . ..

Yes, I am about to spoil the plots of both , so consider yourself forewarned.

“Jesse” says, by way of explaining why he’s angling for an affair with his estranged Frenchie, “There’s no joy or laughter in my home” and he doesn’t want his 4-year-old son to grow up like that. Well, hello? If you want joy and laughter in your home, then you have to bring that to your home; it doesn’t just “happen.” And how does his hanging out with French Fry and--the viewer is left to imagine, potentially staying in France--help anything? Will his son back home grow up with more joy with divorced parents and never seeing his father? Somehow I don’t think so. I found Jesse’s self-serving rationalizations really too much to bear (especially without any popcorn in our home).

Granted, many of Jesse’s lines were funny: “I feel like I’m running a small nursery with someone I used to date.” But if you’re asking me to extrapolate from this movie to real life, I have to say that I found his perspective not romantic at all. To me it was just plain immature. He complains about his sex life after the baby instead of doing something about it, and that made me fear he would be doomed to the same unhappiness with French Fry (“Celine,” played by the beautiful Julie Delpy).

I also feel it’s false to pretend that you can have a “deep understanding” with someone so soon after meeting them, and especially after sleeping with them. Being sexually involved right away tends to cloud judgment and an honest assessment of true compatibility. And even if you wait, deep knowledge and love for another person always builds. My personal view is that it comes only after you’ve truly invested in the relationship. That is not just because--as many say--people relax and are “more themselves” when there is a commitment, but because the giving intrinsically creates love and identification with the other person. Can you deeply understand someone you haven’t given to? I don’t believe so.

Jesse says to Celine, “There’s gotta be more to love than commitment,” and he is right. It’s called unselfishness.

So resist the temptation to idealize the romance between this pair. On the surface it all looks “cosmic,” but trust me, this kind of thing doesn’t last. It only lasted 9 years in this case because the “lovers” never saw each other the entire time.


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