The Insanely Eternal Love.

Now thanks to the vacay after exams I finally got the chance to view all the pending movies on my bucket list (which is insanely long btw). Normally I can’t watch more than 2 in a day, but made an exception because of this beautiful Richard Linklater trilogy that offered one of cinema’s most authentic portrayals of love: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

No, I do not watch romantic films or anything remotely close to that, but this is equally The greatest trilogy ever made appropriately labeled, Lord of the Rings’ for Cigarette-Smoking Cynics.

Filmed over 19 years, in three partsBefore Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight.

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Seemingly cliched, two strangers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train and discover a surprise connection, decide to get off the train for the night and talk.

For them, wandering the streets and canals of Vienna is just something to do while in transit to elsewhere, and they’re killing time with an attractive stranger as best they can in the interim.

Only then can true – if not flawed but inevitable – love emerge. It’s amazing, not just in concept, but in how honest it allows its leads to be.

They say things, brutally openly emotional things that you would never ever hear in a summer romance movie. (Nicholas Sparks adaptations have all but ruined love in the movies.)

I appreciate how people point out cinematic love.

Yes, movies tend to simplify and make rapturous what people generally struggle with. I won’t accuse populist romances of mismanaging people’s expectations of love and sex, but rather state that the Before trilogy is a terrific primer for relationships in a way.

Idyllic locations aside, they more or less want to present people in love over a long time, not lovers in heat.

There’s never any check-ins with couples in mainstream romances, just the blind faith in Happily Ever After” mentalities.

While conventional romances spend almost all of their energy convincing you that, consequences be damned, this particular couple is going to hook up, and it is going to be worth all of our emotional commitment because if they don’t hook up, we’ll, like, die or something.

But these films get you thinking about the real nuts and bolts of relationship-building, and more importantly ask us to confront the consequences of attempting to build relationships in the real world of those illusory and harmful myths that we perpetuate in our romantic fictions.

‘Before Sunrise’ is not a love story. It’s a falling-in-love story, a distinction worth noting.

And the next two examine intimacy after infatuation ends – which is the point at which real love begins.

In Sunset, Celine’s bitterness is rooted in the long shadow that the idealistic romantic fantasy of her one night with Jesse cast on the rest of her life. Her failures with men all come back to their inability to hold a candle to the fantasy that she built around this single Viennese night.

Also, and I can’t stress this enough, these movies are insanely romantic.

And I’m not talking about sickly grand gestures but romantic in seeing what makes two people truly connect. How they speak and turn each other on intellectually.

They just talk. A lot.

And they care.

They discuss the Germans occupying Paris, what art means to them, how cool Nina Simone is, and just what it means that they gave their lives to each other. Now to me, that is way sexier than playing, like, “M’ apparì tutt’ amora” with a ukulele outside someone’s window.

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All of those couples we see in romantic movies, holding hands as they walk down the street before the credits roll?

They’re going to fight eventually.

They’re going to exchange unpleasantries.

Some of them are going to make it, and some of them are not.

The non-permanence of it all is as seductive as it is kind of wistful.Read More »

Worst Case Scenario.

I was 14 when I was told that Dad was dying.

I was sitting on the floor of our house, staring at a collage of family pictures on the wall.

My mother came in and said that she had some news. Sensing the worst, I fixated on the newspaper open in front of me, at an advert for an Italian height enhancing syrup.

It was cancer, in his pancreas, and he might only live a few more months.

Growing up, my father had been the person closest to me. He would take all my childish drama, nuisances and ridiculous questions only to end my day with a chocolate ice-cream.

They were going to try an operation, she told me and my sister, to reduce the pain. As a nurse, she must have known that this was unlikely to work, but she knew her audience and didn’t want to overload us with information.

She must also have known that pancreatic cancer has one of the bleakest outlooks, due in part to a lack of symptoms in the early stages. By the time you start to notice the nausea, jaundice or weight loss, it’s too late to hope that it’s something less serious.

I was blanked out at the thought of imagining my life without the presence of my dad.

Who would drive me to school then every day? 

That night, as I wrote my diary, I could think only about how I felt. Reading it back now I wonder what it was like for my mum, still reeling from the news herself and having to tell the rest of us.

Who would take me to football coaching every evening? 

In pain and alone, she was told “without a warning shot” that her MRI scan showed that the cancer had spread.

“He was basically giving me a death sentence. He sort of couldn’t wait to leave the room and I never saw him again.”

It was one of those situations, the doctor says, where you pull the curtain back and immediately think, “This is not good”. “On very few occasions do you touch something and say, ‘This is cancer’.” 

Who would save me from the terrible scoldings of mom and grandma? 

When she examined the patient’s abdomen it felt “rock hard”.

“She kept saying to me, ‘It’s going to be fine, isn’t it?’

And I’m saying, ‘We’ll do everything we can, let’s just do a few tests and figure out what’s going on.’ At that stage in my mind, I knew it was bad, but I still had to figure out exactly what flavour of bad it was.”

Who would take my side everytime I have a fight with my sister? 

The woman was anxious to be home on New Year’s Eve to make a call to family overseas. But blood tests confirmed that she’d need to stay.

“She said to me, ‘Tell me the worst-case scenario.’ I looked at her. She looked at me. And in my mind I was thinking, ‘She’s not ready for this diagnosis.’

Then her relative stepped in and she said, ‘No, no, she means what’s the worst-case scenario in terms of how long does she have to stay in hospital?’

“At that moment, you realise that we all know exactly what we’re talking about, but we’re all accepting it to different degrees.”

Compartmentalisation seems to be important in coping – she mentions several times that bad news, death, is part of the job.

“You have to be strong for the family. I can easily go back into the staffroom and cry my eyes out, but at that moment I have to be there, I have to be the hand to hold, or the shoulder for the patient to cry on.”

The doctor speaks of the first patient she cared for, a man with metastatic prostate cancer.

She was called into his room by his wife, and as she arrived, the man took his last breath. His wife broke down onto the floor in front of her.

“At that moment, you have to say, ‘I’m sorry, he’s gone.’

And you kind of just have to suck it up and be there for them at that moment because that moment is everlasting for them.”