Now come the spoilers.
Before Sunrise starts with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Paris. He wrote a book about his night in Vienna with Celine (Julie Delpy). Can you blame him? It’s a fictionalized account, but what story isn’t? Everyone exaggerates to a certain degree, otherwise the story wouldn’t be believable. Some parts are overblown, and others underplayed; the trick is to know which part of the story needs what.
Jesse is signing copies of his book, and answering questions about it at Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It gets a bit meta, in the sense that the journalists are all asking questions and positing theories that fans have had since Before Midnight was released nine years prior.
Of course, right on cue, Celine walks in. She and Jesse go for a walk and they discuss what has been going on in their lives since they first met. Jesse is married, has a son, and has moved to New York, since that is what big time authors do.
Celine is an enviromental activist. Her boyfriend is a photojournalist, who spends most of his time out of town. Most of her ex-boyfriends are married, and they have all told her that she is responsible for making them who they are. No one wants to hear that.
Eventually, they get around to discussing Vienna, and of course, their versions of events wildly differ. One persons “best night ever” is someone elses “walk in the city.” I’m sure all of us have had discussions that turned into he said/she said, or Rashomon; I know I have. We often place too high a value on small details, or ascribe meaning to things that don’t have one, all the while having a large blind spot to the obvious.
Before Sunset doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to recreate the previous film, nor does it try to reinvent the wheel. You cannot recreate or relive a moment; doing so alters the original. The more we think about the past, the more we change it; if ever so slightly. Often we do it subconsciously, or maybe our exaggerations alter our perceptions of reality. Then, when we are confronted with incontrovertible proof as to what actually happened, we don’t want to believe it.