It was a profoundly sad film, but not in any obvious manner. Nothing too egregious occurs. The plot isn't that complicated (well, it is, but not in a traditional way). It isn't the end of the world, no one has cancer, no one tragically dies in a car accident. Still, it left me feeling profoundly sad.
The first of the series was filmed in the 90's. On the surface, the story is simple. A couple meet on a train somewhere in Europe (he is an American 20 something and she is a French 20 something). They spend one full day together but don't exchange any contact information (because they think it is tragic when a relationship just sort of fizzles out over time). The movie is nothing but the two walking around in the streets of Vienna and having very realistic conversations about life, upbringing, relationships and (psuedo) philosophy, etc. It is about connecting with a complete stranger.
The second movie picks up 9 years later (both in the plot and in real time). They are now in their early thirties. He has written a book about their encounter and she seeks him out at a reading in Paris. They are both older, a touch more cynical about life. He is unhappily married to another woman but the film ends with the strong suggestion that the two main characters will end up together. Again the movie just follows them in (this time in Paris), talking.
This last installment that I just watched has them now in their 40's (again both in real life and in the plot). It's an incredible idea to have a trilogy that spans nearly 3 decades in this way. As the writers have it, they are now married with two little girls. They seem to get along fine, but both have resided into that middle aged couple role--it's about the kids, and mostly about negotiating logistics of everyday responsibilities, now. I think the writer could have easily made it about some super couple that is just as madly in love with each other in their 40's as they were in their 20's and in some sense, that may have been truer to the first two films (while in another, perhaps more important sense, it would have violated the spirit of the first two). But I guess, the writer knew better.
They are middle-aged now. Their faces and bodies are weathered from years of wear and tear. There is little trace left of the romantic idealism (and other sorts of idealisms) once so prevalent in the previous two movies. They look upon another young couple (that are probably in their 20's) with a look that expresses, "I remember when..." It's as if their love story is no longer the stuff of stories--their time has passed. And the entire, what might be considered as the third act, (if there are separate acts in this film) centers around an incredibly realistic argument that occurs between the couple. Yes, it's like nearly an hour of arguing in a very realistic fashion. She feels like she has always had to sacrifice her life for his happiness; she says she isn't happy. She leaves their room repeatedly, before returning to make a further point. He feels like he's dedicated his life to her, (though he does not deny an occurrence of infidelity). In the end, nothing is really resolved, but they fight late into the night until they are both too tired to go on. If the story were to continue, the conflict would arise again inevitably and there would be no easy solution---at least that is the sense I get from the end of the film. But the movie concludes with the two of them sitting at a coffee table--her eyes are wrapped in tears from a recent cry, but they are trying their best to flirt as if to paint over the ongoing conflict for a time, to face it another day. The conflict is deep and unlikely to be resolved within the span of a film.
It is common to wince when say, a scene in a horror film is too realistic. When the blood and gore looks all too recognizable--to some extent we experience what we might expect someone actually in the portrayed scenario to experience. Even though we may not have ever experienced the scenarios depicted on film, we relate to them because it seems and feels real to us. Our mirror neurons fire, pupils dilate, muscles tense up, we go into fight or flight mode and somehow it all bounces around in our souls. I suppose I experienced something similar with this film. Of course, there wasn't any blood or guts, but it seemed so sincere and painful.
The arguments, the evolution of a relationship, the disappointment and impermanence.... it all seemed so real.
This morning, I was thinking about all of this on my drive to work. Mixed in among these thoughts were flashes of my goals and aspirations over the last decade or two. When I was very young, I wanted to be a lawyer (really because my mom said it would be good for me). But then I wanted to be a pro athlete (I think every boy goes through this sort of phase), then a rockstar, and now a professional philosopher. I've chased some of these dreams with more effort than others, and the last 5 years have been dedicated to my last endeavor (as will the next 5-6+). What hit me this morning though was the fact that pursuing a goal means making a sort of complicated transaction. The currency passed between hands isn't merely the effort and the financial investment it is also an exchange of time (and all that that entails). Years of our lives devoted to learning a skill or trade, climbing the corporate ladder, or what have you. And our bodies, our minds, our relationships will feel the strains of our time travel, they will flip the bill. We will rush ahead through our lives and can never have that time back. I wonder if all that I would like to achieve or obtain in my life is really worth the cost....is it really worth my life?