Readers Write In #177: Before Sunrise in 2020

Posted on May 16, 2020

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(by Harish Prakash)

“You know what drives me crazy? It’s all these people talking about how great technology is, and how it saves all this time. But what good is saved time, if nobody uses it? If it just turns into more busy work…”

Jesse says that to Celine in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (streaming on Netflix). It rings a bell in these strange times when the technology is now an extended body part. This led me to imagine if Jesse and Celine could have met in 2020 and forged the same connection as they did in 1995.

Let’s imagine Jesse is on the Eurail pass traveling to Vienna to catch a plane to the US and Celine is returning to Paris after visiting her grandmother. In ’95, we see them both with a book in hand. The books are replaced with devices now. I imagine Jesse looking into his iPhone that is connected to a headphone. Celine is reading a book on her Kindle. Since Jesse has his ears plugged and eyes glued to the screen, he probably does not hear or see the German couple arguing on the train. He doesn’t get a chance to ask Celine what they are arguing about and extend the conversation into the night. In this scenario, they never meet.

Let’s assume they do talk, and Jesse does convince Celine to get off the train in Vienna. The old Jesse only had a notepad in ’95 and was not sure how to spend the night in Vienna. I imagine the new internet-savvy Jesse has read a blog post on, 10 must-visit tourist spots in Vienna if you only have a day. He visits these sites with Celine using Google maps for navigation. In some cases, they rush from one site to another before it shuts for the day. The conversation between them are in the form of arguments. We should visit A first and then go to B, you are navigating all wrong, you check your phone, my connectivity is bad, and so on. They have no time to stop for thought-provoking conversations with each other, or chat with the play artists, palm readers, and poets. All those freewheeling discussions on feminism, love, sex, death, and reincarnation never happen for a lack of time.

Jesse: [stops Celine and positions her in front of him at arm’s length]
Jesse: Uh… I’m gonna take your picture. So I never forget you or, uh, or all this.
Celine: Okay. Me too

Jesse and Celine take pictures of each other with their smartphones, instead of looking at each other with their eyes in ’95. They share their mobile numbers, emails, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles or maybe search and find them later. Celine asks Jesse to share hi-resolution photos of the trip. The entire trip’s memories are stored in clouds and shared between them.

Finally, the dilemma about whether to keep in touch and meet after 6 months in ’95 turns irrelevant since Jesse and Celine don’t part with a heavy heart. As soon as they get on their respective train/plane they message each other. They facetime after they have reached home across continents. And maybe they keep in touch for a few years until…

And that’s why Before Sunrise in 2020 does not ring the same as the one in ’95. Curse you, technology.