“I have this planet of regret sitting on my shoulders.” — Jesse, Ethan Hawke’s character in Reality Bites (1994)
There is a long essay by Dan Chiasson in the June 5, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books about Richard Linklater’s trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight.
Since self saw Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight in real time — that is, at the time they were released (as opposed to renting on Netflix, say), the films too mark moments in her life, each separated by nine-year gaps.
This morning, she sits in the living room preparatory to writing, and what she finds while flipping through cable channels is Reality Bites. Oh the music, the music, the music: Social Distortion, Talking Heads, Frampton, The Knack, Lisa Loeb . . . And there’s Hawke telling Winona, My Dad just died . . .
Self realizes that Hawke has been in so many movies that she considers “significant” in her life: Reality Bites, Hamlet (the one where Denmark is a corporation), Gattaca. And he did the audio books for The Call of the Wild and White Fang, which self played every day for son years ago, when ferrying him to and from school.
Reality Bites must have been filmed before Hamlet. Hawke just transfers his slacker personality from one movie to another, without a break. Self applauds the strategy.
Here’s a moment in Before Sunset that is reproduced in part in the Dan Chiasson essay. A French journalist has just asked Jesse, who’s on a book tour, to share details on his next project. Jesse replies:
Ah, I don’t know, man, I don’t know . . . I’ve been . . . I’ve been thinking about this . . . Well, I always kind of wanted to write a book that all took place within the space of a pop song, you know, like three or four minutes long, the whole thing.
The story, the idea is that . . . there’s this guy. Right? And . . . he’s totally depressed. I mean, his great dream was to be a lover, an adventurer, you know, riding motorcycles through South America, and instead he’s sitting at a marble table, eating lobster, and he’s got a good job and a beautiful wife, right? But you know, everything that he needs. But that doesn’t matter, ’cause what he wants is to fight for meaning.
You know, happiness is in the doing, right, not in the . . . getting what you want . . .
You see what self means about Hawke? His performances are always so natural; you seem to be watching him rather than a movie. Could Russell Crowe or Christian Bale ever do these lines? Don’t think so.
He makes such a virtue out of being inarticulate. In that, his appeal is so, so quintessentially American.