Film-Philosophy 25 (2):110-129 (2021)

This article examines the Kierkegaardian existentialism set in motion by Richard Linklater's Before trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. In doing so, it asserts the efficacy of cinema as a medium of existential import, one that is particularly suited to give form to Søren Kierkegaard's project. The identification of three existential stages of life – the aesthetic, ethical, and religious – is perhaps Kierkegaard's most notable contribution to philosophy. This article contends that Linklater's aesthetic strategy – namely, his distinctive use of long dialogic takes and open endings – grapples with these existential categories: the aesthetic and ethical existence-spheres, as well as the border zone of irony that rests between them. By mapping the shifting utility of the long take and open endings throughout the trilogy, the article charts the differing existential states of the trilogy's enduring couple, Jesse and Céline, as well as the ensuing complications that arise from their clash. In particular, the Before trilogy demonstrates the difficulty of reconciling aesthetic desire and ethical responsibility. Focusing on this dilemma, the article goes on to discuss how the differing existential states of Jesse and Céline prevent a proper appropriation of the ethical requirement into their lives, and that this existential disparity is what eventually surfaces the dysfunction of their romantic union.
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DOI 10.3366/film.2021.0164
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