Wednesday, March 23, 2016

this constant conversion of my fanciful ambitions

Before Sunrise begins on June 16. Some might know that day as Bloomsday, a celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses, which takes place on that day. I, however, am one of those people who tried reading Ulysses and never got very far. But, I can read about Joyce and have done so. Did so again today. The following is--because, as Luke McKernan puts it in his film blog, 19 July 2014, "Richard Linklater's Before trilogy is more subtly and rewardingly Joycean than any literal transcription of his work to the screen"--me mapping Before Sunrise onto the structure of Ulysses (which itself is mapped onto the structure of The Odyssey).

(Admittedly, some of these will be stretches.)

Ulysses is told in eighteen episodes. As I understand it, the labels for those episodes were not included by Joyce but he used them in his letters and offered them to his friend Stuart Gilbert, who later published the schema.

Episode One: Telemachus, named for Odysseus' son, in my mapping fits the first train scene. Since I want to stretch this whole thing a bit, I'll even say that the German couple fighting (reportedly accusing one another of being alcoholics, but I don't speak German and cannot confirm that) are like the war. Telemachus apparently translates as "far from war"--clever guy that Homer. Celine (Julie Delpy) moves away from the war and finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke).

Episode Two: Nestor, named for an argonaut that Telemachus goes to for information, but he has none. Apparently, this is the part of Ulysses that people quote a lot. I wonder if that is just because not that many people manage to read much further. In my mapping, this is the Lounge Car. The first bits of information. First level of their social penetration as well. In Ulysses, this episode takes place at the school; if I wanted to really stretch things, I might mention that they talk about Celine being a student at the Sorbonne here. In the schema, the art for this episode is history. There is a bit of history here for Jesse and Celine--talk of childhood. (Even as Jesse's story about his grandmother is also the film's first big reference to death.)

Episode Three: Proteus, named for the old man of the sea, and this section is written in a stream of consciousness style. Thematically, this doesn't quite map to my pick, but I put the lead up to and the conversation with the two guys about their play here. This section in Ulysses is a male monologue, so it also fits in that way. Plus, a misbehaved cow seems like just the thing one might come up with when just writing. This scene also doesn't really add to the "plot" and the plot really gets going after this. So, as the first three episodes make up the Telemachiad, this fits as the third, strange, piece of that introductory section.

Episode Four: Calypso, named for the nymph who traps Odysseus to be her husband. In Ulysses, this shifts time backward and gives us another main character. Here, this would map to Jesse and Celine in the tram asking direct questions. Also, while Celine later says she fell for Jesse when he told the story about his grandmother, I think this is where Jesse really gets attached to Celine. She opens up about politics and he can barely take his eyes off her.

Episode Five: I wanted the record store sequence to map ontoAeolus, but the order did not work for that. Instead, we have next Lotus Eaters, which instead of mapping music onto the wind, maps music onto narcotics, I suppose. And, Jesse certainly eyes Celine like she's having a narcotic effect on him (and vice versa).

Episode Six: Hades, named for the god of the underworld, takes place in a graveyard in Ulysses and maps right onto The cemetery scene, Celine and Jesse at the Friedhof der Namenlosen.

Episode Seven: Aeolus, named for the god of the winds, maps onto the carnival sequence, beginning with Jesse and Celine up in the sky in a Ferris Wheel. In Ulysses this episode is told in segments, with headlines dividing them. Here, we get our two leads on the Ferris Wheel, then walking around talking about generations and happy relationships (or the lack thereof).

Episode Eight: Lestrygonians, named for giants and somehow involving food. I couldn't find details too readily on the food connection (the schema refers to "The Lunch"). But, here, we've got Jesse and Celine at a cafe, spotting the monks then interacting with the palm reader. We don't actually see Jesse and Celine eating, but they do seem to have at least had some coffee.

Episode Nine: Scylla and Charbdis, named for a monster and a whirlpool; Odysseus had to choose between these two evils. I wanted to map this onto the walking conversation at the carnival--like the two evils are a relationship that will never be good enough or loneliness, but the map didn't work out that way. Instead, this has to map onto the bit where Celine talks about the Seurat posters/paintings. She talks about people dissolving into the background, the environment being stronger than the people, humans being transitory. This scene doesn't last very long, and I have trouble showing the two evils... Given Celine's minor political bent in this film (and increasing political bent in the sequels), one could stretch this into an environmental thing. Us versus the environment. Or, metaphorically, this could go back to the two evils above--a lie or loneliness. People/relationships matter in the present--this film is all about that--but then they dissolve into the background of your life. On the one hand, you must lose the individuals. On the other, you get to meet new ones.

Episode Ten: Wandering Rocks, named for a danger Circe warns Odysseus about. Also, slightly out of order per The Odyssey--it should come before Scylla and Charbdis--but this is where it is in Ulysses. In Ulysses, this episode is told in nineteen vignettes. Here in Before Sunrise, Celine and Jesse are in the church. Celine's take on the church as linked to the pain of many generations is interesting. She means it positively, but if you think about it, it's quite negative. The "Technic" of this episode in the schema is "Labyrinth." The topic of discussion in Before Sunrise is religion.

Episode Eleven: Sirens (which, per The Odyssey, should have been much earlier), and Celine and Jesse are by the water. In Ulysses, there are music motifs here but what I noticed in Before Sunrise is how there are several background characters who we can assume have their own stories going on. Jesse and Celine are just one couple out of many, two people out of many more. This story is not supposed to be big and important. Between the last section and this one, it's almost like--assuming my mapping fits to any plan on the part of Linklater and Kim Krizan--they wanted to deliberately counter the references backward to The Odyssey because that story is so obviously full of important things, big things. This is Jesse and Celine's first fight, though.

Episode Twelve: Cyclops (should've been earlier), Polyphemus, who Odysseus blinds. There is an unnamed narrator for this episode in Ulysses. And, here in Before Sunrise, we have the unnamed poet.

Daydream delusion
Limousine eyelash
Oh baby with your pretty face
Drop a tear in my wineglass
Look at those big eyes
See what you mean to me
Sweetcakes and milkshakes
I'm a delusion angel
I'm a fantasy parade
I want you to know what I think
Don't want you to guess anymore
You have no idea where I came from
We have no idea where we're going
Lodged in life
Like branches in the river
Flowing downstream
Caught in a current
I carry you
You'll carry me
That's how it could be
Don't you know me?
Don't you know me by now?

Episode Thirteen: Nausicaa (also, should've been earlier, per The Odyssey), about unrequited love. Here, Jesse and Celine play pinball while talking about their exes. This episode in Ulysses apparently goes into parody of romantic stories. In Before Sunrise, among other details, Celine tells her psychiatrist a made up story about a girl who wants to kill her boyfriend. Celine talks about being obsessed with people who you don't really like that much and Jesse finally talks about how he came to Europe with his exgirlfriend and they just broke up all over again in Madrid. Cheerful talk about breaking up.

Episode Fourteen: Oxen of the Sun, named for the Cattle of Helios that Odysseus and his men killed and were punished for killing. Supposed to be more parody here, also some Latin and confusing slang. This is where Jesse talks about Bonobos (though he refers to them as "breeds of monkeys." He's making a point about how sex leads to peace and Celine sees it as a male fantasy. Jesse is the optimistic one; he saw his grandmother in the water droplets, he sees peace in these monkeys. Celine is the cynical one; she fears death 24 hours a day, sees a sexist fantasy in these monkeys, and kills the one man on Jesse's hypothetical island. The gender talk continues in the vicinity of the belly dancer--the "birth dance." The conversation ventures away from the camera briefly, letting Celine and Jesse be a part of the crowd. Then, the dance conversation and the gender roles stuff continues. Ultimately, Celine pronounces:

I believe if there's any kind of God it wouldn't be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there's any kind of magic in the world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed, but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.

Episode Fifteen: Circe is written as a play script in Ulysses. Reportedly, it deals with hallucinations as well. The corresponding scene in my mapping begins with other people, other conversations, none of them in English. Finally, we get to Celine and Jesse and their fake (i.e. hallucinations) phone calls. Structurally, this episode mirrors the tram conversation with the direct questions. It's less natural conversation and more of a gimmicky way of getting at leftover vital information. Regarding the hallucinations, Jesse also suggests that Celine is a Boticelli angel. Extend this episode to the balcony and the boat, like a three-act play. Additionally, the notion that they can remain together until morning and then never see each other again is itself a hallucination. They even both seem to realize it but cannot admit it until later.

Episode Sixteen: Eumaeus, the first person who sees Odysseus when he gets home. Also, the beginning of the conclusionary Nostros bit. The beginning of the end for Celine and Jesse. He talks a bartender into giving him a bottle of wine, she steals glasses, and they end up lying together in the grass talking about whether or not they should have sex if they have no future together. In Ulysses, reportedly, this episode deals in confusion and mistaken identities. In Before Sunrise, this is Celine's and Jesse's chance to shape their limited future based on the decision they made on the boat. The confusion is in the past. Celine talks about watching the sun rise with other people and feeling she wanted to be with someone else. But she is happy to be with Jesse. The mistaken identity is the urge to remain attached versus their decision on the boat. Jesse talks about how he has never experienced anything where he wasn't part of the experience, about being sick of himself, about how as a couple they would similarly get sick of each other. But, being with Celine, he feels like he's somebody else. Celine doesn't want to have sex but then instigates their (presumably; we don't actually see it) having sex. This whole scene is about losing yourself, including through sex and love.

Episode Seventeen: Ithaca, Odysseus's home. In Ulysses, this is in the form of a very organized catechism. Here, we get the last conversation between Jesse and Celine. "Back in real time," as Jesse puts it. They talk about what will happen when they go to their respective homes--she will call her mother, he will go pick up his dog from his friend's place. They dance after happening upon someone playing a harpsichord with an open window. (Dancing, of course, was compared to sex in the previous scene, another way to lose yourself.) She lies with her head in his lap. For Odysseus, Ithaca is home. For Jesse, his literal home is elsewhere, but in this moment, being with Celine is his home, which brings us to...

Episode Eighteen: Penelope, named for Odysseus' wife. In Ulysses, this episode is only eight long stream of consciousness sentences. Here it is the rapid-fire desperation of two people realizing they don't like the plan of not seeing each other again. There's limited time as Celine's train is about to leave. They're holding onto life and love that shouldn't survive. What Odysseus has been doing throughout his Odyssey. Penelope is not waiting yet; this is more like the promise of her being there.

In the Chicago Reader, 2 July 2004, Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, "I suspect that [director Richard] Linklater uses the Ulysses reference because, like Joyce, he's interested in giving a lot of weight to the everyday." I'd call that spot on. Sure, the film deals in love and romance and death and the future, but really, the film is so grounded in the basic interactions (though not quite in real time like Before Sunset will be) that it is more about the mundane than the profound. Or rather, it is telling us that the mundane is profound. Love--so grand in other stories--emerges from simple conversation here. And, really, that's where it comes in reality, as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment