-The Case for Binging

photo I’m not going to talk about Game of Thrones (I’m not, I’m not, I’m not….), even though Sunday night’s episode will most likely go down in pop culture history as one of the most talked-about television “moments” ever. (A great piece to read here [SPOILERS WITHIN]). But why I mention it is I wouldn’t have experienced what I did on Sunday night—the shattering viewing, the post-show Twitter explosion and subsequent brilliant and entertaining podcast and recap post-mortems—if I hadn’t been caught up on the series. I’ll admit, I’m a late-comer to the brilliance of Game of Thrones. I didn’t hop on board at the beginning because, to be honest, the genre isn’t really my cup of tea. But after a couple of seasons of hearing people I respect go on and on about how good it is, I felt I was really missing out on something. So I did something that has truly become a hallmark of our current place and time in civilization: I binge-watched. I got all caught up and was able to watch the Season 3 premiere as a full-fledged member of society, and, subsequently, to ride every high and low of this incredible season 4 with everyone else in the Twittersphere. But it’s not just Game of Thrones that gave me this beautiful understanding of the joy of binge-watching. I missed out at the beginning but caught up via binging with Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, Friday Night Lights and Mad Men, the best decisions of my pop-culture-loving life. I still have binge sessions ahead of me as I long to catch up with Justified and Downton Abbey (I know, I know), and Sundance is enabling me with their recent mini-series Rectify and Top of the Lake, both of which are currently sitting on my DVR, just waiting for the next rainy Saturday (darn you, Los Angeles weather). And, of course, there’s Netflix, which sucked me in with House of Cards and Arrested Development marathons of late. Binge-viewing truly is the latest and greatest trend in pop culture history and I’m its poster child.

But no matter how prevalent binge-watching is in my television-viewing life, it just never seemed to translate over to my movie-loving one. No matter how many times Spike TV puts all the Star Wars movies on, I never find myself watching them all at once. No matter how much I love the Godfather movies, I have never watched all three in one sitting. There’s just something about movies, they are supposed to be stand-alone experiences, each one to be tasted and digested on their own. And yet, earlier this year, I found myself faced with a dilemma. In January, as I was looking over the movies to be released this year, I noticed one of the most highly-anticipated ones was Before Midnight, the third in the trilogy of Richard Linklater films about a couple (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet in Europe and proceed to have a relationship that stretches over decades (and three films). I had never seen either of the first two films, Before Sunrise (1995) or Before Sunset (2004) , but I saw that the final installment, Before Midnight, was coming out this year and it was getting really good buzz, even some pre-Oscar talk after it screened at Sundance in January. Even though I had always been curious about the two films and they’d been sitting in my Netflix queue for years, I’d never gotten around to actually watching them. Well, now I had a deadline. I was determined to see the first two movies before the new one came out.

Flash forward to mid-May when I stumbled on a release date for Before Midnight: May 24. Gulp. I had 2 weeks to catch up. So, to make a long story short, I watched Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and then, in the theatre, Before Midnight, all in a span of about 2 ½ weeks. The experience led me to look at filmmaking in a different way than I ever had before. These movies were made over a span of 18 years, 9 years between each movie, but it is oh-so-clear that the vision of all three was a completely singular one and the three movies present such a unique and creative approach to story-telling. We’ve seen hundreds of “sequels” before, but no other sequel or sequels have come close to what this trilogy is able to do. You can feel the gaps in famous other sequels, even the really good ones like Godfather 2 or Toy Story 2. They are different, separate entities. They share similar characters and carry storylines, but they stand by themselves, each one. No matter how a sequel may try to pick up where the previous one left off, unless they were filmed at exactly the same time, the time and space between them always shows up, whether it’s in advancements in technology, the aging of characters, or even new actors playing same characters. But the experience of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, however, is nearly seamless. The gaps in time between the movies is used as a major plot point, as we see the characters 9 years apart, the exact amount of time that passes between movies. Each movie picks up exactly where it should, like a great book you’ve put down for a while and pick up again years later. In fact, that’s the best way to say it: other sequels are entirely new books, this trilogy is three new chapters in the same book.

I have to tell you, I am so grateful that I didn’t see the first one back in 1995, because if I would have had to wait 9 years to check in on these characters again, I might not have been as vested. But I was so taken in by these characters after the amazingly absorbing Before Sunrise that I could hardly wait to watch Before Sunset and I nearly ran to the theatre to see Before Midnight, for fear of reading something that would ruin the experience for me—but, mostly, because I was aching to see what had happened to the characters and where they were now. It was my ability to binge-watch that made the experience of these movies so rich. You gotta love technology.

I really don’t want to spoil anything about these movies for you if you haven’t seen them, so let me just tell you that watching these movies requires the same time and patience as reading a good book. You must stay involved, and you must listen. These movies are not plot-driven, they are about people, they are about a relationship, they are about how people talk to each other, how people are. They are about love, yes, but, mostly, these are movies about life. Sounds corny, I totally know, but that’s what these movies did to me. What director Linklater and actors/co-writers Hawke and Delpy do is literally create these characters who are all at once utterly believable and interesting enough to want to spend two (or six) hours with and they show what life has done to them. But, more than anything, these movies show the beauty of conversation. That irreplaceable and unequaled experience you have when you meet someone new who you find interesting and the totally rapturous journey of getting to know them. Step one: meet; step two: get to know each other; step three: life. That’s it. But it’s in that simplicity, in the basic building blocks of human interactions, human relationships and life itself, where these movies really hit home and become thoroughly engaging.

I highly recommend you find Before Sunrise and Before Sunset on DVD and watch them and then go to the theatre and watch Before Midnight, which is currently playing. And if that gets you addicted to binge-viewing, well, I heartily apologize. And I’d recommend Breaking Bad next.