The slacker genre and post-modern condition in the films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset

Those movies categorized under the Slacker genre break away from conventional Hollywood style in many respects.  The very term ‘Slacker’ is taken after a Richard Linklater movie of the same name released in 1991.  Made as an experimental project, the film became a cult classic and impressed the critics as well.  It is not often that a movie would spawn a genre of its own as Slacker did.  Starring Linklater himself in the lead character role, the movie lays aside well-trodden, formulaic plot and structure.  Instead, it adopts a ‘scatter-brained’ narrative style, characterized by frequent shifting of focus from one character to another, seemingly at random.  But behind this apparent chaos is an orchestrating directorial mind at work. (Jardine, 2010)  And its appeal is not easy to grasp at the outset.  The postmodern basis of the genre is also evident in the apparent moral apathy of the characters in the film.

In Slacker and other movies of the genre such as Mutual Appreciation and The Puffy Chair what’s at play is youthful resistance to social conformity and discipline.  By not assimilating themselves into the corporate world of work and by assuming a casual (bordering on lethargic) attitude to everyday existence, the characters in the film show irreverence toward the concept of work ethic.  This attitude is also evident in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, albeit manifest in a more sophisticated manner.  The apparent lack of values and virtues should not be evaluated using prevailing social norms (or their representations on-screen).  Instead, seen from a post-modern stance, there are indeed virtues and values in the choices and actions of the slackers.  An acquaintance with the writings of influential post-modern philosopher Frederic Nietzsche and his formulation of morality, virtue and value will elucidate and help appreciate the beauty behind the film’s amoral universe.  Also, another definitive character of the slacker genre, which both the movies exemplify, is the lack of materialistic ambition on part of the male protagonist.  As Linklater observes in one of his interviews, this attribute of the slacker is meant to have positive connotations.  The dialogues written for Jesse certaininly capture this spirit, making his character stand out from the express heroism of typical Hollywood fare.

In Before Sunrise, the two lead roles are played by Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and Julie Delfy (Celine).  Their chance meeting in a train from Budapest leads them to spending the night walking the streets of Venice and talking about love, life, politics and beyond.  What makes their conversation exceptional is the broad range of topics they touch upon – something which conventional Hollywood fare cannot afford to have.  In this context, it helped Linklater’s cause that he was a self-taught director,

“Luckily, this means that no one ever taught him to rely on the clichés and emotional manipulations of most Hollywood romances. We’ve become so used to the shorthand version, even in good films, that we no longer notice what we’re missing. These days it usually goes something like this: cue the song on the soundtrack, played over a montage sequence of three or four inter-cut activities—laughing over dinner, talking animatedly while strolling through the park, maybe a cute messy food fight. In short, a music video. (The Naked Gun serves up the definitive parody, if one were even needed.) Before Sunrise lapses into this mode briefly only once, but earns it, since the segment immediately follows the film’s most delicately observed scene, the play of glances in the record listening booth.” (Syngle, 2004)

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