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Indeed, there are clear autobiographical elements: Hawke, like Jesse, has published fiction, and Delpy, like Celine, is a sometime singer-songwriter (the actress contributed to Before Sunset's soundtrack and has released an album in Europe). In Hawke's case, when Jesse finally reveals details of his unhappy relationship, it's hard not to think of the actor's recent breakup with Uma Thurman. "Even when Ethan was trying to talk about his problems, I told him not to, it's not my business," says Delpy. "Some people will say, oh, it's autobiographical. But he wrote this way before he was going to get separated. It just happened to be relevant, but it wasn't originally. It became it, which was good for the film. That's what Rick and I were saying when he was depressed. We were like, 'Good for the movie!' "
With its rapt focus on moment-to-moment thought and experience, Before Sunset is as much a study in brain chemistry as Waking Life. "I wanted the film to unfold the way a conversation unfolds, the way subjects flow and come back around," says Linklater, whose ear for vernacular riffing is unmatched in American movies. Stream-of-consciousness shapes not just the dialogue but the form of his films, many of which radiate an amiably associative vibe that might be termed, for better or worse, stoned. "It's so funny because I'm not druggy at all," he says, "but I appreciate the metaphor. Drugs are maybe the easiest, but there are many other ways to other levels of consciousness. You can take a hallucinogen, you can meditate, you can have a frontal-lobe procedure."
Having scored his biggest commercial hit with School of Rock, perhaps the most personal (and political) studio movie of the past year, Linklater is now working on a rotoscoped adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. School of Rock helped him overcome his fear of directing material he didn't write. "I was lucky that I didn't have to hit false notes," he says. "Even in the context of a comedy that would appeal to kids, I didn't have to totally compromise my idea of reality. I was able to say, 'You know, I can't do an ending where they win and donate money to the school.' "
Linklater and his actors say they're tempted to drop in periodically on Celine and Jesse, as Truffaut did with Antoine Doinel, though, as Hawke puts it, "If we make a third one and it's bad, it will seem like we just got lucky on the first two." In any case, says Linklater, "it won't be anytime soon." The nine-year gap between Before Sunrise and Before Sunseta lacuna that invites viewer participation, obliging you to consider the then-and-now differences in the characters' and your own attitudes to love and life and deathis precisely what gives this movie its enormous poignancy. "It's evidence of time passing," says Linklater. "You have to confront what the hell you've been doing."