The Scoop: 1995 PG-13, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
Tagline: Can the greatest romance of your life last only one night?
Summary Capsule: Guy meets girl on a train. They spend one night together, but they know it will end come sunrise.
Louise’s Review: Before Sunrise is a modern classic romance which explores the old idea of soulmates. Is there one person for each of us? How do you know when someone is your soulmate? What do you do if you think you‘ve found your soulmate but they live on another continent and you don’t even know their name?
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are the height of grungey gap-year glamour as Celine and Jesse, who meet on a train, form a bond and decide to spend what little time they have together wandering around the fairy-tale city of Vienna. Notwithstanding the beautiful location shots of Vienna, this is more play than film, as what follows is an intense experience in which the characters walk, stop walking, talk and stop talking. It’s so rare in a film that characters are allowed to just converse with each other without the plot banging on the door, demanding that everything bend to its will, and the change of pace is refreshing, if not exactly relaxing. Jesse wants to talk about sex. Celine wants to talk about death. They let down the barriers, put up new ones then take those down too. They begin trying to impress each other, before being honest. Neither character is completely likeable (or believable), but they are young enough, complicated enough, naturalistic enough, intelligent and articulate enough that their flaws never stop their interaction being absolutely fascinating… as well as amusing and rather cute… and did I mention relatable? “Does he like me enough to kiss me?” “Was it too soon for that story?” “Did I say the right thing there?” “Would she be creeped out or charmed if I try to dance with her in the middle of the street?” Sound familiar?
Well, this time, a second date is definitely on the cards.
Justin’s Rating: I really, REALLY hope my mom never reads this.
Justin’s Review: I was 17, she was 15. Me, lumpy and awkward, in the throes of cruel hormones and inexperience. She, sleek and delicate, graceful with a piano and introverted. We spent the late evening hours walking the dark country roads around her house, listening to the rustling livestock and gazing up at the pristine night sky. I summoned the courage to intertwine my fingers with hers, and she held on to me tightly. We talked, laughed, walked in comfortable silence, and drank in the solitude together. At the end of the journey, I returned her to her front porch.”I had a really great night,” she said. I assured her I did as well. My heart raced as I tried to figure out the best – or least klutzy – way to get a little closer for a possible first smooch. I took a tiny, imperceptible step forward. “And I’m so glad you didn’t try to kiss me,” she added, almost as an afterthought. “I like that we can be such great friends.”
…My first kiss didn’t come until almost a year later, on my bed at college with a girl who was decidedly not sleek, not slender, but just as adorable. I’m sure I kissed like a slobbering dog who doesn’t know restraint through its excitement, but all I can remember is, wow, this is soft…
…She was almost a half foot taller than I, best friends to that girl who broke up with me a few months previous. On one magical fall evening, we joined another couple who asked us if we wanted to go on an impromptu camping trip in the woods. We agreed, and trekked out into the middle of a state park. There, this new girl and I shared a sleeping bag, fully clothed, and spent the night whispering about every topic under the sun.
…I told her that I never wanted to see her again, that I was sick of her yanking me around while remaining attached to her racecar-driving boyfriend. Yet after six months, she appeared on my doorstep on New Year’s Eve, that tiny petite figure almost lost in a giant grey t-shirt. She came up and I showed her a two-page letter I wrote to her but never intended to send. After reading it, she looked up at me with saucer eyes and buried her face in my neck. We spent the next twelve hours together, professing our love… but it was only mutual attraction. I would never see her again, and only hear from her once: a small regretful e-mail the following New Year’s Eve.
…We had two weekends together, one incredible and one tragic. I would realize that her life was full of abuse, distrust, uncertainty and fear. Before that, I discovered that we both loved to take Wendy’s French fries and dip them into the chocolate frosties, tasting the salty grease coated with icy sweetness. We laughed about that for a while, thinking that we were the only people in the world who did that, and wasn’t it amazing that we found each other in the end? I had a picture of her, my only Polaroid of her freckles in the Colorado sunlight, but I accidentally left it in the sun visor of a car I crashed and never saw again.
…Before we ever met, we spent hours, days on the phone. We racked up phone bills of such enormity that several states are still seeking to prosecute us under former aliases. One night, the anniversary of when her mother died from breast cancer three years previous, we talked for 13 hours straight. It was then that I first told her that I loved her, and she told me that she loved me. We knew we were going to marry, and there was a calm ecstasy of realization when that happened.
I thought I’d share these memories with you, snapshots of my love life, because those are the last first dates I’ll ever really have in my life. It’s okay, I don’t regret where I am (by far!), but there will always be something uniquely enchanting about those dates that will still put a twinge of nostalgia in my heart when I turn into an old, crotchety man. I also thought I’d share those with you because I’ve never, ever seen a movie that translates what one of those magical first dates feels like so much as Before Sunrise.
Before Sunrise is essentially a 100-minute conversation between two people who have a chance meeting on a train in Europe. He’s a cynical, overeager American, and she’s a dreamy French thinker. After a few conversations, an idea spawns to spend the last night together on the streets of the city.
This film lives and dies by its conversational topics, the personalities of the two leads, and the undercurrent of a romance in the making. Yet it’s not a typical movie romance, but more of a real world, first date romance. There are funny parts, sure, but they’re not jokes and this is not a comedy. There is the looming tragedy of their separation by the time morning rolls around, but it is not ultimately a depressing flick. No pop soundtrack looms over montages of European landmarks, and if Ethan Hawke’s used car salesman goatee doesn’t drive you to distraction, you’re a better person than I.
The attraction lies in making us, the viewers, feel like the third party on the date. It’s weird, but roll with it. The characters are, in effect, trying to romance us as much as each other. They’re sharing with us bits of their lives, in exchange for a piece of honest emotional response. We don’t fall in love, of course, but by the end there is a connection that means something far more than when Julia Roberts hijacks a horse and Richard Gere goes running after her in some grand gesture of blahblah.
You don’t see romance films like this. Shame.
- Director Richard Linklater is playing “fussball” in the club scene.
- One of the albums Jesse flicks through in the record shop (the blue album with the face at the top) is “Sleepwalkers” by The Kinks.
- When Jesse quotes Auden’s poem, “As I Walked out One Evening”, he skips over one stanza about time watching from the shadows, and coughing when you would kiss.
Jesse: I know happy couples… but I think they lie to each other!
Celine: I like to feel his eyes on me when I look away.
Celine: Each time I wear black, or like, lose my temper, or say anything about anything, you know, they always go, “Oh it’s so French. It’s so cute.” Ugh! I hate that!
Celine: I had worked for this old man and once he told me that he had spent his whole life thinking about his career and his work. And he was fifty-two and it suddenly struck him that he had never really given anything of himself. His life was for no one and nothing. He was almost crying saying that.
Jesse: You know what’s the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? Is when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that is how little they’re thinking of you. You know, you’d like to think you’re both in all this pain but they’re just like ‘Hey, I’m glad you’re gone’.
Celine: Well, who says relationships have to last forever?
If you liked this movie, try:
- Before Sunset
- Reality Bites
- New York, I Love You