US Release Date: 01-27-1995
Directed by: Richard Linklater
- Ethan Hawke, as
- Julie Delpy as
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise was inspired by a night Richard Linklater spent walking around Philadelphia with a woman he had just met. It is also a direct nod to James Joyce's novel "Ulysses" which features a journey around a single city and also takes place on June 16th, just as this movie does. Although they were not given writing credit, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke supposedly wrote much of the dialogue.
While on a train at the end of his European vacation, twenty-something American Jesse meets twenty-something French Celine. He is heading to Vienna to catch a plane home the next day, while she is heading back to Paris. He talks her into getting off the train in Vienna and spending the night with him walking through the city, getting to know each other.
The entire film is the young couple’s conversations as they get to know each other better and better. Of course they fall hopelessly in love. One of my favorite scenes is when they each pretend to call a friend with the other playing the role of their friend.
As the night wears on, they eventually come to the conclusion that this one night is all they will ever have. At one point, Celine says, “After tomorrow morning we’re probably never gonna see each other again, right?” and Jesse adds, “Tonight’s our only night.” However, we have seen the sequels and know that it does not end at the Vienna train station.
Although I liked Before Midnight, this film could have stood alone without the sequels. Jesse and Celine had that one night together and it was perfect. Not really much happens between them, other than both found a person they could share everything with. Before Sunrise is the kind of love story that could only really happen to a young couple and it reminded me of an old friend I knew when I was young.
I once took a Eurail tour of Europe with a friend who experienced something similar to this movie. We met a girl on a train and got off in Milan, where she was attending college. My friend spent the night with her while I was in the next room. They fell in love. He saw her again a year later but it was not the same as that one day and night they had together. In real life we do not always get sequels.
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise.
I never used to be much of a fan of Ethan Hawke. He always seemed to come across to me as smug. My opinion has definitely changed now that I've seen him as Jesse Wallace. He brings a naturalness and believability to the role that works wonderfully opposite Julie Delpy's Céline. Since, as Eric wrote, the plot consists entirely of the two of them conversing, the success of the movie sits squarely on their shoulders. It's essential for them to seem like real people experiencing a chance encounter with another person who turns out to be their soul mate.
The movie's extensive dialogue manages the complex trick of sounding completely natural and spontaneous while also being interesting enough to keep our attention. Jesse is the more obviously intellectual of the two as he spouts philosophical ideas, while Céline is more emotionally guarded. From their first words on the train to their final goodbye the following morning we get to know them as they discover each other.
Again agreeing with my brother, this is the kind of chance meeting and blossoming love affair that only happens to the young (or at least the young at heart). And even then only to those brave souls brash enough to speak up. How many times during the course of our lives do we let such opportunities pass us by?
As their feelings grow more intense over the course of the evening the story gets more romantic. They kiss passionately several times while telling each other their deepest thoughts. Céline tells Jesse that she likes to feel his eyes on her when she looks away. Jesse, while discussing relationships, makes this pointed observation, “You know what's the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It's 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.” How true.
Richard Linklater has made a career directing movies that take place in a single day or night. By focusing on such a limited amount of time he is able to capture many details that might otherwise go unnoticed. Both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are able to capture these ineffable moments with a glance, a smile, or a slight turn of the head. Before Sunrise can stand alone, but I rather like the idea of revisiting Jesse and Céline once every nine years to catch up with their lives, if only for a single day.
Photos © Copyright Castle Rock Entertainment (1995)