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Before Sunrise ripens potential for on-off screen romance

Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise
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Before Sunrise


Romance plays with the depths of human imagination and heightens the length of the human spirit. People search and crave a vivid course of connection and fulfillment that is contained in love. The subject matter in films is a simultaneous description of controversial and sentimental tales. Viewers gravitate to the appearance of these stories in hopes in finding ways to relate and shift their own lives. This has been done in the movie business ever since cinema was created. It is where people of different ages and backgrounds find inspiration in a common theme. The realm and strength of any art form is strengthened by searches and experiences taking place in romantic genres.

Before Sunrise was a romantic drama released in the winter of 1995. Richard Linklater was seated at the helm as chief director and screenwriter. He based it on a real-life encounter he had in which he walked and talked with a woman for hours. His idea was to create an unusual and atypical style of filmmaking in which dialogue outweighed an extensive budget or action-oriented scenery. Instead, he planned to use the backdrop of a European city in order to make the chemistry and immediacy of the story appear vibrant. He had already established himself recognition in Hollywood with ‘coming-of-age’ tales with high school and beyond with Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993).

Linklater enlisted the help of actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to fill the roles of his couple. Hawke has been in the movies for a long time, with strong appearances such as Dead Poets Society (1989) and earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination with Training Day (2001). Delpy had gained notice with both international and domestic films, such as: The Voyager (1991) and The Three Musketeers (1993). The two would be strangers who meet and fall for each other with a rich script of subtext and thought. Both welcomed the challenge with positivity and excitement. As a result, the thought-provoking evolution of human intimacy produced a unique level of chemistry that earned the film significant praise. The conflict was how such a bond could be sustained.

Before Sunrise arrives on the screen with the quiet run of a passenger train passing through Budapest. The time period is the summer of 1994. Young American Jesse (played with intelligence by Hawke) is despondent because his attempts to work out a long-distance relationship in Spain had failed. Parisian university student Celine (played with a gentle aura by Delpy) is heading back home after visiting with her sick grandmother. The two are sitting across from each other and lost in thought within their personal situations. A middle-aged German couple walks by and erupts into a nasty argument. Both Jesse and Celine are unnerved by the situation and move into the distance to avoid its sound.

The two forge a conversation when Jesse strikes up small talk. Celine states where she is going and offers a friendly disposition in response. Linklater forges a tight bond between the characters in close camera angles with the vast city landscape of Europe outside the windows of where they talk. Both start to get to know each other and pick up on each other’s sensibilities as the train makes a stop in Vienna. However, the American must leave at this particular location in order to get himself back to the airport and fly to the states. Jesse is disappointed that they have to switch trains. Celine agrees by saying she has enjoyed the talking so far. The scene ends with the dejected girl looking down forlorn as the guy takes his bag and exits the train.

The plot of Before Sunrise takes a turn into intriguing and dramatic territory when Jesse stumbles back into the train. Celine is gazing out the window and is stunned to see him appear. He proposes a concept that puts them both at a risk of vulnerability and self-disclosure: to get off the train together and share time in Vienna. Jesse explains that all he wants to do is walk around the city until sunrise because he cannot afford a hotel room, and would enjoying having her as company to share time with. Celine is wavering but interested at the same time as she watches him make his romantic plea. He states that perhaps one day she could learn more of what she seeks from a future husband by interacting with him. The girl finally takes off with the guy who is elated with a celebratory grin. She enters into her choice knowing that he will not pressure her to stay if she so chooses to depart on her own.

The couple starts off awkward as they walk. Both laugh and note the irony at this strange situation that they seek to make the best of. Each feels drawn to the other even though they are a stranger, and saying that makes them feel more comfortable. They come across two local actors who invite them to see a comedy play (involving a cow) later in the evening. Next they ride a bus in which the topic of sex and sexual interest comes up. Jesse learns that Celine is a girl who seeks true romance. Celine learns that Jesse has a wild and edgy side to him in his pursuits of finding an ideal partner.

Linklater unravels a long trail of spicy and sentimental dialogue in Before Sunrise as the couple challenges themselves. On an emotional level, they are building a fast connection to each other. Several moments take place where each is lingering with eye contact at one another, but hides it right away when the other glances back. On a physical level, both are getting attracted to each other. Celine bites her lip a few times when watching Jesse move, and Jesse starts to reach out to touch Celine’s hair when sitting down.

The strength and the challenge in the film are to hold the viewer’s attention by keeping a steady focus on just two people. Jesse and Celine cross paths with others often, but they are the principal characters involved. Nearing the halfway mark, the couple find themselves aboard a ferris wheel and peak out to the setting sun atop the Vienna landscape. It is here when both lets down their guard and their nerves by settling into a passionate and comfortable kiss. The scene closes when both remain silent in a tender and romantic embrace.

There are several instances of memorable lines. Each scene moves along like a painting and separate from its predecessor. The couple is inside an empty church and only the candle light above them lights up the area. Celine confesses that she is not a particularly spiritual person, but can find strength and respect in those who view sites like this as a source of comfort. Jesse lets out a significant point of view (while sitting atop a crate in a back alley) and says that sometimes he wants children and sometimes he thinks that aspect would stifle his individuality.

As the film continues, both individuals learn the personal circumstances about each other. Jesse reveals that he had broken up with a girl in Madrid, and it took going out there to make him realize it was over. Celine states that she was involved with a guy for six months, but split because she had too many feelings for him and it pushed him away.

Before Sunrise reaches its climax when the couple reaches the end of their journey together. Night falls and both know they will each catch separate trains tomorrow. They both admit how having an experience like this will remain important for so many reasons. The circumstances leaves both satisfied too because each had planned and succeeded in making this an evening to remember. Celine at first is firm that she does not want to have sex with Jesse if she is never going to see him again, but relents and they fall into a passionate embrace in a deserted park. Jesse says that he would marry her tonight if given the chance, because many relationships started and failed over much less.

The film concludes the next day at dawn. Jesse and Celine are walking hand-in-hand in silence. They approach the train station and find the spot where he will be taking off. All seems calm until the realization that they have to say goodbye is real. Both characters break down and confess that they want to see each other again. A conclusion is reached that they will meet again on this spot, but in six months from now. The two are drawn into an elated kiss afterwards. Before Sunrise finishes off just as it started: with images of the train passing by cities and the couple inside looking out their windows.

Richard Linklater deserves a great deal of praise for turning a true life experience into a successful film. In doing so, he moved away from teenage dramas and graduated into adult romantic territory. The movie questions the idea as to whether or not a ‘soul mate’ in this life is possible to have in modern times. The movie was a moderate hit at the box office, but spawned two sequels in the future: Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). Ethan Hawke transformed himself into an intellectual and aching character. Julie Delpy was a sensitive yet strong-willed woman who managed to be the perfect foil to her co-star. The movie remains in the minds of many because of the simplicity in which it was filmed, and the authenticity to which it was written.

Movie: Before Sunrise
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Rating: R
Running Time: 101 minutes
Brian’s Rating: 5-of-5 stars


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