Jesse and Celine exchange their thoughts in Before Sunrise.
Two young strangers meet on a train traveling to Vienna when an older couple begin arguing and the young girl moves her seat to get away. They start talking with each other, hit it off, and this simple turn of events starts their relationship and the plot of Before Sunrise rolling. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is an American on his way to Vienna to catch a cheap flight home and on the rebound from breaking up with his girl friend who was living in Spain. His trip to Europe was supposed to be an affectionate reunion, but instead has turned into a disaster because she has told him to get lost, and instead of an affectionate party in Spain, his trip has become a couple of weeks of travel on a Eurail pass, staring at endless scenery. Celine (Julie Delpy) is a student at the Sorbonne, on her way back to her home in Paris. Celine has spent some time in America, so her command of English is very good. She is down to earth and practical, but is intrigued by the somewhat fanciful and at first awkward conversation that she hears from Jesse. The two of them decide to go to the dining car, have some coffee, continue their conversation there and back in the passenger car, and then he proposes this bold question to Celine: “When our train arrives in Vienna, why not get off with me and spend the remaining fourteen hours I have in Europe together, until I must catch my return flight to America? We will see the sights of the city, get to know each other even better, and although we will separate in the morning, at least we will have had a brief adventure together.” When Celine agrees, their whirlwind romance begins.
Jesse and Celine cross both physical and emotional bridges in Vienna.
After checking their bags at the train station, Jesse and Celine begin wandering around the city just like any tourists would do. They run into some interesting characters along the way — actors in a local theater group, a fortune teller, a street poet, and a friendly bartender who ends up giving them a free bottle of wine which they drink in a city park. They visit interesting statues and spend time in a church. They continue to improve on their intimacy by holding imaginary phone calls with imaginary best friends in which they begin to describe their inner feeling and desires. They experience a first kiss. Their conversation includes discussion about parents, sex, religion, former boyfriends and girlfriends, music, and the problem with reincarnation. Jesse tells her he wants to start a cable channel ala EdTV in which the lives of average dull people would be followed from dawn to dusk. Celine tells him that she is “afraid of dying 24 hours a day.” And all of this conversation seems so natural, something that any young couple on a first date could realistically do. The films avoids romance film clichés by not having things move forward too fast. The thing that drives Celine and Jesse’s relationship and ultimately the film is their mutual interest in conversation and their willingness to engage in it throughout the film. But eventually the dawn comes and with it the realization that they are probably never going to see each other again. When Jesse and Celine try to determine a way to contradict their fate, it seems like something that normal people would attempt to do, but we never know how it will ultimately end. How many times in real life have you made a resolution to do something but with time and fate intervening that resolution never gets followed through? This is the dynamic of this film and in the long run what makes it so believable and interesting as these two strangers in the night begin to actually articulate their innermost feelings, because there is literally no tomorrow for their relationship.
The couple decides to get off the train and spend Jesse’s last hours in Europe together.
Writer-Director Richard Linklater has scored an unconventional hit with Before Sunrise, because he has accomplished what few filmmakers in the nineties have done or even attempted — a film about Generation X characters based on conversation and ideas, rather than action and crude coming of age scenarios. It captures the rootlessness and uncertainty of youth along with their optimism and sense of adventure which is not hindered by prior expectations or cultural differences. Yet throughout the film, Jesse and Celine always seem like real people you could actually meet on a train. Before Sunrise is a wonderful celebration of young romance and how people ultimately connect through ideas rather than just sex and action. The one perfect day that this couple ends up having could conceivably last them for a lifetime, and because of it they both would have gained some meaning and satisfaction in their lives. It’s too bad that the Warner Brothers marketing department could not see this when the film came out. Clueless as to how to promote it, they let it languish with little publicity, and so this gem of a film has been mainly promoted through word of mouth. Equally mystifying is its “R” rating. This film has no violence or graphic sex and only a couple of swear words. It is an excellent film for teenagers, much better than many of the PG-13 films they are exposed to today. You would think that Hollywood would want teenagers to see something like this, but unfortunately films that rely on reality seem to have a continually lower place in the commercial film world these days. Both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are excellent in their roles. This film shows some depth and charisma that we haven’t seen from them before, as you become more and more charmed by their ability to seem natural while delivering page after page of screenplay. And don’t think that this is just a film for a young audience; people of all ages can easily relate to the story line and characters portrayed in Before Sunrise because it is so successful in portraying two young people falling in love.
Their wanderings take them to a park in Vienna.
The camera shows Jesse and Celine walking together.
Ethan Hawke in his role as Jesse, the American guy on the rebound, wears black high top chucks throughout the film. As there are many subtle symbols in the film, Jesse’s chucks continually remind us that here is an American in Europe. Once the couple embark on their adventure in Vienna, you see them framed in many of the scenes. The best scenes are where you see them in close up while Jesse and Celine are walking around Vienna.
Chucks meet espadrilles in Vienna.
PostScript to Before Sunrise. This film has had three sequels, including the latest one, Before Midnight, that was released in June, 2013. Jesse is now 41 years old, living with Celine, but he has a son Henry from a marriage that ended in divorce. This movie is set in Greece. There is a great opening scene, where Henry is leaving Greece after spending six weeks with Jesse, Celine and their two daughters. They talk somewhat awkwardly, like fathers usually do with their fourteen-year-old sons. It’s hard for both Henry and Jesse to deal with the fact that Jesse only has visitation rights during the summer and at Christmas and it will be a long time before they see each other again. But finally Henry admits that he had a great time and this was the best summer of his life. One cool thing about Henry. He is wearing black high top chucks, just like his father Jesse did in Before Sunrise. It points out to viewers in the know that Henry shares traits of Jesse, not only in dress but in personality. He truly is his father’s son, even though they are separated for much of the year. Again we are reminded how chucks have served many generations of people and will continue to do so.
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