Movie Review: Before Sunrise
Director: Richard Linklater
Reviewed: 16 August 2013
We infuse ourselves, our memories, our friendships, and our hopes into the places we visit. A visit to my hometown never seems complete without a run on the Prairie Path, a drive down my old street, a glance at my high school track or grade school or library. And in nearly every place, there are benches and sights to see, places that would be fun to walk or wander down, lost in conversation. Our age is an age of instant communication and isolation, an age where earbuds prevent conversation or where a phone substitutes or replaces some human interaction.
Before Sunrise offers a glimpse of a transitory moment in the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke), the American abroad, and Celine (Julie Delpy), the French-born Sorbonne student after a chance meeting on a Paris-bound train leads to a single magical, meandering night about town in Vienna. He boldly asks her to consider stepping off of her train and into Vienna with him, for he has only one night until catching his flight back to the United States. Intrigued, she accepts, and a casual friendliness and flirtation develops in a heightened way because of the compressed nature of their time together. Less a travelogue than dialogue (though filled with stunning bridges, architecture, and statues), Linklater seems more concerned with the interior worlds of these characters. What drives them? What do they fear? How do they connect? Linklater captures the dreamlike state of this world, tracking his characters in patient, medium shots as they wander cobblestones streets in the fading light of day. Jesse and Celine do not get into wacky adventures. Instead, the eat a little, drink a little. They interact with a palm reader, a street poet, a harpsichord player, a bartender. Freed from the constraints of their normal lives, they engage each other with disarming honesty and vulnerability. If this moment, this night, is all they have, Jesse and Celine reveal their hopes and fears.
Linklater's film charms without being cloying, delicately explores the parallel lives through shots of train tracks intersecting and separating and rituals of movement that punch open bus and train doors, as well as offers a genuinely romantic story that never condescends or insults our intelligence. I found myself smiling and laughing and just being engaged by their conversation. I could listen to Jesse and Celine talk for hours which is a credit to the fine work being done by both Hawke and Delpy. And a final sequence of shots, a catalogue of what has come before but marked notably by the absence of our main characters, was quietly powerful, even devastating. What are we if not a collection of the places and people that we have been with and carry with us? And what are those places without us in them?
I sometimes consider the arteries that shoot off from the main roads and paths that I travel in life and wonder what it would be like to drive down unfamiliar roads or to walk down unfamiliar streets. And beyond the physical exploration, the act of conversation and getting to the heart of things with another person remains an incandescent experience. My American version of Before Sunrise may include going on a run with Aaron Derry once in college, or a long road conversation with my dad while driving from Chicago to Texas, or a two-hour plus run with Mike Marotta and Ed Mattis in upper Wisconsin. Sometimes a conversation that was not supposed to happen or a pleasant accident or a seemingly normal moment can transform into an immortal one. And any moment one comes across in life can transfix forever. As the poet William Wordsworth states in "Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," "While here I stand, not only with the sense / Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts / That in this moment there is life and food / For future years."
There is food for future years in this remarkable film.