Review: Before Sunrise (1995)


A movie that surprised the heck out of me!

Written By: Kim Krizan & Richard Linklater
Directed By: Richard Linklater

It’s amusing when you can have a movie hyped to the gill for you, as was the case with Before Sunrise, and yet when you finally watch the movie it surprises you nonetheless. I don’t know what I expected from Before Sunrise, but this most certainly wasn’t it. Thinking about it now I should have expected a love story from Richard Linklater to be anything but conventional and to have plenty of existential musings. But, I went in expecting something different than what I got, so not only was I pleasantly surprised with what I did see, it ended up living up to all the hype in my own odd way.

Linklater bestows upon Before Sunrise a very conversational tone. Right off the bat that is the hurdle you need to overcome. I don’t usually like to do this, but Before Sunrise falls into the category of a movie that requires you to think outside the box. It presents a unique movie idea and if you have trouble with unique movie ideas then it won’t work for you. Before Sunrise uses conversation as a form of existential musing but it is the entire movie. There is romance in Before Sunrise, but it also is a part of the conversations between Jesse and Celine.

The conversations in Before Sunrise take on a similar tone, they are simply conversational. No histrionics will be found in Before Sunrise, no bullshit posturing and preening. A man and a woman over the course of one day, one night and one morning decide to be honest, frank and open with each other. What results is one of the stronger relationships ever put to the screen. This isn’t accomplished by putting Jesse and Celine through ordeal after ordeal or through suspense or tricky camerawork. Their relationship matters to us and is strong because they are honest with each other. Their relationship becomes what we wish our relationships could be if real life didn’t get in the way.

The set-up for Before Sunrise creates a bit of a fantasy, two people attracted to one another in a situation where they can say whatever they want because there will be no the next day or the next month. Jesse and Celine only have this limited window of time together and that drops the barriers we usually put up when constructing a relationship. But, this is balanced by the ending that we all see coming. Jesse and Celine may have created a tremendous relationship, but we know how it will end. They will go their separate ways and never see each other again. Their promises to see each other again are empty and we know it, because that is when the fantasy world has been stripped away and reality has crept back in. They are no longer being honest with each other, they are constructing their relationship as they would if they had to see that person the next day. A beautiful relationship ended by a bittersweet conclusion.

The relationship between Jesse and Celine is very personal. The direction by Linklater draws you into the pair and makes you feel like a part of their conversations. What they are saying is always interesting because of their openness and honesty, but it’s even more interesting to us because we feel like we are an invisible third member of their relationship.

Jesse and Celine’s relationship would never have been as engaging or as enveloping without the performances of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I know I sound like a broken record, but they are open and frank in their performances. They don’t act in any recognizable manner, they talk and they react. Hawke and Delpy have instant chemistry as actors. Their characters don’t necessarily, because while you can tell they like each other on the train there is still plenty of awkwardness between them. However, that points to the skill of these two thespians, they start their characters off awkwardly and build them to a point where they are at complete ease with one another. They let all their faults and foibles be put on display without any of the usual attempts to hide them. Finally, they bring their relationship back to the beginning in its end. When they are making empty promises to see each other again you can sense the return of the awkwardness, because their honest relationship has been replaced by the type of preening one they avoided for the past few hours. Ace performances by two actors who have to carry the entire movie on their shoulders.

There are visual flourishes in Before Sunrise, but they are few and far between. For the most part Linklater has chosen to go with a more static approach. His camera is often completely still or slowly follows his characters. The locales exist more as backgrounds and only in specified moments are they more than just a backdrop to the two characters. This static nature suits the film well, because the camera is supposed to draw us into their relationship and conversations, not keep us at a usual movie distance. In Before Sunrise the conversations are the focus, not the camera.

Besides the idea of relationships, Before Sunrise most speaks to the fleeting connections we make in life. Passing moments with random people can be instrumental and powerful in our lives, or they can be a nothing moment. What we think of as nothing more than a pretty girl sitting next to us on the train can turn out to be the biggest moment in our life, or it could just be a girl sitting next to us on the train. Because of the existentialism I already spoke of, Before Sunrise also covers any number of issues through Jesse and Celine’s conversations. Subjects such as life, death, the banality of existence, love, relationships themselves, and much more are touched upon in their talks.

A movie that can surprise you with a great experience is a definite treat. It doesn’t matter what I was expecting going into Before Sunrise, what matters is that I was left with a terrific movie watching affair. As I said before, oh this is a bad pun, Before Sunrise is an outside the box type of movie. If you are looking for a terrific movie that presents an intelligent love story in an unconventional style then Before Sunrise is the movie for you. If you are looking for a great movie period then Before Sunrise is the movie for you. Seriously, think about this, Before Sunrise is the movie for you.





3 responses to “Review: Before Sunrise (1995)

  1. There’s a neat story in one of Roger Ebert’s books about the storyline from Before Sunrise coming to life. I wrote about it here:

  2. Interesting article. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Review: Dazed And Confused (1993) | Bill's Movie Emporium

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