Review: Before Sunset (2004)


Ooh, I need Julie Delpy on my iPod, now!

Screenplay By: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater
Directed By: Richard Linklater

You know that you are watching a great movie when Baseball Tonight has taken up most of your night and at about midnight you figure, “Oh, what the heck I’ll start this and watch a little bit before I fall asleep” but next thing you know it’s one thirty in the morning and time has passed you by. That is what happened with my viewing of Before Sunset. I already had a good jumping off point since I loved the preceding Before Sunrise, but loving one movie doesn’t guarantee you’ll love it’s successor. Before Sunset is a different movie, it’s much the same as Before Sunrise, but in important ways it is very different. Before Sunset is engaging to the point of time flying by. It’s not paced fast, it’s paced naturally, yet it moves by at incredible speed because it is one of those rare movies where real time stops while you watch it. Some sort of cosmic speed time takes over and time moves faster than it should. Maybe I sound crazy, but hopefully this is a feeling others have had with some movie, because I know I have had the feeling of the loss of real time with more than a few stellar films.

It’s inevitable that similarities will exist with Before Sunrise, the crew of Before Sunset is essentially the same across the board as it was in Before Sunrise. The same conversational tone remains, the dialogue flows free and easy between the two leads and is highly engaging and smart for the audience to take in. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have the same chemistry as before. They are in sync with one another from the get go and it shows. As with Before Sunrise you have two actors giving brilliant performances that will no doubt go unnoticed by the great masses. Yes, Before Sunset is similar to Before Sunrise, but in so many ways it is very different.

The conversations are still existential in nature, but now they are of a different existentialism. In Before Sunrise the focus was on Jesse and Celine as individuals, how they viewed the world and how the world affected them. Before Sunset changes up their viewpoint in accordance with their older ages and new found maturity. Now they talk in terms of how issues relate to them only in the larger picture. The focus isn’t on them as individuals, rather the focus is on Jesse and Celine and the world. Big issues are still tackled, some of the same issues from Before Sunrise are touched upon again, but now they offer worldly insight as opposed to individual insight.

Before Sunset is a love story and a film about the relationship of Jesse and Celine. But, it’s also not a love story and not about their relationship. It’s important to realize that the film works on both levels. At the same time you have the personal story of these two characters and how they feel about each other, there is the theme of growth in humanity. The movie focuses on the ideas of growing up, how we change and why, what we were like, what we remember and what the future may hold for us just as much as it focuses on the very intimate tale of Jesse and Celine. All the while you are taken by the story of these two maybe meant for each other people, you are also caught up in the larger picture of where humanity stands today in relation to the growth of these two characters.

In a film like Before Sunset it’s easy to overlook the role the director plays. Richard Linklater once again makes his camera another character, we live through his camera because it allows us to become a part of every conversation and moment. But, in Before Sunset his camera isn’t static like it was in Before Sunrise. This time the camera moves, it circles around, it tracks, follows, etc.. The locales aren’t just backgrounds in Before Sunset, because this time Jesse and Celine aren’t in a fantasy world. Before Sunset is real, they have real consequences to deal with and they know it. So does the camera, it never frames them as solitary beings off in their own world. Linklater presents Jesse and Celine as part of the larger world around them, their fantasy night is long over, now they are enmeshed in reality.

If forced to pick, and this is really hard, my favorite aspect of Before Sunset would be the idea of how our past greatly affects us. One missed chance can have serious repercussions just as much as one mistake. Our past leads to problems that will haunt us through all our waking hours hours, and our past even seeps into our dreams. More than anything our past can lead to an inability to connect. The car ride is the best example of this, filled with many moments where Jesse and Celine want to connect with each other, they reach out to each other but they can’t because of their fear of the consequences of their actions and remembrances of past pain. The car ride displays this idea beautifully, and that is when Hawke and Delpy are at their most powerful, eliciting emotion from each other and from the audience. Cheesy drama isn’t needed, in the simple act of watching one break down and the other try to console but fail we feel for these characters more than any manufactured drama could hope to make us feel.

The ascent up the stairs to Celine’s apartment is handled masterfully. That is when the film begins to mold into whatever shape you have decided to apply to it. Their ascent is full of oodles of bottled up tension, with each and every turn on that stairwell it feels like something should happen, needs to happen, but you know it can’t. This leads into the perfect ending, it is sweet and it is honest. It’s also up to each individual to interpret the oncoming blackness in their own way. Does Jesse leave or doesn’t he? Do they both go back to their false lives or do they finally realize that they were meant for each other and give it a go? You can’t go wrong no matter what way you go, but I tend to believe that Jesse stays and they end up together. I’m sure that is the hopeless romantic in me coming out, but what can I say, I am hopeless after all.

Maybe this is the last we will see of these characters, or maybe Linklater, Hawke and Delpy plan to come back in another nine years. I can only hope that is the case, because those three, along with the rest of the crew, have found a winning combination. If they don’t come back then I am still content, because Before Sunset is a splendid movie, a rarity that doesn’t come along all that often. More would be welcome, but if this is all I get then I couldn’t ask for anything better.




4 responses to “Review: Before Sunset (2004)

  1. I couldn’t agree more.
    Just like the movie moves with a great speed and real time stops, reading this review gave me that same experience.

    I read a couple more of your reviews, and I got to say, you really are skilled with words. Not many people, talking from experience, can play with words and really get their thoughts out there just right. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the kind words Tai, they are greatly appreciated. 🙂

  3. Alan Dvorkis

    Nine years later, we get to reunite. I could not be any happier.

  4. I am looking forward to Before Midnight quite a bit, not sure when I’ll be able to get to it though.

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