Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine’s (Julie Delpy) first conversation is about how nature forces men and women to get along better as they become older. “Over time, men are unable to hear higher-pitched sounds, and women eventually lose hearing in the low end.” It’s an appropriate beginning by describing how people simply get along because they no longer are able communicate with one another. These two strangers don’t have that issue, at least not yet.
Richard Linklater’s film’s story is simple. Jesse is traveling around Europe and has a plane to catch the next morning in Vienna. Celine is traveling back home to Paris. The two meet when Celine changes seats caused by a verbal fight between two other passengers. Jesse and Celine exchange glances and soon strike up an innocent conversation. At Jesse’s train stop in Vienna he has an idea. Eager to extend their conversation, Jesse asks Celine to envision herself in the near future and to ask herself whether she would regret not getting off the train for just one night. When she is engulfed in an unfulfilling marriage and has had kids, would there be any remorse that she didn’t give Jesse a chance? Just for one night. Just to talk.
Celine, the curious but calculated spirit that she is, agrees to get off the train. At this point she is unsure about Jesse, but is intrigued. For the next twelve hours, Jesse and Celine walk around Vienna meeting interesting side characters, having their future’s read, and even falling in love.
Jesse seems a little cocky at times. Sometimes he’s a little overly romantic at times, but in a way that it reminds me of a male bird performing an enthusiastic song and dance to attract his mate – see here for an example. Jesse’s arms are in weird positions, as if he’s trying to look comfortable, but failing miserably. Celine notices his effort, but never lets him know exactly where he stands until late in their encounter. The moment of full disclosure comes when the two are seated across from one another at a brasserie. They play an impromptu game of telephone as if they’re calling their best friend about who they met in Vienna. It’s during this conversation that you realize you are drunk with love for these two. You realize they are perfect for each other. You also recognize that they just realized it as well.
During their long walk around Vienna, they encounter several odd characters. Each of which broaden our understanding of each person a little further. How Celine is moved by a poet on the street, but Jesse is hesitant to give praise. Or a hand reader that Celine finds moving. Again, Jesse is sceptical. As the two stroll around Vienna, their talks become more fluid and their interactions become more and more believable.
In the morning when Celine has to catch her train to Paris, it is Jesse’s turn to miss his travel arrangement. (Stay with her, you fool!) You’ll be the one with regret when you have an unsatisfied marriage. Yet they agree they won’t exchange phone numbers or emails, but instead make a pact that in six months they will meet each other on this very platform, at this very time. Six months. I’ll see you then.
There are several themes brought up throughout Before Sunrise that are timeless. These include (but are certainly not limited to) the senses of self-fulfillment, entitlement, memories, and life’s emotions. As soon as they both decided to step off of the train, they allowed themselves to explore and embrace each other and their surroundings. Almost all other actors in the film are a part of the background. Mostly out of focus and non-influential. However, Vienna maintains the film’s focus, allowing the two characters a chance to explore their own emotions and mortality.
In conclusion, Before Sunrise is a film that sneaks up on you. At first you are trying to decide whether you trust their conversations. You’re guarded against their topics, their ideas, and whether they make a good pairing. Then, before you know it, you’ve stepped off a train in Vienna and fallen in love.