tek's rating: ½

Before Sunrise (R)
Criterion; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu; YouTube

Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 1995. I wrote my review in 2015, after watching it for the second time. I don't recall exactly when the first time was, but I would think probably sometime in the late 90s. It's one of countless movies I watched probably during some free preview weekend (or week) of premium channels I don't normally get, but there have been various times I've binged on movies that way. Anyway, there was a sequel called Before Sunset in 2004 and a third movie called Before Midnight in 2013, neither of which I'd seen. Also I guess the main characters from these movies appeared in a scene in the 2001 movie "Waking Life," which I've also never seen. I'd like to see that someday, but it's the "Before" trilogy that mainly interests me, and since the third one came out I've been thinking that at some point I should try to do a marathon of all three. Finally I decided to do it in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day 2015, so I watched the first one on DVD at the end of January, I'll wait a week to watch the second, and I'll watch the third on the holiday itself. (I have no idea if or when I'll get to "Waking Life," but that's not really important.) Anyway... as always, there's the question of where to put my review. The only two categories I really considered were "romantic" and "art films," and I'll be including links to it in both sections, but the review itself I am putting under "romantic." Because it really is one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen. I don't remember exactly what I thought of it the first time I watched it, but I'm sure I thought it was good. I think I probably liked it more the second time, though. Like, a lot more. It's not something I'd feel the need or desire to watch often (there are certainly movies I find more entertaining than this, even if I rate them lower than this). But it's just... I mean... well, I'll say things later in the review about the time limits of magic or stepping outside of reality, and the same applies to watching movies like this.

So, there are these two people in their early 20s, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who meet on a train. (Actually, 'Jesse' is his nickname; his real name is James, but that's not important... though I do kind of think there's something sort of ironic, or meta, or something, about "Jesse" James and a train. I guess.) The two of them start talking, and they enjoy their conversation. Jesse has spent the past couple of weeks riding trains through Europe, but in the morning he's going to have to catch a flight from Vienna back to the U.S. Meanwhile, Celine has been visiting her grandmother in Budapest, and she's on her way home to Paris. When the train reaches Vienna, Jesse invites Celine to spend the day and night with him, just wandering around the city and continuing their conversation. I must say, I think it would be terribly foolish of anyone, especially a woman, to accept such an invitation from a stranger, in real life. However, I'd dearly love to live in a world where there is no danger in such things... and I do believe that in spite of the risks, it is possible for that kind of thing to work out well in real life, even if it's unadvisable. But of course, we're talking about a movie, not real life, so I try not to spend too much time thinking about the dangers, and I'm just glad that Celine agreed.

Well, they do exactly what I said: spend the remainder of the day and night wandering around Vienna and talking. They're both rather philosophical, in a common sort of way. I mean, they're not philosophers, or anything, they're just talking about the sorts of things that probably go through most normal people's minds. And yet, I think it's kind of rare to hear people in real life talk the way they do. (At least it's rare in America; I wouldn't know about Europe.) They're very open and honest in their thoughts on life and love and their own pasts, and everything. It's the kind of conversing that I imagine really can lead to falling in love (and they kind of do). I should say they're not identical in their mindsets, nor are they opposites. Jesse definitely seems more cynical than Celine, but they both have views that might be seen as a sort of mix of realism and... magical. I guess. I'm not really sure how to put it, but I found them both charming and endearing. And I think both of them had some thoughts that I myself have thought before (in particular Jesse's idea about people getting sick of themselves because they are around themselves literally all the time). There was also a little bit of talk about things like feminism, which has been on my mind a lot over the past year, but really it's just barely touched on in the movie. (Well, maybe a bit more than "barely," but not much more.) I think it can be a difficult subject, particularly if a couple of people who've just met are trying to enjoy their very limited time together, so it makes sense that they didn't dwell on it. It's also interesting that there were at least a couple of times in the movie... several times, actually, in different contexts... that the concept of marriage is discussed. It's interesting because, even without having yet seen the other movies, I do know that eventually they'll be married to each other. But that point isn't really important to this movie. It's just... a bit weird, and can't help but color one's impression of such scenes, in a way that's a bit different from watching the movie before the other movies existed. (And it'll probably be more different still, when I've actually seen those movies. Edit: after seeing the third movie, I have learned that they never did get married, but they were in a relationship that had all the trappings of marriage.)

Anyway... there aren't really any significant characters besides Jesse and Celine, though they do occasionally, briefly, interact with other people they encounter. One of the most interesting things about the film is that, as the two of them note, there's an otherworldly quality about the time (out of time) that they spend together. But at the same time, they're clearly still part of the real world. I think... this is sort of one of the great things about what it means to be human. Sure, we all have to deal with reality and shit, but we are unique in our ability to think about reality. Which kind of allows us to step outside of reality, for a little while... philosophically speaking. And this isn't just one of the most genuinely romantic movies I've ever seen, it's also one of the best stories I'm aware of about people just... you know... connecting, as fellow human beings. Using conversation to help them understand each other, and themselves, and life. But doing so without being, you know, pretentious, or anything. The whole thing has a totally natural feel to it, but also a totally magical feel. And I think every now and then it's really nice to be reminded that life is magical. It's all the damn complicated bullshit we've built up that's artificial, the things we choose to call reality for the sake of convenience, or practicality, or whatever. But it's nice to know that no matter how hard we try, we can never completely drain life of its simple magic. You know?

But, of course, all good things must end. Magic does tend to have a limited shelf life, and reality must set in. So Jesse and Celine must both get back to their real lives. But they agree to meet again in the same place, in six months. Will they? Time will tell....

romantic index
art index