Back when I first joined social film site Letterboxd in September 2012, I logged this as one of my many films “seen”, and rated it four stars. I had some memory of having watched both this, and Before Sunset, when I was about 14 or 15, and based my judgement on some vague memory of casual but philosophical dialogue, and bittersweet romance. Yes, it had been entertaining, and had opened my eyes and mind to more quietly powerful films. Rewatching Before Sunrise now, about 7 or 8 years later, I feel that it has had a different effect on me. Whereas before, as a young teen, I admired its slow pacing and offbeat nature, I can now more appreciate its ability to portray young, confused, and unashamedly spirited love without appearing “gushy”. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are to be commended for having dealt with this script in such a way as to make the film as honest and unapologetic as could be. Not afraid to be sweet, loving and kind, and yet also eager to challenge, upset and second guess, Jesse and Celine embody both a romance and realism that saves them from ever being irritating. It is, of course, their youth which allows for such a brazen, whirlwind affair, and Richard Linklater plays on this by writing into his script suggestions of both early childhood and old age, which in turn highlight the awkward time and space these characters inhabit.
Even if I haven’t had nights exactly like this one, I have met and spoken with people who I have felt a deep connection with and then never seen again. And of course, I have been in love, I am in love. And at the same time I don’t know what love is, or where I’m going in life, or who I am. I have experienced the pain of separation, and of time apart, and know all too well what it feels like to want desperately to be able to enjoy your time with somebody, but not be able to run away from the thought that it’s soon coming to an end. This is why films like Before Sunrise, for me, capture perfectly the anxieties and joys of young love. Always doubting yourself, always wanting to know how to make the best of your time, and then wasting time, killing time, loosing time, these are the thoughts that plague the early adult mind, and Linklater knows exactly how to translate them to the screen without being obvious or monotonous.
Each scene can be read as a metaphor for some trouble or thought, and can work as an exploration of that subject. For example, the pinball scene is defensive, with both characters feeling the need to explain themselves and their actions with previous lovers, and this is why Linklater has them playing a game that involves keeping a ball out of a drop zone, batting it away with an aggression that suits such an awkward topic (hint: the ball always comes back). And the scene in the church is important for it features the coming together of two opposites, as Jesse admits that he feels like a 13 year old boy, and Celine reveals that she sometimes feels like a very old woman laying down about to die. Jesse relates a story about Quaker marriage, and Celine talks about loss, pain, guilt and death, and through this the film cleverly discloses its characters’ opposing reactions to the spiritual.
The end of Before Sunrise is, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of the film, for it shows life continuing after romance, and after intense moments have taken place. The daylight hits all of the areas in which the characters have spent time, at once cruelly and cathartically proving that life does go on despite any desire to hold back certain parts of it. Where do we go from here? Do we learn from what has happened, do we take anything from it? Do we change because of it? Or do we forget? Pretend? Regret? Return? The film spends most of its time musing, and leaves us with questions. But it also leaves us on smiles, unsentimental, genuine smiles, that may have no particular reason, but just happen, and exist. Much like many people, and many moments: all existing, all changing, all moving.
FINAL VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★