25 years ago, a young French girl got down with an American guy, on a train station in Vienna, for as good a reason anyone can hope for: It was good to talk to him.
It must have been, because all these years later, their conversations are still magical, they are still relevant…they are still worth getting off the train for.
People say that Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise was ‘ahead of its time’. I don’t think that’s true. Before Sunrise belonged to the past as much as it did to the future, and the present at the time of its release.
It doesn’t belong to a certain generation or a decade; and I am afraid I will have to use the cliche, and say – ‘it’s timeless’.
I watched it much later. 25 years later. As a 25-year-old.
It was a conscious decision. Not the 25-year-part, but I did try to not watch it for a very long time.
Romance in cinema always makes me sad. It is probably because of life experiences, but I am not sure.
Anyhow, watching one of the greatest romantic movies of all time? Sure as hell not happening.
Before Sunrise found me, though, on a day when my determination was a bit shaky – and I gave in. It was like Jesse asking Celine to spend a day with him, after just talking to her for a few minutes. She couldn’t say no, I couldn’t either.
To my surprise, it didn’t make me sad. Well, it did, but in a good way.
I was sad because it ended, because it was so good to hear Celine and Jesse, talk. Their banter, jokes, wisdom – everything fit in my world.
Which is insane, if you think about it.
I come from a small town in India and have never left the country, let alone the continent. So it has to be some sort of wizardry for me to be able to relate to the things, said by people who are nothing like me, more than 2 decades later.
But as Celine told Jesse, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something”.
Maybe, it is wizardry after all.
The writing of Before Sunrise is such, that you feel like you are a part of Jesse and Celine’s adventures.
Those two are real. They are like us. Free but dependent, reckless but scared, strong but vulnerable.
For instance, at one point in the movie, Jesse tells Celine:
You know what’s the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It’s when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with, and you realize that is how little they’re thinking of you.
He has just had a break up, he is hurting, and he wants his ex-girlfriend to miss him. But he didn’t miss the ones he broke up with. That makes him sadder.
Tell me, have we all not been there?
In another scene, which is one of my favourites, Celine shares what it means to be a strong woman, who is wanting to be loved.
I always feel this pressure of being a strong and independent icon of womanhood, and without making it look my whole life is revolving around some guy. But loving someone, and being loved means so much to me. We always make fun of it and stuff. But isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?
From 1995 to 2020, a lot has changed for women, mostly for the better, but this sentiment still resonates. At least with me.
When it comes to romantic love, I often feel this dilemma. I don’t want someone to become the center of my life, but I wonder if there’s any other way of loving. At the same time, the idea of giving up my independence, for any reason or person, is just unacceptable to me.
The movie didn’t give me a solution to this problem, but it did give me hope. And that’s enough.
There are many such raw, believable moments in Before Sunrise. Some with no dialogues. For example, this scene where the two are listening to Kath Bloom’s Come Here in a record store, trying to avoid each other’s gaze.
I am going to assume you have seen this clip even if you haven’t watched the movie. But did you know, their reactions were completely authentic? They were not following any instruction and had never even heard the song before?
Ethan Hawke, who played Jesse, says that it is the most beautiful thing he has ever shot. I wouldn’t argue.