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’Ruett’s Romance Rewind: ‘Before Sunrise’

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Rian Hughes

Happy Valentine’s, Mountaineers. All week long, we’ll be celebrating by rewinding the tape on a few of our favorite romance movies. Our first selection is Richard Linklater’s 1995 romantic drama, “Before Sunrise,” starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. 

Linklater’s “Before” trilogy of films is an experiment in the power of cinema to capture time. “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight” were each released nine years apart between 1995 and 2013. As time passed in the real world, the years elapsed in the movies too. Jesse and Céline, the characters played by Hawke and Delpy, respectively, are 18 years older by their last outing, literally and narratively.

Linklater uses that unique conceit to explore the evolution of a love story. “Before Sunrise” captures the magical unreality of the early hours of romance, “Before Sunset” depicts the golden hours of a relationship rekindled and “Before Midnight” examines the long shadows that a love story in middle-age might cast. With a different team of creative minds, that same concept might come across as contrived, preconceived or preachy. Here, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy infuse Jesse and Céline with an earnest and palpable authenticity.

The realism of “Before Sunrise” is especially impressive considering its romantic premise. Jesse, a man in his early 20s, is traveling on a train to Vienna after an extended stay in Europe. That train is where he meets Céline, a 23-year-old student traveling back to her native Paris. The two strike up a conversation, and after noticing their chemistry, Jesse makes a wild proposition: he invites Céline to get off the train in Vienna with him and walk around the city until early the next morning, when he will fly home to the U.S. Céline, miraculously, accepts.

It’s the sort of wild recklessness that defines love in your twenties. Late night conversations are the bedrock of the early stages of a budding romance, when every minute is exhilarating and every touch is meaningful. Jesse is a stranger, but Céline chooses to spend the night walking around with him after a single conversation. It’s far more romantic than a Tinder exchange, but similar in execution. Two young people see something in the other that’s worth sacrificing sleep, schedule and safety for. Céline takes the chance that Jesse isn’t a lunatic, and Jesse invites her to share his last moments in Europe. In the dwindling hours of daylight into the early hours of their late summer morning, they take a risk, all for the sake of falling in love.

“Before Sunrise” would be little more than its premise without the sharp, genuine script by Linklater and Kim Krizan. The conversation Jesse and Céline share is the movie’s plot. As the two get to know each other, their conversation topics range from the most vulnerable to the most obnoxious.

Sometimes they talk about their surroundings, like when Céline leads Jesse to a graveyard she visited as a child. Other times, the conversation brings the setting alive. One of the most electric scenes in the film occurs when the two are simply sitting in a booth at a bar. They don’t always get along, as when Jesse pretentiously pokes holes in Céline’s romanticization of a palm reader they encounter. Other times, their conversation appears to flow like a mighty river, tributaries of ideas and feelings merging to meet in rushing tandem.

However, the performances are what bring the movie to life. In the wrong hands, Jesse could be an annoying, soul-searching prick. With Hawke’s delivery, he becomes a charming kid pretending to be cooler than he is. With a different actress, Céline could come across as shallow or aloof. Delpy grounds her with gentle humor and a wry intelligence.

The film’s conclusion is aching and melancholic. The viewer never forgets that the pair must part in the morning. But, as Jesse says, “I feel like this is some dream world we’re walking through.”

“It’s so weird,” Céline agrees. “It’s like our time together is just ours — it’s our own creation. It’s like, I’m in your dream and you’re in mine.”

All good dreams must come to an end. But the best stay with you upon waking, like a wisp of hair trailed between fingers, or the phantom coolness of a kiss on a burning cheek. The best young love stories should feel like a dream. The best romances should stick with you forever. “Before Sunrise” does both.

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About the Contributors
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
Rian Hughes, Associate Graphics Editor
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