Before Sunrise: A Twenty-Something Perspective

Last week, I FINALLY saw the first film in Richard Linklater’s lovely trilogy (or will it be more than that?) about love and life: Before Sunrise.  It took me a little time to get my hands on a copy from the library here in New York, but I’m glad I did.  I’m right around the ages of both Jesse and Celine in the first film, and boy did THAT influence my viewing experience.  Whoa.

(Full disclosure: I go to the library generally about once a week.  It’s a habit developed in childhood when my mother would take me to story-time, and we’d leave with a giant stack of books.  As a “financially-challenged” young adult, I don’t see the point in getting Netflix when I can check out literally almost any movie or TV show on DVD for FREE.  Thanks, New York Public Library!)

Celine (Julie Delpy) & Jesse (Ethan Hawke)

Celine (Julie Delpy) & Jesse (Ethan Hawke)

The film is about two strangers who meet on a train going to Vienna, one an American (Jesse played by Ethan Hawke) and one French (Celine played by Julie Delpy).  These two twenty-somethings strike up a conversation that quickly turns into many conversations throughout the streets of Vienna.  But their blossoming romance has a time-stamp: Jesse is flying back to the U.S. the following morning.  What transpires in the course of their night together is funny, joyous, honest, and bittersweet.

I wasn’t expecting to find myself a little weepy at the end of the film (especially since I rarely cry during movies), but as the final moments played out before me, I realized I was a little more than invested in these two characters.  I understood them, because I’ve been there a little bit myself, I think.

When you really connect with another person, whether that be romantically or platonically, there is innate electricity; you feel a spark.  Jesse and Celine feel it almost immediately in the film, and I’ve felt it at various points in my life too.  It’s akin to magic; the world seems to slip away from around you, leaving just the two of you in some kind of alternate reality.

Jesse: I feel like this is, uh, some dream world we’re in, y’know.

Celine: Yeah, it’s so weird.  It’s like our time together is just ours.  It’s our own creation.  It must be like I’m in your dream, and you’re in mine or something.”

"If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt." - Celine

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” – Celine

I remember several endless nights like Jesse and Celine’s where I was so completely engrossed in the person I was with that time stopped.  One such night, I chronicled in this blog post, and I felt that magic.  Recently, I spent a long afternoon with that same gentleman just walking and talking around New York.  This city’s streets and neighborhoods really encourage the whole walking-and-talking scenario (paging Aaron Sorkin!).  It’s one of the things I love best about New York: you don’t have to have a destination, the journey IS the destination.  The longer we strolled, the more our conversation deepened.  We were discussing things we’d never brought up before: life, dreams, adulthood, marriage, children, aging.  It made me realize just how much of ourselves and our thoughts we keep hidden from other people, even ones we trust.  It also reminded me that all of us feel totally lost at some point or another, especially in our twenties.  He may be a few years older than me, but it doesn’t mean he has life any more figured out than I do (which I’m not sure if I find reassuring or depressing).

Jesse and Celine both ponder life’s great mysteries, and neither one of them has definitive answers either.  But in a weird way, I find all of our endless hypothesizing beautiful.  Some questions in life will be answered, and others will not; that’s just how this thing goes, I guess.  Maybe the only way to get through it all is by letting yourself be vulnerable and open to other people, to truly connect on some deeper level so you know you’re not alone.  And maybe you fall in love with that person or they become your best friend in the process.

I believe people enter into our lives for a reason.  Some people are forever in your life, and some are only there for moments.  I think we usually only ascertain that person’s purpose in retrospect, but sometimes, we’re given little moments of clarity to see them for what they’re worth and what they can teach us.  Jesse and Celine only have each other for a few precious hours in a night before they’re forced to part (though we know they meet up again in the sequel, Before Sunset) but neither one of them will be the same afterward, each etched forever in the other’s memory (and heart).  That’s what makes their parting so bittersweet, because in a short amount of time, they’ve found a soulmate…at least for the night.

Much like Jesse and Celine, my own little afternoon adventure had a timestamp too; I had to work that evening, and he had plans with other friends.  He walked me almost all the way to my final destination.  The moment for goodbyes had come.  He wrapped his arms around me, enveloping me in a tight hug.  “It was so good seeing you,” he said as he tightened his grip.  I responded, returning his embrace, “It’s been too long.  Let’s do better.”  We pulled apart, neither one of us wanting to leave even though we both had to.  So we wound up aimlessly chatting for another minute or two before we hugged again.  After we pulled apart this time, he gave me one last look and left me at 47th & Lexington to head to work.  Yet another spell had been broken.  Back to the real world at last.

When will you realize...Vienna waits for you?

When will you realize…Vienna waits for you?

I can only hope I have more Before Sunrise-esque nights in my life, nights spent trying to solve all the problems of the universe and having silly adventures.  Nights without plans where the present is all that matters.  Nights where I connect so deeply with a person that parting with them is agony.  Isn’t this what we all wish for in life?  Isn’t this what truly LIVING feels like?

“Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” – Celine

Perhaps you’re right, Celine.



  1. I love this movie and really enjoyed your post. I am looking forward to seeing where Jesse and Celine have got to in their lives in the new film Before Midnight – As I am guessing they will now be about my age and it will be interesting how they deal with that aspect of relationships. Also you can take DVDs from the library for free in New York? That’s amazing, we have to pay in the UK 😦


  2. […]                                                                                                                                   source: Emmy lane in The art of making art […]


  3. Thank you. I was inspired by your review and have written one for my own. I find this movie is one of the greatest magical cinematic experience. It’s a shame that the movie was not truly recognized at the moment it was released, not until Before Sunset. The 2nd one was nominated for an Oscar if my memory is right, but I think the first one also deserved a few prestige awards too. It’s way too beautiful in acting and directing and the screenplay is simply superb. Cant wait for the third one Before Midnight 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s