Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (Review)

Before Sunrise (8 out of 10)
Before Sunset (9 out of 10)

(Read the first two paragraphs, and if the films sound good to you, I would recommend stop reading the reviews until you’ve watched both films.)

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, taken together, is in my top five romantic films of all-time. And really you should see these films together. You certainly wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the second film if you didn’t see the first.

Like Mindwalk and My Dinner with Andre, the action takes between two people talking about different topics like parents, relationships, and the meaning of life, except while the protagonists in Mindwalk and My Dinner with Andre were a poet, a physicist, a politician and theater people, the protagonists in Sunrise and Sunset are twenty-something, “slackers.”

They’re intelligent, but their conversion is not as cerebral as the protagonists in the other films. The characters share their thoughts and reflections on these issues, and find a connection with each other in the process. If you’re the type of person that likes to sit around and think about things, just think if you found someone you could share those thoughts with. That alone is very romantic.

What I liked about these films is that they focus on the conversations between the two characters. What makes this film different from the two other films I’ve seen by director Richard Linklater (Slacker and Waking Life) is that the conversations are interesting and amusing, and they serve a larger purpose: we experience the characters falling in love through their conversations. Think of When Harry Met Sally. One of the reasons I like that film is that we actually witness the two characters falling in love—much of the essence of that process occurs in the dialogue. So too with these Sunrise and Sunset films.

The setting of the films—Vienna in the first film and Paris in the second—add to the romance, of course. The two characters converse while walking on cobblestoned streets, riding in boats, sitting down in public squares or lying in the park.

The circumstances in both films also make the films romantic. In Sunrise, the two characters only have one day to spend with each other, and then he must leave. The short duration heightens the sense of romance and intensifies the feelings. The end is in sight, and the more they enjoy themselves, the more poignant (and romantic, in a tragic sense) will be their departure from one another.

In addition, and this sentiment may not be very romantic, but you can have a great relationship with anyone in one day. The thrill of meeting someone, and the freshness of getting to know that person—without experiencing the faults and other qualities that may ultimately rule out a long-term relationship—adds to the romance of the situation.

The audience also has a similar kind of experience. We (particularly the more critical of us) can put aside questions of realism because this moment in their relationship occurs before “real life” sets in. For example, Jesse and Celine don’t have to deal with conflicts about money, , taking each other for granted or experiencing annoying quirks and habits of the other person. (In Sunrise they even have a conversation about this.) How would these characters relate to each other in a real life context? We–and the filmmakers–are spared from having to answer this question because the film takes place at the most romantic–most impervious to the challenges of every day life–period in a relationship. The guarenteed short duration of their interaction makes this a relationship that will live on in one’s mind as a great romance. Indeed, this is exactly what Jay Gatsby does with Daisy in The Great Gatsby.


Unlike Gatsby, however, Jesse finds that there is something real there in the relationship he had with Celine. The second film, Before Sunset, reveals this. If it’s romantic to relive the relationship in the idealistic setting of one’s mind, it’s even more romantic to reunite with that special person, and find that romance in the real world!

I was a bit apprehensive about the second film. The challenge of not ruining this film, let alone make it good, was significant. I’m happy to say that the filmmakers succeeded in a big way. The chemistry between the two characters are still there. Unlike the first film, the characters and relationship is already established. We just need to see if the magic is still there, and in the first meeting it is.

The second film is filled with all kinds of circumstances that anyone in Jesse’s or Celine’s position after their meeting would fantasize and daydream about: what if Jesse returns to Vienna, and Celine is not there. But then what she really wanted to be there, but couldn’t because of a tragic ? What if Jesse got married and had a child. But then what if he’s not in love with her (even though he loves his son dearly), and has dreams about Celine? This is a separated lover’s ultimate fantasy film, and it’s the tragic and sad elements of the situations that make these circumstances deliciously romantic.

Writing this may make the film seem incredibly sappy and silly, but, for me, it was not. I guess, I really bought into their relationship. That didn’t happen instantly for me, either. Ethan Hawke didn’t seem really comfortable or natural delivering funny lines. In the first film he even takes on the cadence and mannerisms of Woody Allen. Julie Delpy also had a Diane Keaton vibe going, and I have to believe they had Annie Hall and Manhattan on their minds. (I could imagine Linklater saying to think of those films in some of the scenes.) Another connection with Diane Keaton is that Julie Delpy sings in this one, and, wow, I was blown away. In fact, she write and sings some of the songs on the soundtrack.

But after a while, I got into the relationship. I got to see them interact and be around each other, and through that process I believed they had something.

The other pitfall Linklater successfully avoided, imo, was the ending. How was he going to end this? Time is running out. Jesse needs to catch his plane, and return to his wife and child. Just as the film manages to avoid the showing the way these characters would deal with an everyday relationship, the film avoids showing specifically the way these characters will deal with the ultimate challenges they face. When Celine tells Jesse that he’ll miss his flight, he just smiles and says he knows. We get a look from Celine and that.s it. My initial reaction was a sense of disappointment. But when I thought about, the ending is in keeping with the rest of the film. The film focuses on the most ideal setting for a couple–safe from the difficulties of real life relationship. Larri also quickly pointed out to me that the ending fits with the begining when one of the journalists asks Jesse if the couple in his novel ever get together. His answer is that the answer largely determines what type of person you are: a cynic or a romantic. The film also has the same ambiguity and therefore the same type of propostion for the audience. Do Jesse and Celine actually get together and have a happy life? It depends on if you’re a cynic or a romantic.

10 Responses to “Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (Review)”

  1. arlyn

    I love both of these movies. Did you hear there’s a third expected next year? I have faith but I don’t have that much of it to believe that the third one won’t ruin it for the first two. There is no way they can repeat what they did for Sunrise and Sunset.

    Before Sunrise (10 out of 10)
    Before Sunset (9 out of 10)

  2. Reid

    I heard rumors, but I feel ambivalent about the remake, for reasons you mention. To me, if the script is less than stellar, they shouldn’t just forget about a third film.

    I’m curious to hear why you prefer Sunset slightly over Sunrise.

  3. Arlyn

    I was just a kid when I saw Before Sunrise 🙂 so this movie will always be special to me. Personally, it was more momentous to see the story of how Jesse and Celine met and how they wandered the cobblestone streets of Vienna, getting to know each other, than seeing how their lives turned out nine years later.

  4. Reid

    According to this Indiewire blog post, the third film–called, Before Midnight, is completed! Supposedly release is set for next year. I’m excited, but nervous, too. It will be a small miracle if this film is as good as the other two films.

  5. Arlyn

    This is the first I’ve heard that it’s finished!!!

  6. Arlyn

    In honor of Mitchell finally watching Before Sunrise, here are 5 questions inspired by the movie:

    1. If you had to travel by train through Europe for several days, which book would you bring along?

    2. Why do you think Celine took the risk of getting off the train?

    3. What did you think of the song they sampled in the listening booth, Come Here, by Kath Bloom?

    4. What word would you have given the poet to compose a poem?

    5. What month or date are they supposed to reunite?

  7. Reid

    1. The Odyssey (since that’s the book I’m reading now)
    2. Because she had the hots for Jesse–and she had a good vibe from their conversation.
    3. I didn’t think too much of it. I wasn’t paying attention, and it’s not my kind of music.
    4. Juju bees (That’s the first word that came to mind. Actually, it was smegma, but that’s too nasty, so…)
    5. I can’t remember.

  8. Mitchell

    I’ve already published my answers elsewhere, but here they are again:

    If you had to travel by train through Europe for several days, which book would you bring along?

    I have something of a motion-sickness problem, so I’m not even sure I could read anything in a moving train, but assuming either that it’s a smooth ride or that I’ve got enough Bonine in my system, wouldn’t the obvious choice be Murder on the Orient Express? Or what about Water for Elephants? In truth, I’d probably read what I usually read when I travel: murder mysteries by Sue Grafton or Janet Evanovich.

    Like Jesse, would you ever ask a stranger to wander the streets of a foreign city? Why do you think Celine took the risk of getting off the train?

    I’m assuming that somehow a conversation is begun between me and this stranger. I tend to mind my own business when I travel, and am usually not chatty at all, although if the woman seemed nice and seemed to want to converse, then yes: I could totally see myself asking a stranger to get off and wander. I wrote a short-short story in college about strangers meeting on a bus ride and striking up a conversation. (added: a short-short story that Reid mocks on occasion 🙂 )

    I could be wrong, but I think Celine could just tell that this was someone she could trust, and the easy way the two converse on the train makes it likely that they could be good friends. When you communicate so well with someone, you don’t want the encounter to be fleeting. The finite nature of a train ride hastened the relationship. It seems a natural decision.

    What did you think of the song they sampled in the listening booth, Come Here, by Kath Bloom?

    I’m listening to it now. Her voice reminds me a lot of Judy Collins or Joni Mitchell. This is a musician I’m unfamiliar with; I for some reason assumed she was some European singer, but she’s American and this song isn’t very old.

    There’s a wind that comes in from the north, and it says that loving takes its course;
    Come here; come here.
    ‘Though I am not impossible to touch, I have never wanted you so much;
    Come here; come here.

    In the context of the film, I liked the song, but had difficulty concentrating on it because the characters are so awkward and uncomfortable. This record store scene really disappointed me. I thought first that a record store was too easy a choice for the writer: characters often seem to interact in record stores or book stores and it’s kind of a cheap device. But then I thought about what I would do if I got off a train in a European city I’d never been to, and the obvious first choices are a bar, a restaurant, a cafe, a book store, and a record store. So then I thought that this scene was hurried through. I’ve spent a lot of time in record stores and book stores with potential love interests, and the conversations we have had were exciting, disappointing, revealing, awkward, and comfortable, sometimes all at the same time. I thought the script moved the characters too quickly into the listening booth and skipped over a lot of the early, interesting conversation that should have taken place.

    When I listen to the song now, I really like it. My rock and roll tastes have always leaned folky anyway.

    What word would you have given the poet to compose a poem?

    The character doesn’t have a lot of time to come up with a word, so I’m thinking I’d give him one of my go-to words when talking about words: lipstick, avocado, race car (that’s two words, so that’s out), antiseptic, or miso. Of these, lipstick seems the most poetic. I think I’d go with that.

    What month or date are they supposed to reunite?

    Ah, I can’t remember. I do know how far into the future it’s supposed to be, but I won’t write it here in case anyone’s reading who hasn’t seen the film.

  9. Arlyn


    I thought the song was just right for that scene. Smegma? That is just so wrong. 🙂 Juju bees would have been cool.


    Loved reading your responses. I would love to read your short-short story.

    I thought the script moved the characters too quickly into the listening booth and skipped over a lot of the early, interesting conversation that should have taken place.

    I never looked at that record store scene that way but after reading this I feel like I need to watch the movie again.

    I agree. There’s something poetic about the word “lipstick.”

  10. Arlyn

    I’m still working on my answers.

    Anyone have 5 questions for Before Sunset?

    Location notes for Before Sunrise: Traveling by rail from Budapest, Hungary, to Vienna, Austria, which is usually about a three-hour journey.

    Celine reading Madame Edwarda, Le Mort (The Dead Man) by George Bataille.

    Jesse reading All I Need Is Love by Klaus Kinski (autobiography of a German actor).

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