BEFORE SUNRISE - Linklater's Strangers on a Train
Richard Linklater’s follow-up to “Dazed and Confused” successfully implements the same approach
Realease Date: January 19th, 1995
Date of My First Viewing: May 20th, 2019
”Dazed and Confused” is my all-time favorite film. It is a film that connects to me on so many ways, and I’ll be telling you why on this site soon enough. I needed to get this out there on the front-end of this “Before Sunrise” review, and I’m sure a lot of you will under why. “Before Sunrise” is what Richard Linklater did directly after “Dazed and Confused”. It is also a film I had avoided over the years because my idiotic thinking was along the lines of, “This sounds like such a rash and strange departure of what Linklater was trying to do with ‘Dazed and Confused’ as a director'“. I couldn’t have been more wrong. “Before Sunrise” and “Dazed and Confused” share so many common threads that I deserve to have the King’s Landing shame bell rung in my direction for avoiding this movie up until now. Go ahead and ring it. I told you I deserve it.
For those who might need a recap of this film's plot, I’ll be happy to spell it out in a couple of sentences. Céline (Julie Delphy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meet on a train from Budapest after Céline moves seats to avoid an awkward argument between two other passengers. Céline is returning to school in Paris, while Jesse is heading to Vienna to get back to the United States. The two strike up an immediate connection, and, as they reach Vienna, Jesse convinces Céline to spend the time with him in Vienna until he must depart. Céline agrees, they tour Vienna, and learn so much about each other. Because they are strangers and probably won’t ever see each other again, they feel an easiness in opening themselves to each other, which allows them both to reveal intimate details about their lives. That’s the plot. That’s the movie. That’s what makes “Before Sunrise” so wonderful.
Like “Dazed and Confused”, “Before Sunrise” takes place in a shortened time period over the span of an afternoon, evening, and early morning. There is no traditional plot structure. No traditional antagonists or villains. The only thing that comes close to an antagonist is the ticking clock to morning when Jesse must catch his flight, and this chance meeting comes to an end. In “Dazed and Confused”, Linklater captured how a typically ordinary and mundane evening can be magical and important to one’s life. He did it with a large cast of characters that moved in and out of each other’s orbits. With “Before Sunrise”, he ups the difficulty and accomplishes it with two characters.
Céline and Jesse are the only characters of consequence in the film. A few others have speaking parts, but they only exist to aid the examination of these two individuals by the audience and by each other. Because of this chance meeting on the train, they are the only things that matter to each other. This is expressed, visually, throughout the film. Whether it’s the shots on the train, where Céline and Jesse are focused on each other as the world outside passes them by, or the shots in Vienna where the two continue to focus on each other as this old and foreign city serves as the backdrop. The connection and opportunity to get to know more about each other triumphs over their surroundings. Each person has found what they were really looking for in the moment. This section of dialogue, late in the movie, really sums it up:
Jesse: I feel like this is some dream world we're in, you know?
Céline: 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
Jesse: And what's so cool is that this whole evening, all our time together, shouldn't officially be happening
Céline Yeah, I know. Maybe that's why this feels so otherworldly. But then the morning comes,, and we turn into pumpkins, right?
I know a lot of reviews about this film bring up the concept of time. Many discuss how Céline and Jesse exist out of time as they explore Vienna. They, again, are in their own worl. Like the film states, the two are “back in real time” when the morning comes, and both must make their departure. The universe allows them to check out of their lives, the normal flow of time, and live an evening outside of all structure. The universe actually allows them to live. In “Dazed and Confused”, the events of the evening also seem to be placed out of time. When morning comes, Pink still has to face consequences of his decision. Mitch is told by his mother that she’s going to look the other way at him coming home early in the morning.
One scene in the film, a trip to the cemetery for forgotten and unknown people, really touched up another concept Linklater explored in “Dazed and Confused”. Céline and Jesse are surrounded by unknown people who were lost in the world. It’s obvious to the viewer that Céline and Jesse also feel like they are unknown people lost in the world, even though they have relatively good and stable lives. The line, “I can’t complain about anything” is said. There is something missing, at least there is in their minds, and a chance meeting on a train fills that void. Several characters in “Dazed and Confused” also spend the duration of their roles in the film looking for that meaning, even though their lives are also stable. The scene on the football field where Pink bemoans his position, and his friends call him on it specifically comes to mind. The void one feels in their youth, even if they do live a good life, is valid and legit. You don’t really know when it’s going to be filled until, say, you have a chance meeting on a train or just decide to go get Aerosmith tickets with your friends.
As mentioned earlier, there is no good reason why it took me long to watch “Before Sunrise”. This is a beautiful film across the board. Delphy and Hawke have lovely chemistry, and Linklater just lets that develop naturally throughout the progression of the movie. I’m glad this project and website allowed me to take a deep dive into the film and get these thoughts out in the open. I know I’m probably not hitting any new ground, but this is what I took away from the film. Like “Dazed and Confused”, it’s a wonderful mediation on self-discovery. This one just happens to involve two strangers on a train instead of a party at the Moon Tower.