Before Sunrise, above all things considered, is a love letter. It’s a love letter addressed to those who keep romanticized ideals of that four letter word at heart’s length. It restores hope to the hopeless romantics who believe the golden age of love was but a half century ago. A modern love story for modern lovers, Before Sunrise is Richard Linklater’s intoxicating, dialogue-driven romance that transcends sentimentality in favor of something more believable, something with soul and something contemporary despite being released nearly 20 years ago.
The first installment in a potentially strong trilogy, where 2004’s much-lauded Before Sunset and 2013’s recently announced Before Midnight are the successors, Before Sunrise tells a familiar love story that won’t knock anyone off their feet if it were to be read on paper, let alone a computer screen. Even if I dove thick into the premise, and I won’t, it wouldn’t change a thing about what makes the relationship between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy so worthwhile. As with real love shared between two individuals, it’s the little things that matter within heartfelt moments as well as after they pass. This is the territory in which Before Sunrise takes its strides in.
Essentially, two paths cross here. A traveling, young American man wishing to escape Europe for his home country meets a traveling French student on her way home to hers. After they realize one another, the rest is emotional lightning captured in a bottle; and unbelievably on camera. For perspective’s sake, take the nervous look you shoot at that certain someone, or when your own eyes light up as you share an uncertain, personal philosophy with a lovely other, or even the moment you just know you’re in the right place at the right time; these are all things that Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) find themselves naturally enveloped in.
While believable compatibility and look-me-in-the-eyes sincerity is what we all expect from romance-drama movies, keep in mind that Before Sunrise was released in the 90’s. In an era uncertain of its own genuineness as playfully pigeonholed in Clueless (which was released the same year as Linklater’s film), Before Sunrise distinguished itself amongst a crowd of airbrushed, surface-deep romantic blockbusters.
For context, take Leo McCarey’s 1939 Academy Award-sweeping Love Affair, as it serves as a near-spiritual sibling to the film. Like Before Sunrise, the leads are from America and France (only the countries/sexes are swapped) who both meet each other aboard a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. After their romantic discourse, the two agree to meet again six months down the road, as Jesse and Céline do; this is further explored in sequel, Before Sunset as Love Affair handles this plot element within its own timeframes. Both couples unabashedly fall for each other despite their unique, personal constraints. Their times shared together are nothing short of self-exploratory and ultimately fulfilling. Aside from the lack of an affair between their loving togetherness, Jesse and Céline approach each other with the same timeless attraction as seen 50+ years before where American romanticism was at its most dovelike.
With a script that seems plucked out from the “hey, I’ve been there, I’ve said that” vault of our mind, Richard Linklater and co-writer Kim Krizan deliver something every lover of any age can digest. Yet, it’s an even stranger thing when considering the following: the beautiful, indescribable way in which Hawke and Delpy perform this script makes it seem as the writers had no hand in it at all. Following two strangers into the night is exactly what viewers get; there are no bells, whistles, cliff-scraping turns, perspective-busting Kubrickian camera shots or anyone dumping potato sacks of money into the special effects department. The only thing the viewer will see is a love connection, which is expressed so true blue you’ll be colored red all over.
Before Sunrise is a rare gift in the way that it captures a moment we may forget in our heads, but never in our guts. It’s the kind of movie that speaks the same, sweet language found in a Sam Cooke song with a soul comparable to our own. All sap aside, it’s a real, great film (emphasis on the ‘real’) that comes from the same director who previously belted out Slacker and Dazed and Confused. The same audiences could also appreciate the amount of humanness found in this feature, too, only this time they may wanna bring their significant others alongside with ‘em.