The beautiful magic of ‘Before Sunrise’


Before Sunrise (1995)

Directed by Richard Linklater

How can something as simple—minimalistic, even—as “Before Sunrise” be so profoundly romantic, memorable, and magical? Richard Linklater’s 1995 romance movie began a beautifully revolutionary trilogy, one that was able to stay relevant for 18 years. Linklater took his time, putting his movies out every 9 years instead of every other year (or even every year…or even the same year! I’m looking at you, “Matrix” sequels) like most impatient directors.

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet by chance on a train bound for Vienna. There, Jesse will catch a plane back to America. Celine is just on her way home to Paris. When they meet, they only meant to pass some boring train time with light conversation. They didn’t expect to spend the whole night together wandering Vienna and slowly falling in love. But they do. Problem is, Jesse leaves in the morning and this could be their last night together.


It’s a simple plot with no antagonist or plot twist. It only cost about $2.5 million to shoot. How did it work? Part of it is the immediate chemistry between its two charismatic young leads. But it’s not cliché Hollywood romance. It’s awkward. It’s not love at first sight, and they don’t kiss as soon as they would of if this were an inferior movie. It’s not always smooth and romantic. They’re just two young, idealistic lovers. It’s a “Titanic” romance, but without the distraction of a crazy fiance or oceanic disaster.

But is this script—full of poignant chats about love and life, men and women—hugely profound…or a giant cliché? Some of this stuff we’ve heard before. That’s not to say it’s not deep and full of truth, but maybe it’s not all that original. I hate to say it, but sometimes I felt like I was listening to someone’s first script. Some of it felt recycled from decades of romance movies and intelligent dialogues. But don’t get me wrong, most of the time you hear smart, realistic chatter. Dialogue that keeps you engaged even though the same two actors have 95% of the screentime. Most of the time, it feels natural and beautiful…but sometimes, it feels forced.

Oh, one more complaint: Ethan Hawke’s tacky black leather jacket squeaks unnecessarily whenever he is hugged…or even if he moves a certain way. Irritating as f*ck. But otherwise, great movie.


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