Before Sunrise

A chance encounter, leading to one beautiful night in Vienna that defies time and space.
Before Sunrise (1995)

Have you ever dreamed of what might happen if you decided to interact with that person you locked eyes with when walking down the street? Maybe you’ve imagined a scenario in which you ask the classmate you like out for a drink? Or perhaps you’ve envisaged a life together with the stranger sitting opposite you on the train? Before Sunrise is the fantasy that plays out in our heads. The ideal romance where everything clicks into place. One night of pure, incandescent bliss. 

Life is full of one-time opportunities. Every little decision or interaction can send you on an entirely different trajectory. With each choice you make comes the regret of the ones you didn’t. If I’ve learned one thing in my 23 years of living, it’s to make the most of every second. A rule that our lovers in Before Sunrise most certainly live by. At least for tonight. 

When I was younger, I was a big culprit for bailing out of situations. Invited to a party? I made up some excuse and stayed at home. The chance to speak to someone I had a crush on? I opted to say nothing. I was so caught up in what might happen, I never found out what did. One thing I particularly avoided for a while after I turned 18 was going out to nightclubs. All of my friends were going while I shrugged it off as being not for me. When I finally caved in and went for the first time, it was like a whole new world exploded in front of my eyes. Pounding music, flashing lights, and at the centre of it all, a very drunk me. I’d never felt so alive or free. I’d also never been so wrong, assuming that I would hate the experience. That was an important turning point in my life; the realisation that I don’t know what will happen unless I actually do it. So now, when a new opportunity arises, I try to dive straight in. You never know, that stranger sitting next to you on the train could be your soul mate. 

The chance encounter at the heart of Before Sunrise encompasses these ideas. All it takes is one conversation between Jesse and Céline to catalyse a life-changing relationship. It may be finite but its impact will stand the test of time. A fleeting moment of serenity, with the world slowing down to meet it. With each minute that passes, their bond grows stronger and the seconds tick slower. Love can make you feel weightless, as if nothing else around you matters. Jesse and Céline may as well have been floating. 

Linklater managed to strike gold on presenting the intricacies of love. Those tiny gestures that usually go unnoticed are front and centre, framed and on display for all to see. Reaching out to touch another’s hair, only to hesitate and back away at the last second. Sneaking in looks when the other is seemingly unaware. Deeply exhaling when the chance arises, a form of release from the constant pang of butterflies. These idiosyncrasies perfectly replicate the feelings of Jesse and Céline for the viewer. Love has never felt so exposed. 

The conversations we witness feel strikingly real. The initial awkwardness and hesitation to reveal too much. The passionate debates on religion, gender and spirituality that follows. Then finally the open, honest chats that only seem to happen at night. Dialogue shifts from the head to the heart. After the initial stutters, it starts to form a rhythm. A melody of thoughts and feelings. Silences become meaningful rather than jarring, interruptions feel intentional rather than accidental. When totally at ease with one another, a conversation is like a symphony. Rising and falling, swaying to the beat of hearts. It’s a beautiful thing to be in love.

Before Sunrise captures the magic of love at first sight, told through two youthful and exuberant leads. To watch their romance blossom is akin to watching a bonfire. It begins with a spark, gradually increasing into a roaring blaze until ultimately getting extinguished by a gust of wind. Short and intense. Fiery and passionate. Captivating to watch. Under different conditions, it could have lasted longer. It doesn’t matter though. The embers will always remain.

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