Before Sunrise & Before Sunset: One long take of a short love story

Before Sunrise

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world… it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know it’s almost impossible to succeed… but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.”

Celine says this in Before Sunrise and it is something that stuck with me through the viewings of both films. Finding and sharing something with someone else can be hard especially if you just met them on a train and asked if they would accompany you around Vienna. But this act of finding someone and sharing a special moment is the basis of these two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

I had not heard anything of these films until the reactions from the third act, Before Midnight, came from Sundance and people were calling for the “perfect” conclusion to this love story. As someone who can’t help but enjoy a good love story I became intrigued and tried them out. Thank God I did because I was introduced to a very unique romance.

What struck me most about these films was the dialogue. It felt like Tarantino was doing a love story. The takes were incredibly long and the actors seemed fine with that, never really worried that they may have to walk and keep a natural conversation going for five to ten minutes at a time. This act of getting to know someone so personally from a face to face conversation was so intriguing to me being someone who has grown up in the cyber-world of texting and instant messaging. Talking and learning about someone just doesn’t always come from a face to face confrontation anymore but these two not only got to know each other but learned more about themselves through these conversations.

Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) looked a little timid when he talked to Celine (Julie Delpy) the first time but at the same time he had an aura around him that said he wasn’t the most shy person ever. He had a personality to him and he wouldn’t be shy too long which showed as he grew more comfortable with Celine. Maybe it was the wine but his comfortableness with her was very apparent as the night went on.

But it all comes back to act of connecting with someone. I look at one seen in Sunrise when a palm reader comes over to them. They have already laughed about how Jesse had made awkward eye contact with her and now had to face the crazy woman. Already they have established their awkward inability to connect with someone else and with the palm reader coming over, this fact about them both becomes clearer. She comes over and started her act, predicting Celine’s future. When she left, Jesse remained unconvinced. The palm reader had called Celine to a “T”, she wanted adventure. Jesse harps that the woman is nuts and that she is telling Celine what she wanted to hear only to make her money, totally unaware that she had just pegged their lives together perfectly.

Nine years pass and we are now in Paris. The two had to separate after a passionate night together and promised to meet six months later. Jesse speaks in a book store about his latest novel, one that is eerily similar to that night in Vienna. What makes the next moment wonderful is its lack of pageantry, he probably should have had doves fly from either side as he turned to look at Celine but they didn’t, it was a moment of natural shock.

The moment on first viewing annoyed me. I wanted that pageantry and I wanted them to have a momentous return to each other but I suddenly realized that they couldn’t. Based on his look, they hadn’t met up again and this was the first time they had seen each other since. Thankfully Sunset keeps the dialogue that hooked me so deeply into the previous film. But this time their conversation aren’t about dreams and passions, they are grounded. They talk about work and life. Celine has taken a job helping out an organization while Jesse of course is writing.

Their conversations don’t have that laughing and hopefulness that they previously had. This isn’t bad but these characters have clearly changed. Celine again brings up magic. She quotes Einstein saying that if you don’t believe in any magic, you don’t have anything. I’m paraphrasing of course but the meaning rings true. She still is looking for that magic but sadly that magic has changed from Vienna. Instead of adventure, she is looking for love, marriage, and stability. She isn’t dreaming of running off with Jesse but it isn’t far off in her mind.

The ambiguous ending left me so unsatisfied. While I thought it was great, I was left wanting more and wanting closure. Like I’m sure the characters wanted, I needed some sort of sign that their love was still fresh or gone again. But I realized, that was the point. In Sunrise we are left with this hopefulness, this little hook that maybe, just maybe they would be together and everything would be grand. But in Sunset, we are settled in that realism. Jesse is married and while he is unhappy he is still married. It is clear that he wants Celine instead but consciously he can’t do it. The ending leaves us with so many questions and it needed that. Their lives are a bunch of questions.

I feel that I preferred Sunrise more based on the growth of the relationship. As I mentioned, I loved watching them gain more knowledge of the other and fall in love based on that rather than a typical romantic comedy that builds off hijinks and over the top speeches to the other. This love was real. They built it from the ground up and almost built a whole structure in one night. But life hits and the structure fell. While they were back together nine years later, it wasn’t to build again, it was to look for the rubble, to find some sort of magic.

“Memory is a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past.”

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
Zach Dennis is currently a Junior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is a Journalism/Electronic Media major with a Cinema Studies minor. He is from Chattanooga, TN.

Want to write about Film or other art forms?

Create writer account


  1. Nomanland

    You know this will be the best trilogy ever.

  2. I haven’t had the fortune of seeing these movies. I hear they’re wonderful, though. I find it funny how easy of a concept love is, yet it’s so difficult to make a good movie about it. Great write-up, by the way.

  3. These were two of my favourite films and I haven’t found any other films that could replace them. I agree, I loved Before Sunrise more than its sequel. I was instantly captivated by these incredible films the first time I decided to test them out about 2 years ago. I loved their dialogue. Their entire romance is rested entirely on their conversations. I loved how detailed it was. An entire romance set within the space of roughly a day – an afternoon, in the case of Sunset. It’s one of those jewels of romantic films that often go unnoticed in all the contemporary cliched romance depicted in many films before and after it. I extremely like their ambiguous endings. They do it in such a way that you seriously want more of it. I’m so glad they are making a third film out of it!

  4. Jon Lisi
    Jon Lisi

    I’m glad I found this–these are my favorite films and you wrote a really personal, honest tribute to them.

  5. I would agree with the dissonance at the end.

Leave a Reply