Before Sunrise : The Art of Communication

Who knew that a movie made about just two characters with their story over the span of less than 24 hours could be so interesting! What’s more, the entire film is just the conversations between the two characters. There is no action, or drama or surprise element to this movie. Except maybe the surprise of how well it still works by itself.

The idea behind the film is to follow the story of Jesse and Celine who meet on a train in Europe and strike up a conversation and decide to get down at Vienna and spend the night together exploring the city as they begin to get to know one another. I realise while I am writing this that out of context, it seems dumb that the girl should just get down in a foreign country with a guy she has known for a few hours, if even that. However, when you watch the movie, it just works. And the reason behind that is a well written script and a very convincing delivery by the actors.

When the two meet, it is quickly established that they’re both very interesting people. Celine is introduced as a French student and as someone who is very well read, with great exposure to art and a freedom to think for herself while Jesse is American, a very “guy” guy, and is apparently very confident.

I see the movie as being largely divided in three parts, which cover a lot of relationship milestones – first where the conversations revolve around family, death, reincarnation and love; second where they talk about relationships and their critique regarding them; and finally, the part where they talk about their relationship. I also feel that these parts, as a whole, cover a lot of relationship milestones. Incidentally, the first part is symbolic of the beginning of relationships when you don’t know that person well so you try to put your best foot forward. You try to sound as smart as you can and be as interesting as you can. You try to impress them by showing the best version of you. As relationships progress, we arrive at the second part, when we try to manipulate the conversations a certain way by giving hints here and there but never outrightly spelling out what we want to convey. It’s the same with Jesse and Celine as they steer the conversation towards relationships, by discussing their parents, grandparents and friends’ story, and even their own past relationships but neither one of them is comfortable talking about the possibility of theirs. Finally, the third part is representative to how with time, we feel comfortable enough to express ourselves to our loved ones. This is when they are able to finally arrive at the point. They are finally able to ask each other where they see this going and if either one of them wants to try to make it work beyond just this one night. Again, since the entire plot is their conversations over the course of meeting, falling in love, and saying goodbye to each other after just one night together, the relationship is a fast forward version of most others, which take months to cover the three phrases mentioned above.

Combined with the fact that the conversations in the movie throughout are very stimulating, there are certain moments that infuse the film with magic. Which makes us root for their love story. I am of course talking about the moment in the music booth, the ferris wheel, when the homeless poet writes them a poetry, when they are able to get their bottle of wine for free and when they listen to that man playing the piano. I also feel that collectively, most of us have been through relationships wherein we lack a certain depth to our conversations and when we come out of such relationships, that factor ends up being something we crave for more than most things from our next partner. So this movie is kind of like that wishful thinking of us hoping to find someone with whom we too, can have such soul-enriching deep conversations with.

They both have completely different points of view about nearly everything they discuss, but since they are both open to one another’s ideas and experiences, it comes off as them gaining a fresh perspective rather than them arguing all the time. If I had to pinpoint on what I love the most about them together, it would have to be precisely that. For instance, there is a scene towards the middle of the film, in the second part, when Celine poses this question to Jessie – ““Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” to which he responds “I think I’d rather die knowing that I was really good at something. That I’d excelled at something other than that I had just been in a nice, caring relationship.”

Train Scene – Part I of Relationship Phase
Carnival Scene – Part II of Relationship Phase

The film also shows us how our past experiences make us who we are. For example, Celine was raised in a family where she was given a stable environment, with her parents being together and allowing her to be independent and have her own thought process. They attempted “constant conversion of her fanciful ambitions into practical money-making ventures.” This allows her to be more optimistic about her chances of finder a right partner for herself, despite her past failed relationships. Jesse, on the other hand, has witnessed his parents falling out of love and ultimately getting a divorce. This stays with him even after becoming an adult as he is still cynical of love and relationships.

But ultimately, the point of the film is to communicate. Whether or not you agree with another. To be open to one another’s ideas. To gain perspective from another person’s experiences. To respect that someone is different from you and to celebrate it rather than to try to conform them to become a clone of yourselves. To seize the day because we never know when we find the right person for ourselves and to be brave enough to give it a shot despite the overwhelming odds. To believe in magic every now and then and let it do its thing…

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