Whither has your beloved gone,
O fairest among women?
Whither has your beloved turned,
that we may seek him with you?
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is cruel as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a most vehement flame.
Song of Solomon 6:1 & 8:6
Count me as one of that fortunate crowd that saw and fell under the spell of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), in which two young adults, an American man and a French woman, cross paths in Vienna, become so entranced with each other that they spend the night walking and talking, and then agree to meet in the same city at the same time the following year. It is now nine years later, and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is on a tour to promote his novel based on his experience during that night before sunrise in Vienna. It is his last day before he has to catch the plane returning him to Manhattan, and he is in a Parisian bookstore signing copies of his book, when he looks up and sees a familiar face at the back of the crowd. It is Celine (Julie Delpy), who shyly hangs back, until he finishes signing the last book and seeks her out.
His handlers remind him that there is not much time until his driver must take him to the airport, but Jesse waves this aside as he and Celine go looking for a cup of coffee to accompany their reminiscing. The two walk along the streets, even board a taxi-boat on the Seine, as they try to catch up on what has happened since that magic night in Vienna so long ago. He, or course, has become a writer, and she a conservation activist. Each are pleased that both are engaged in vocations in which they can espouse their love and concern for the world. Neither quite wants to ask or answer the question, “Did you go to Vienna the next year?” They dodge around this, at first claiming that they did not, but then Jesse at last admitting that he did go, and waited and waited. Celine is mortified, and then tells him that she had intended to show up, but that at the last minute her beloved grandmother had died, so that she had to attend the funeral. In their haste a year earlier, neither had thought to exchange addresses and telephone numbers. They lamely agree that it probably was for the best.
The two share some of the details of their lives during the years since, each claiming to be happily married, and each saying that they are glad the other is happy. They are not, of course, and as they slowly lower their defenses and open up again to each other, their long suppressed feelings re-emerge. Celine, worried that Jesse will miss his plane, resists at first his desire to go to her apartment so that he can hear one of the songs she has written—she refuses to sing one without her guitar. She finally gives in, and when she sings her song, we realize just how much that night had meant to her as well.
The first film was a remarkable work, mostly consisting of long stretches of “just conversation,” violating most of the rules for what Hollywood considers a good, romantic film. But what conversation, so rich and intelligent, and it is even better this time around. The two are now older, have lived and lost more, and have read and thought more about life, values, and religion, which we hear so well put in their exchanges. They discover that she had also lived in Manhattan for a time, and that the girl he saw at a distance on lower Broadway could indeed have been her—and thus we are led to think of “what might have been.” But not for long, the film soon veering in another direction. The two stars wrote much of their dialogue, and in the credits I saw that Julie Delpy even wrote the song she sang. What a treat of a film!
1) What do you think of the American policeman’s comment to Celine concerning her reluctance to buy a gun for self-protection, “You’re living in America, not France”? What does this reveal about our culture?
2) How typical concerning religion is Jesse’s reply about whether or not he is a Buddhist: “No, I’m not buying into any one belief”? Why do you think so many young adults would agree with him? What does this say about the way in which Christians have been perceived, or the ways in which they have presented their faith to non-believers?
3) What was it about the Trappist monks that Jesse found attractive? How might their more laid back approach be a better means of sharing the nature of the Christian faith than more direct or concentrated means?
4) How does his quoting Einstein’s comment about “the magic of the universe” show that he is open to belief? What might you say to the two about “the mystical core of the universe”?
5) What can we learn about interpersonal communication and sharing of values from the film?