Need More Time: Past, Present, and Future of Before Sunset


Richard Linklater’s followup to 1995’s Before Sunrise,  appeared quietly in 2004. Picking up nine years after the original, Linklater wastes little time connecting his new movie, Before Sunset, to the past. In the first scene, he catches up with Jesse (Ethan Hawk), now a novelist on tour in Europe, who tells critics that his book, curiously about two travelers who spend one romantic night together in Vienna, encapsulates the sum of his life. His collective experiences inform who his book’s characters. Linklater tries a similar effect with Jesse and Celine, Jesse’s unforgettable one-night stand. Through his editing, script, and actors, Linklater connects points in time to create one single moment.

Linklater jumps from year to year through editing in the first scene. When answering his critics, Jesse describes his perspective on time and his book, but Linklater shows what Jesse means. He flashes back nine years, when Jesse and Celine were together. With Jesse narrating the montage in the present, Before Sunrise creates the sum of time. The past experience informs his present answer. Is his book autobiographical? The viewer now knows that is.

Linklater jumps present to past to present. Jesse narrates over the flashback keeping the scene in the same "time."

Linklater jumps present to past to present. Jesse narrates over the flashback keeping the scene in the same “time.”

This continues through dialog when Jesse and Celine reunite. As they play catch up, they talk about past and present in conjunction, commenting and reminiscing on the past. However, what makes the conversation interesting is how they attempt to deceive each other. Jesse lies about going to Vienna for their planned post-Sunrise meet up, and Celine pretends that the two did not have sex. Twice. These two have grown since Sunset; Jesse is married and Celine is involved. Their past experience affects how they talk in the present, and their current lives affect how they talk about the past. Memory may be a wonderful thing, but for how much they’ve changed physically, emotionally they still connect, which is something their current relationships should not allow.

Given how little time they have in this movie, their conversations exhibit for more intensity and less fooling around—they don’t even kiss in this movie. Jesse comments on how different their lives could’ve been had Celyn showed up in Vienna. And while both have changed in the last ten years, neither are happy They both now what want what they assumed was lost and curse their former selves for putting them in this position. Suddenly, not only does the past damage their present situation, but also their future one. Well, supposedly.

The end of the film brings all of these things together. Jesse looks over pictures of Celine’s life as Celine sings a song about their experience together. Their lives were turned into something beautiful, something that inspires a happy moment together. The film ends before they can come together, as to “not take the piss out of it,” but assumptions can be made based on all the things we’ve seen and all the things we are seeing.

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