Tuesday, March 20, 2012



Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan

The secret behind Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise," is that it's about the kind of conversations and chance encounters that we have everyday, and yet, the movie remains elusive, 'cause it's about the kinds of conversations and chance encounters we wished we had, or more importantly, the kinds of opportunities most of us wish we had taken advantage of (or maybe the ones we did). 

Some of you may know that the majority of these "Canon of Films" blog entries I write are prewritten before I post them. What you've just read is what I have written today. In a moment, you'll read what I wrote about "Before Sunrise," a few years ago, with nothing changed except for grammar errors (all the content is originally what I wrote), and I'm going to point out some things about what I wrote. It was written at a very specific moment in time in my life, and you'll be able to tell that.

The paragraphs below is what I previously wrote:

Two people are in a train car traveling through Europe, when one of them gets annoyed at a bickering couple and decides to switch to a different seat, one that’s closer to the other person on the train. Eventually they start striking up a conversation, but consider if they were in different cars, or on different trains, or if she, Celine (Julie Delpy), a French student at the Sorbonne, didn’t have the free time to jump off a train in Vienna and spend the day with Jesse, an American traveling on a Eurorail Pass, or if he, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) hadn’t gone back onto the train once he got to Vienna and suggest such an idea. 

One of the reasons film majors and filmmakers love the work of Richard Linklater is precisely because his best works have to do in some way with random moments of life, and the ways people use it. His two earlier works were “Slacker,” which followed one kid in a Texas town until he met another kid, and then followed that kid until they met another and then another… and with “Dazed and Confused,” he uses the “American Graffiti,” formula of taking high school kids in a certain time and a certain place and takes a closer look at their experience, only he place it in the summer of ’76. 

Now let me tell you a story, a couple Mondays ago, I had, as usual, a French class at eight o’clock in the morning and a Film Theory class at 7:00pm, and because I woke up so early, I needed coffee, and had a vanilla latte instead of a cafĂ© mocha. The extra sugar in the Mocha was sorely missed as I began to fall asleep half-way through class. So, when class ended, I lazily walked all the way to the second floor of the MSU (Moyer Student Union), found a comfy chair, and fell asleep. When I woke up, there was a note written to me by a girl who wanted to ask me out. After I read it and analyzed it to death, asked for outside opinions, and once I exhumed every joke I could think of about doing better with women when I’m asleep than when I’m awake, I finally called the girl and we met. Now what if I had gotten the Mocha, would I have still fallen asleep? Would I have slept in the MSU? What if all the chairs in the MSU were taken? Or what if that girl hadn’t decided to write me a letter? In addition to being about time, Linklater’s films are about free will, and no where is that more clear than in “Before Sunrise,” and its sequel “Before Sunset.” 

This film begins with this kind of choice to go on an adventure, and because it’s characters are two intelligent idealists who realize that if they don’t do this, they may never see each other again, they spend day and night in a dream-like Vienna as they enjoy intelligent conversations about everything from personal information to the illogicalness of reincarnation, to enjoy a record at what might have been the last record store in the world, to even going on the same ferris wheel as Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton did in “The Third Man.” That fact is never mentioned, presumably because the characters don’t know that, and/or ‘cause they don’t care. They’re in a real-life dream, and trivia is not important. They do know to go to a church, not because they’re religious, directly the opposite, it’s because that you go to churches 'cause they’re the architectural and social centers that still stands from the ancient days of Europe, when the religions had more importance and churches were memorials. 

In between, there’s enough real moments where the characters aren’t sure what their next moves are. Do you kiss now, do you look at him or look away, or look to see if she’s looking at you? I’ll tell you another story, in 12th grade, I participated in the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum where there was a girl in my discussion group named Valerie, who was smart, beautiful, and was elected to write an article on the meeting for the paper. (She had elected me to write it, but I was outvoted). We talked for a second on the way out and I had a chance to ask her out, or go talk to Senator John Ensign, who was proceeding on the discussion next door. I went up to John Ensign and called him an “asshole,” and to this day, I still regret not getting her phone number. Is that why I answered the girl’s letter this time, or would I have done it anyway? Either way, I still had a story on a day, this movie asks if a day is enough to fulfill us. Is it advocating free will, or just telling us about one whimsical moment between two strangers? It’s the essence of youth and time well spent, whether they exchange numbers or not.

I wanted to reveal that to you all for a few different reasons. One, to show you how terrible my writing can be sometimes, and two, more importantly, to explain how "Before Sunrise," gets at me personally. I can't imagine the film not getting to anybody on a deeply personal level. If it doesn't, I would wonder if that person had a pulse, or has ever lived to begin with. Remember the famous Everett Sloane monologue in "Citizen Kane," where Bernstein discussing having seen a woman in his youth on a ferry, never speaking to her, doubting that she'd even seen him, but continually thinking about that woman, even in his old age. I imagine most people have had such an encounter, maybe dozens or random conversations with strangers on a train or a bus, or in line at a supermarket, or wherever they might be...., and "Before Sunrise," might be what happened if he did talk to her.

It's somewhat frustrating to me is that every time I try to talk about "Before Sunrise," I always end up in a philosophical discussion. A wonderful one, kinda like the ones Jesse and Celine have all over Vienna, but it's tough talking about the film as a movie. Yes, I discussed it in my previous analysis, but only briefly. And yet, to describe the movie, would basically be a description of scenes from one to another, and even then, some might throw the film away as a remake of David Lean's great film "Brief Encounter". Sure, there's dozens of obvious comparisons, not the least of which, the ending on the train, but that's still too simple. For one thing, these aren't adults sharing a private night of personal emotions neither will reveal to themselves or anybody else again. "Before Sunrise," is immediate. They're two people who don't realize they'll get an experience that both will look fondly and tell stories about for the rest of their lives. They still might end up together, someday maybe..., but for the moment, they have a day and night, the city of Vienna, and a lifetime ahead of them.

Oh, because I'm sure you're all interested now, I never saw or found the Valerie girl again, and since Sen. John Ensign has since resigned in disgrace, I don't feel as bad about calling him an asshole, although I still occasionally wonder about Valerie.

I won't reveal the girl's name who left me the note, but I did meet her a few times. She looked a little like Laura Dern in "Blue Velvet" I remember, only with a long black goth trenchcoat, but we soon realized we weren't particularly compatible, even as just acquaintances at that time. There's a funny anecdote I tell about her where we broke up before we started dating, which stemmed from an argument we had over what constituted a date, but that's a long and mostly uninteresting story, and much of it has long been exaggerated by me for humorous effect. It's not worth going into really now.

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