Mark Overanalyses Film

Before Sunrise

February 14, 2024 Mark Hennigan Season 4 Episode 9
Before Sunrise
Mark Overanalyses Film
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Mark Overanalyses Film
Before Sunrise
Feb 14, 2024 Season 4 Episode 9
Mark Hennigan

If there's any magic in this world, it's in the space between Mark and a great movie as he tries to figure out what makes Before Sunrise so romantic, how the film is a masterpiece of understated structure, and why nobody has described the brilliance of Richard Linklater better than Richard Linklater describing the brilliance of Eric Rohmer.

Show Notes Transcript

If there's any magic in this world, it's in the space between Mark and a great movie as he tries to figure out what makes Before Sunrise so romantic, how the film is a masterpiece of understated structure, and why nobody has described the brilliance of Richard Linklater better than Richard Linklater describing the brilliance of Eric Rohmer.

Hi everybody, and welcome to Mark Overanalyses Film! Today, in honour of the season of love, I will be overanalysing 1995’s impossibly romantic Before Sunrise. Because nothing says romance like a combination of February in Ireland and overanalysis.

Before I begin, allow me to remind you that I am available for reading, script editing, and story coaching at And also, if you enjoy this podcast, please do share and/or recommend it. It really would be a great help. 

Before Sunrise was directed by Richard Linklater, and he co-wrote the screenplay with Kim Krizan. It should be noted as well though that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were heavily involved, and went onto co-write the sequels with Linklater. 

Now, I love Before Sunrise, and I could not think of a more romantic story to analyse for the time of year that’s in it. But I also wanted to cover Before Sunrise because of quotes such as this from Russell T Davies: “There’s so many writing classes these days, there’s university courses, and lectures, and you can go online and read things, and they all break writing down into A stories and B stories, C stories - it’s all rubbish. Burn those books. Stop those courses. Close them down. The only thing you need to do is understand people.” Counterargument, Russell T Davies: go fuck yourself. I’m adding you to the now growing and worrisomely admirable and talented Enemies of the Pod list along with the equally anti-structure writer Charlie Kaufman, fictional character Princess Peach from The Super Mario Bros Movie, and the screenplay for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But seriously, this attitude does annoy me, because it’s like finding the loudest voices that disagree with you online and then saying everyone who disagrees with you says what those voices say. If you go on a writing course, and all they do is talk about A, B, and C plots, you’re at a terrible writing course. Who in their right minds does not prioritise an understanding of people as the most important facet of any good story. I mean, The Super Mario Bros Movie and the screenplay for The Last Jedi, I guess. 

So, to my mind, Before Sunrise is a classic example of a film that someone might raise to show that stories don’t need to “follow the rules”. It feels so natural, so organic, almost ephemeral. But this is not Mark Enjoys Going With The Flow of Great Films Because Art Is Essentially Unknowable. This is Mark Overanalyses Film, and Mark is going to take this organic, ephemeral, romantic meeting of two young lovers and turn it into a series of beautiful, completely efficient, fit-for-purpose cogs. Ok, I’m kidding. But I’m not completely kidding. Because you know who does believe in structure? Richard Linklater. To quote the man himself: “When I write a screenplay, I’ve diagrammed the architecture of the story. There’s really got to be a structure; art demands it.” Now, it’s important to say, the next sentence was “I care more about structure, less about plots.” And that’s an interesting distinction to make. Now, I don’t want to get too bogged down in what is plot vs what is story, or what is structure, but let me just say that basically I think Linklater means that he wants his story to be as character-focused as possible, for the story to derive from the internal psychology of the protagonist. And that, I am all on board with. 

So, keeping all that in mind, what I’d like to do here is show how the story of Before Sunrise is both manifested from the psychology of the protagonist and how it also follows a textbook structural story shape. 

To do that, first, I’ll look at the fundamental features of the protagonist, and then I’ll go through the main story beats by looking at the sequences of the film. Then, I’ll talk about the main things I learned along the way.

So, let’s begin by defining our protagonist. And immediately we’re into interesting territory here, because surely when most people think of Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine are inseparable, and the story is so about their relationship as a couple. Now, in rare situations, it can be that a film has multiple protagonists, but I don’t believe that to be the case here. If it’s hard to define a protagonist though, there are a couple of questions we can ask ourselves. Whose choices shape the story? And, whose change or non-change defines the story? So, does someone change here? And if so, how? Well, I’ll get into these questions as we go, but for me, the protagonist has to be Jesse: an American boy travelling around Europe with a broken heart who happens to meet a beautiful French girl to whom he is immediately drawn.  

Now, other than these surface factors, there are really 3 ways that our story defines just who the protagonist really is: their life dream, their Want or tangible objective for the middle of the film, and their Need. 

So, the Life Dream is basically what Jesse wants when we first meet him and before the events of the story really get going. Now, he’s trying to woo Celine pretty quickly, so you could absolutely say that. But when we first meet him, really Jesse is just trying to deal with a broken heart while planning to return to the States tomorrow.

Ok, so the next thing is the protagonist’s Capital W Want, or the tangible objective for the middle of our film. This gives the protagonist a goal to strive for, and therefore something to keep them busy while they’re growing as a character. It has to be both significant enough to last through the whole middle part of the film and tangible enough so that we can say whether it has been achieved or not. This gives the story its sense of beginning, middle, and end. Or, before, journey of change, and after.

And this is, I think, one of the main things that makes Before Sunrise feel so organic and why people might feel like it doesn’t actually have a “plot”. Because the Want is pretty light touch here, but it is certainly present. Now, it’s clear that both Jesse and Celine are interested romantically in each other, so you could certainly convince me that the Want is around that question, but Jesse outlines his objective when convincing Celine to get off the train with him. He wants to hang around Vienna and see a bit of the city before his flight tomorrow, and he wants her to do it with him. It is this objective that is achieved by the end of the 2nd act. 


So, the last and arguably most important thing we need to define for the protagonist is his Need. The Need is the human quality or piece of wisdom that the protagonist is missing at the beginning of our story but learns by its end. And so, this is why Before Sunrise’s protagonist is Jesse, because his Need is, to my mind, what this film is all about, and why so many people of a certain persuasion will adore it for all eternity. When we first meet Jesse, he has had his heart broken because he travelled all the way to Europe to see a girl he was meant to be romantically engaged with and she blew him off. By the end of the film, he has decided to travel all the way to Europe to see a girl he is meant to be romantically engaged with. Jesse’s journey is from heartbroken cynic, with a typical broken hearted chip on his shoulder about the opposite sex, to a boy who totally believes in the power of romantic love again.

Ok, now that I’ve set everything up and defined our protagonist and what I consider our thematic tension, let’s finally have a look at the story stages of Before Sunrise. 


The Sequences

There are traditionally, but not always, 8 sequences, or stages, in a film. A sequence is a combination of scenes that are tied together by having a single overriding dramatic question or tension, and they tend to be between 10 and 15 minutes in length. A good way to think about it is that every 10-15 minutes, the audience should be on some level asking themselves a different dramatic question. Now, another quick point on this. If you’re thinking about a typical “plotty” kind of movie — like say, a thriller — then these sequence tensions are probably going to be really clear, really tangible. In fact, they’re pretty much going to feel like a series of mini-missions in themselves. So, for example, in Act II of The Dark Knight, first Bruce Wayne has to capture Lau from Hong Kong in sequence III, then he has to save Harvey Dent at his own fundraiser in sequence IV, then he has to try to find Joker before the psychopathic agent of chaos can kill the mayor in sequence V, and so on and so on. 

The sequence tensions in Before Sunrise are obviously less clear and less tangible, but I hope we can see that they are still very much here. There is still tension in this film, it’s just being generated from the characters. That doesn’t mean it’s breaking any rules, it just means it’s really, really good character-led storytelling! 

So, Act I has our first two sequences, and the first one is always pretty much “life as it is”. Now, remember, as far as I’m concerned, this film is a journey from cynicism to romance. So, what is the first thing we see? Before either of our leads, we see a middle aged couple who are absolutely sick of each other, quarrelling in public. It is about as strong an argument for staying single as you’re ever likely to see. And ironically, this argument is the inciting incident for our most romantic of stories, or it is the event without which our story as it is would not happen. Because, the argument gets so loud and aggressive that Celine has to move and just so happens to sit beside pretty boy Jesse. And what is their first conversation about? The fact that older couples have to go deaf or they’d kill each other. [] The bickering couple soon leave and return, so Jesse — making choices which define the shape of our story — asks Celine to go to the lounge car with him.

Now, I have to say, when I watched Before Sunrise for the first time, I was probably around the age of Jesse and Celine, and of course I found it romantic and all of that, and I still absolutely do. But the nature of that romance has changed somewhat for me. Because these kids are shy and soulful and romantic and searching for something in life. But they are also two smoking hot 20-somethings that want to get into each other’s pants and are willing to endure quite a lot of awkwardness and overlook quite a few red flags to get that point. Which, I now find both pretty funny and somehow just as romantic a notion as ever. I bring this up because their first conversation is pretty awkward. Jesse doesn’t get that she makes fun of him for not speaking any other languages, and Celine is willing to overlook… well most things about Jesse because he happens to look like 25-year-old Ethan Hawke. He clearly has some anguish over his time in Europe, and he has just a terrible idea for a TV show. But there is something worth noting here. Jesse has found out that Celine is travelling to Paris, and he is getting off in Vienna. So, when the waiter brings the menu at minute 10 and we suddenly cut forward into their conversation, we must, on some level, be wondering the question: “Will Jesse find a way to keep talking to Celine?” And so, with our first real tension now, we enter sequence II.

And there is something else important to note here. I’ve said Jesse is cynical, but of course, he’s not really. He is definitely a romantic at heart. But we’re going to see that life has kinda worn him down a bit. However, here in our first sequence, there is a hint of what’s underneath. In order to tell a gorgeous French girl that he plays by his own rules, he conveys a story about seeing his dead grandmother through a haze as a child. It’s a sweet story, and Celine will reveal later that this is the moment she fell for him. And you can see it on her face right as it happens. And no sooner have they bonded over talking about death then the train begins to pull into Jesse’s stop. And so, Jesse now has to convince Celine to get off the train and join him for a night in Vienna, and he takes an unusual approach. [] Now, I will say: according to Ethan Hawke, this pitch was concocted by the actors because, whatever Jesse was supposed to say originally, was not convincing to Julie Delpy. But it perfectly fits with our protagonist’s arc. Even in trying to convince this girl to make this romantic gesture, his pitch is still “You’re going to be unhappy later, so let’s cross me off your list of potential ‘What-could-have-beens’.” It also feels like it foreshadows Before Midnight pretty well. But for now, it works. They get off the train together to spend the evening and night in Vienna. And so, at that, at minute 16, we end Act I and we enter Act II. 

Act II begins with sequence III: “the first attempts to solve the problem”, and the moment these two are off the train, surely we’re wondering if they will move from awkward strangers to awkward incipient romantic partners. Put simply: the question is “Will Jesse kiss Celine?” Now, there’s a few things to get into here. First of all, at the bridge from the first act to the second act, we generally have a “What’s the plan?” scene. This is a scene that tells the audience what they can expect to see for the duration of the long 2nd act. Now, getting off the train, Jesse pretty much laid it out. But here, the first thing we see is the two potential lovers walking around figuring each other out and talking about art and life. In this particular case, they talk about museums and theatre to two Austrians. Who behave exactly how you’d expect young Europeans of a certain ilk in the 90s to behave: “Something something art isn’t interesting anymore something something passive aggressive comment about Americans something something we’re in a bullshit post-modern play cos nothing that makes sense is interesting something something please give us your American money”. 

Anyways, sequence III is always one of the more interesting in a film. Because within the sequence, the protagonist always refuses the call to their Need before finally making their first unconscious move towards their Need at the end of the sequence. And so, here on a tram, as Jesse just so happens to have stretched his arms so that they’re behind Celine as he introduces the idea of sex and that he’s an athlete (no big deal), he says, sure he’s told someone he loved them before, but what does that even mean. This man is still heartbroken, and expresses doubt over the essential notion of romantic love. He is rejecting the call. Fortunately for him, in the next scene, he has an impossibly romantic experience. Stuffed into a cramped listening booth with a gorgeous woman who he shares a mutual attraction and genuine connection with, he hears for the first time the gorgeous “Come Here” by Kath Bloom. If that doesn’t make you believe in romance, I don’t know what will. And so, shortly thereafter, he and Celine find themselves on their own in a carriage on a ferris wheel, overlooking the city of Vienna at sunset. It is the moment to take their connection to the next level, but at this point Jesse still needs Celine to help him. [] At that, a bridge has been crossed, and these two are now unquestionably, at least for one night, romantic partners. The first unconscious move towards the protagonist’s Need has been made, and so it’s time we enter Sequence IV: the greater attempts to solve the problem.

Now, you’ll notice that as soon as Jesse and Celine have kissed, it is night time. And I do not think for one second that that is a coincidence. That is thematic setting. This is their one night together as a couple. And in this sequence here, we have four scenes: the amusement park, the fortune teller, seeing an art poster, and in a church, before we finally end with our midpoint along the river. And you might notice that in all of these scenes there is an in-built tension between Jesse and Celine that is of a deeper nature than in sequence III. The previous sequence was all awkward flirting that was all about leading to a moment where it would be acceptable to kiss for the first time. But now that has happened, the conversation takes on a deeper, more personal, more serious nature. And you’ll notice that in these scenes, Jesse is not only being cynical, but providing explanatory context for that cynicism. So, in the amusement park, he explains how his parents are divorced and that his mother told him that his father never wanted him. He says that he’s learnt to feel like life is a big party that he got to crash. And it is completely obvious that this last part is total BS. Then, when they meet the fortune teller, he is immediately dismissive, and annoyed by the fact that she is condescending towards him. Also, on the train, he spoke about the poetry of everyday life. Here, he talks about how he’d love to see a Fortune Teller tell an old lady that she’s going to live a boring life until she dies. What happened to the poetry of making a little coffee in the morning, Jesse?! In the church, he tells the story of how his friend is an atheist and taunted a homeless man who said he believed in God. So, ya, Jesse’s parents and friends are… not the romantic type it sounds like. And the fortune teller talked up his love interest while kind of dismissing him. So, he’s insecurely leaning into this cynicism. Meanwhile, of course, throughout all of this, Celine has a far more romantic worldview. So, yes, it might be a little hard to pinpoint a tangible tension, but you can feel it right? From the moment they kiss, the story raises some version of the question in us: “Will they address their differences and/or be able to deal with them?” And they do, because along the river, Celine allows him to lance the boil. She asks him what would be the first thing to annoy him about her, and to his credit, Jesse not only realises what is really going on here — that Celine wants to criticise him, but he pushes her to get it off her chest. And it’s important to note here: he says in this exchange that he and an ex broke up because she couldn’t take criticism. But when Celine criticises him, he takes it pretty well. So our sequence IV tension has been resolved, and that means, at minute 48 into a 98 minute runtime (almost exactly halfway), it’s time for Before Sunrise’s all-important midpoint.

Now, a midpoint ideally does 3 things. First, it raises the stakes. Second, it not always directly but generally foreshadows the climax. And third, and most importantly, it is the protagonist’s first conscious move towards their Need. In other words, having taken their first big step towards real internal change at the end of sequence III, they take another huge step here. So, as Celine and Jesse are having their first real dispute, they are interrupted by a homeless poet. He asks them to give him a word, then he will write a poem with that word, and if they like it, they can give him some money. Now, Celine has just accused Jesse of acting like a child, crying because his mommy wouldn’t buy him a milkshake. So, she gives the poet the word “milkshake”, and this is the result. []

There’s a lot to get into here. So, first of all, does this count as a first conscious move towards Jesse’s Need? It is debatable, right? On the one hand, he pays a street poet to write a poem for him and Celine, and it is a romantic poem. On the other hand, well… he doesn’t really buy it. Similarly to the Fortune Teller, he thinks the poet is a scam artist that just plugs the word into a pre-prepared poem. On the other other hand, at least he’s learnt not to be a petulant little brat about it. Or at least, less of a petulant brat. Whether or not this is consciously engaged into by Jesse though, there is no doubt that here at the heart of our story, this poem is both fitting for their situation and exceptionally romantic in tone. It is also a call to a grander kind of romance. As the last lines question “Don’t you know me, Don’t you know me by now”, it raises the idea that Jesse and Celine don’t know each other’s past or future, but they know enough. They know, or more importantly they think they do at least, something deeper about the other person. Perhaps even, that this other person is their soulmate.

    So, I do think this is at the very least subtle, but it definitely feels like a midpoint. It is one of those moments that everyone remembers from this film, even long afterwards. And it feels thematically relevant and, I think, some kind of upping of the stakes. The word love is never mentioned in the scene, but it is certainly an invitation to that kind of thought. 

And there’s something else as well. Does this foreshadow the climax? Well, yes, in that it ups the ante on what the future could be. But also, just like the climax of this film, Before Sunrise raises a question for us here: Do you think this poet really just wrote this, or do you think he just plugged the word in? In other words, are you a romantic? 

Finally, I could definitely think up of a thematic reason for what milkshake represents here, or at least Celine’s description of Jesse as crying about a milkshake. He says as the poet writes that if he could just get it into his head that life is supposed to be difficult, he wouldn’t get so pissed off. And well, this whole story is a call for Jesse to get over a disappointment, stop feeling sorry for himself, and believe in romance again. Or; the whole point is that this is an arbitrary chance word that becomes part of something romantic. Like two strangers from different parts of the world that just so happen to sit across from each other on a train and realise that they are soulmates over the course of one amazing stolen night. It could be either, and it could be both. And that is damn good writing. 

Ok, enough midpoint talk. We’ve resolved our sequence IV tension, and Jesse has made his first conscious move towards his Need. So, that means it’s time for sequence V: The Honeymoon Sequence. 

The Honeymoon sequence is so called because, having acted in accordance with their Need, things generally start to go well for the protagonist for a while. Now, whether or not things go “well” for Jesse here is somewhat debatable, but this is really the core of the night. The lovers haven’t started thinking about the morning yet, and the conversation gets to its deepest, most personal, and most meaningful point. It is here where Jesse reveals that he is currently reeling from having just been dumped. And again, it’s clear that Celine knows this, and she invites him to open up and speak about it. Not only that, but she relates. Sure, Jesse might be pissed off, but she once had the cops called on her cos of the violent stories she wrote about murdering her ex. They then talk about sex and gender roles, and the anger and bitterness that Jesse has stirred up in himself is pretty obvious. But that’s ok, because he’s hot… I mean… because Celine can see his damaged soul. It’s somewhere in there behind the mop of fantastic hair and piercing blue eyes. So, when Jesse implies that Celine might have some bitterness towards the opposite sex, rather than get defensive or tell him that maybe he should y’know, point those blue eyes at a mirror, she allows herself to be vulnerable. And this triggers arguably the most personal and romantic conversation of the film. Celine reveals that she wants to be a strong, independent icon of womanhood, but there is little in life that she wants more than to be in love with someone. And Jesse, in turn, worries whether he’d rather be really good at something than be in a nice, caring relationship. And Celine just blows him and his idea out of the damn water with a two step argument. One: that she knew an old man who was focused on his career and ended up miserable because of it. And two: well, as she so romantically puts it… []. This is the soul of Before Sunrise. If there is a message in the film, it is this. And you can see it on Jesse’s face. The bitterness is gone, and he is completely in love. The two sit in silence, having shared something so intimate. But sadly, it’s getting late, and reality is going to start creeping in at the edges, so, at that, at minute 67, we leave the honeymoon sequence, and we enter sequence VI: the bridge from the honeymoon to the low point. 

So, in this sequence, we’re going to find Jesse and Celine in a late night cafe, looking at the Vienna Opera House from a nearby ledge, and on a docked boat that has been converted into a restaurant. And all three of these scenes have a clear tension built into them: will they decide to see each other again? So, in the late night cafe, they pretend to call their friends and use it as a device to reveal how much they like each other and other secrets too. Celine suggests that she sat down beside Jesse on purpose, and that she fell for him because of his story about seeing his grandmother. And Jesse reveals that he’s actually been hanging around Europe not because of some cheaper flight like he said earlier, but because he’s been brokenhearted. But that’s all changed now. Unfortunately, when he asks as Celine’s friend if she will see this American guy again, she points out that they haven’t spoken about it yet… and he has no response. Outside the opera hall, they mention for the first time that the morning is coming. And finally, on the boat, they must address it. And Celine clearly invites Jesse to declare that he will see her again, but Jesse hesitates. I mean, I say she clearly does so, but I can confirm that as a fellow oblivious, total space cadet of a man, there’s no way I would pick up on this in the moment either. Anyways, with Jesse’s hesitation, Celine gets out in front of it. [] The two lovers agree that this will be their only night together, and so as they won’t have to think about doing so in the morning, they say goodbye to each other now. 

And you can hear it, right? A question raised the moment these two got off that train together has seemingly been answered. We have come to the end of our second act, and our low point. And like so many low points, the protagonist no longer believes the counterargument, but the argument seems impossible. Jesse is no longer heartbroken and bitter, but this is 1995 and these two broke young adults live on different continents. Celine specifically invokes the quality of being rational, not romantic. It seems impossible. And so, with 78 minutes gone and 20 minutes left, we end Act II and we enter Act III.

Act III is made up of a false resolution and a true resolution. So, Jesse convinces a barman to give him a bottle of red wine, and the two spend the early hours of the morning in the park. Now, in really good stories, I like to think that we have this sense of the 3 acts as being a before, journey of change, and after. And here, Jesse talks about how he can never get away from himself, but that Celine lets him finally feel like he can be someone else, perhaps that he really can change. And then, the topic of their one night together comes up again as they consider whether or not to have sex, and the longer the conversation goes on, the more the true resolution suggests its approach. As the scene comes to a close, Jesse says that right now, if he had a choice between never seeing Celine again or marrying her, he would marry her. At that, Celine debates herself as to whether she does or does not want to sleep with Jesse, and it is implied (and confirmed in the sequels) that they have sex. But when we join the pair again, it is once again daylight. The night is over, and they are in real time again. And so, with 11 minutes left, it’s time for Before Sunset’s true resolution.

The lovers wander the morning streets of Vienna, listening to someone practise the harpsichord. And then, as Celine drifts off in his lap, Jesse appropriately recalls a WH Auden poem which insists that there is no defeating time. Now, as you’ll recall, this film starts off with an older couple who are clearly sick of the sight of each other arguing on the train. But here, right before our climactic action, Celine looks adoringly up at Jesse and says that she does not think that she would grow sick of someone she loves. Her love would only grow from knowing them more and more deeply. It’s the ultimate romantic notion: that the frisson of those early days will give way to only deeper and deeper love. And it’s moments like this when you cannot help but think about Celine 19 years later in Before Midnight and how angry she has become, and a part of you dies. But that’s not for another 2 decades, and right now, we end this film with its famous climactic action. At the train station, Jesse and Celine cannot face saying goodbye, so, with the final choice of the film, Jesse reveals that he is not bitter, nor interested in this BS about being rational. Inspired by Celine, he has now firmly embraced his romantic nature. [] The film ends with the lovers going their separate ways, blissful after their night together, and excited about seeing each other again in 6 months.  


So, hopefully I’ve shown here that Before Sunrise doesn’t feel very “plotty”, but very much plays by the “rules” of story structure. We have a clear protagonist who changes. We have 3 acts. We have an inciting incident, a break into Act II, a refusal of the call, a first unconscious move, a clear midpoint, a thematic low point which brings us into Act III, a false resolution, and a true resolution where the protagonist wholly embraces the thematic argument of the film. 

But I’d just like to point out a couple of smaller structural things that help a film like this which doesn’t rely on plot to generate and maintain momentum, tension, and interest. 

First of all, it’s really important for any story, but especially one like this that, as subtle as it is, the characters and their relationship are constantly developing. You couldn’t take a scene from sequence VI and put it in sequence IV, because by sequence VI Jesse and Celine’s relationship has substantially deepened, and it would be really odd and out of place if they were talking that way in sequence IV. So, not only does every sequence have its own tension, but each sequence builds on the last in terms of character development. 

Second, Before Sunrise is actually a really good example of what I tend to think of as Sabrina structure, from the famous scene in the 1954 original where the staff read love-sick Sabrina’s letter home from Paris: []. I could have also called this the Cursed Frogurt structure, but to be fair, Sabrina did it first. In his book Story, Robert McKee similarly talks about the idea that you should have “no scene that doesn’t turn”. So, put simply, we have a practical or thematic issue for our protagonist, or ideally the two intertwined, and in one scene it goes from bad to good. Then, in the next scene, it goes from that good point to another bad point. Then, in the third scene, it goes from that bad point to another good point. And so on and so on. This creates constant tension in a story and stops it from being flat or monotonous at any point. The argument and counterargument are constantly scoring points off each other. And Before Sunrise has this throughout. For example, at the end of sequence III, Jesse and Celine kiss for the first time. That’s good. Then, they go down to the amusement park and Celine tells Jesse how her grandmother admitted to her that she had been secretly in love with a man who wasn’t her husband her entire life. And Jesse cynically says it’s better that way, because if they had been together, the man would have just disappointed her. That’s bad. Then in the next scene, Jesse leans in to kiss Celine with the corniest shtick I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s good. But then, he cynically dismisses the fortune teller. That’s bad. In the next scene, he helps Celine as she discusses art romantically. That’s good. In the next scene, he ends by telling a story of his atheist friend taunting a homeless man. That’s bad. You can hear it, right? It does this over and over and over again. This film isn’t just two people having a long conversation that veers all over the place. There is a core thematic question constantly behind the seemingly meandering conversations that is constantly moving back and forth, creating a sense of conflict and tension. 

Now, that to my mind is structure, because if you just had two characters chatting and it started to feel flat, it would be a structural problem. But of course, really, all of these structural mechanisms help Before Sunrise to work, but they are not what makes Before Sunrise special. Because what annoys me about what Russell T Davies has said is that I’m really close to agreeing with him, but he’s fundamentally wrong. Understanding people is not the only thing you need to do. It just isn’t. But it is, of course, by a long way, the most important thing you need to do. And that understanding of people, and therefore character, needs to be married with structure to have a truly great story. All the sequence tensions and plot points and good news, bad news stuff: that’s all important. But this film has an innate structure and tension built into it, because in every scene, we have the story engine of the tension between Jesse and Celine. If they weren’t both these romantic, sensitive, awkward types, we wouldn’t have a story. And so much of Before Sunrise is us cheering these two crazy kids on. 

So, I’d like to end on one more extended quote. Well, kind of a quote. I’m fascinated by how influential the French filmmaker Eric Rohmer must have been on Richard Linklater. And to make my point on just how influential he was, and also to explain just why Before Sunrise is such a wonderful film, I’m going to closely paraphrase Richard Linklater introducing Rohmer’s The Green Ray to the Austin Film Society. I will stick as closely as possible to the original statements, switching names and some grammatical things for ease. So, here we go: “With Linklater, he wants you to find your spiritual revelation through his characters and you’re gonna feel that or not kind of in how much you care about his characters… He hides his messages in his films. He doesn’t hit you over the head with anything. He guides you through it… Here, the lead character, like a lot of Linklater characters, y’know, can be a little annoying. You gotta find your way into them. It sort of flows… He wanted this to have a documentary feel, so you’re really just following this young couple. He takes the most simple stories, and this is where his genius comes out. He takes almost the most banal, ordinary people and so many of his films you can’t even describe them. They seem so inconsequential, and yet, he’s really taking you on this spiritual journey… Before Sunrise is a psychological study, a philosophical discourse, and a sentimental portrait of desire, feelings, opinions, thoughts, nuance, glances and gestures, awkward moments. It's emotional, intellectual, and very subtly dramatic.” 

Richard Linklater, I could not have put it better myself.

This has been Mark Overanalyses Film on There Will Be Blood! If you enjoyed this episode or like the podcast in general, please do recommend it to anyone you know who might like it too! It really would be a great help! A special thanks to Mary Kate O’Flanagan who taught me everything I know about film, including these methods. Thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves, and see you soon.