Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Before Sunset

MPAA Rating: R-Rating (MPAA) for language and sexual references

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Drama, Romance
1 hr. 27 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Featuring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Director: Richard Linklater
Producer: Richard Linklater, Anne Walker-McBay
Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures
Relationship issues
Learn how to make your love the best it can be. Discover biblical answers to questions about sex, marriage, sexual addictions, and more.

“What if you had a second chance with the one that got away?”

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Nine years ago, two strangers met by chance, spent a night together in Vienna, and parted before sunrise. Now, they’re about to cross paths again—in Paris—where they will get the chance we all wish we had . to find out what might have been. The only problem is they have just a few hours to figure out if they belong together. Directed by Richard Linklater (“Waking Life,” “Before Sunrise”), the film reunites Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.”

The idea of a setting sun can represent more than the ending of a day, and be seen as a metaphor for the ending of our lives. Like “Before Sunrise,” this sequel “Before Sunset” is a romance that bathes in the idea that what everyone ultimately wants out of life before they die is love. This film seems to be uplifting in this way, but also dispenses a lot of worldly philosophizing that more often than not reduces love to physical urges and idealized fantasies.

After nine years apart and no contact after their initial fling in Vienna, Celine (Julie Delpy) pays Jessie Wallace (Ethan Hawke) a surprise visit at her favorite Parisian bookstore where he is appearing for a question and answer session for the release of his new book. Limited by time, but not feelings, Jessie and Celine immediately reconnect to spend as much time together as possible before he must leave for his flight back to the U.S.

Walking to a café, taking a boat ride, riding in a car, and sitting in her apartment, these two rekindle their infatuation as they talk, talk, talk themselves back into each other’s lives. Feeling that they once had something special, this story ends with them picking up where they left off with their first romance.

The main conduit for this “talking picture show” is the dialogue—not pictures, not music, not plot. From beginning to end, these two inseparable people never stop talking. Their conversations cover a wide range of topics, including their relationship, politics, religion and sex. Fortunately, most of the material is well written, and these two actors are able to pull off the performance. What also helps this piece not be “talking heads” only is the fact that the camera itself is almost constantly in motion. The best shot is when it follows them from the front as they walk up the spiral staircase to her apartment. Coincidentally, this moment is also mostly silent.

The specifics of the dialogue are pretty candid, and include a lot of talk about sex. There are also profane words used, including the “f” word on several occasions. Celine also mentions other men she has slept with, and they jokingly call her derogatory names. These two discuss their first romance and how they had sex, too, and some of the specifics of it as well. There are also a few objectionable words used about physical urges and the female anatomy. The abundance of talk about this subject seems to lead up to what one can interpret happening at the end.

Seeing how broad their discussions are, there was also a few moments where they talked about God. After an interesting story about Celine’s refreshing time in Warsaw (away from advertising, shopping, etc.), Jessie discusses how he spent some time with monks. He was first surprised that they weren’t as stern as he expected them to be, and admired how they lived with peace they had made with God. (He quickly qualifies the idea of God, though, by saying “or whatever they found in themselves that was eternal.”) Celine, however, straightforwardly admits that she does not believe in God. When Jessie asks her if she does, she immediately says no, but then says she does believe in astrology because she and Jessie’s signs are compatible.

The most difficult part to grapple with is the fact that Jessie is now married with a child. He confesses to Celine how bad his marriage is and that he married for the wrong reasons. He says he is in it because he is committed, but the entire time he is with Celine, it is clear he just wants to get back together with her. The whole story is emphasizing their infatuation and encourages us to hope they get back together. It seems being with each other is what they both really want, and while I want to see a story about true love, it was unreasonable to root for their relationship to succeed.

During a walk through the park, Celine gives Jessie a moral dilemma to reason out. She asks that if he were to die that very night, what would he have their conversation be about and what would he do. Jesse eventually boils it down to having sex—specifically with her. The point here and for the whole story seems to be that love is the highest and best thing we can attain to in life, but it also seems to relegate it intercourse. Truly, God is love (1 John 4:8) and, highlighting Jesse’s previous point about the monks, it seems the best thing for him would be to know that he has made peace with God before he dies.

Delpy and Hawke seem to have a pretty good chemistry together, but some of the time their relationship felt a little contrived. Seeing Hawke in another dialogue driven movie, “Tape,” I know he can make a piece like this work beautifully, but with this he didn’t seem as sincere.

Director Richard Linklater’s is brave to make a film like this, and the approach is noteworthy. It is a nice break from typical overly produced movies. But even though it is a kind of love story, it was hard to get into it and befriend what felt like a lot of worldliness.

Learn more
  • Read stories about the results of adultery and promiscuity—GO
  • What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer
  • What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer
  • Are we living in a moral Stone Age? Answer
    (Many young people not only have trouble distinguishing right from wrong—they question whether such standards even exist.)

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—…These characters are as real as your next door neighbors are. While time has changed them, they look older, have matured, left college life behind, and have settled into professional careers, their personalities and interests have stayed the same, illustrating the suggestion Jesse’s character makes that people stay the same all their lives. At heart, optimistic people will remain optimistic, even if they should become paralyzed in an accident, in the same way pessimistic people will continue to have a negative outlook on life even if they should win the lottery and become millionaires. Jesse is still fascinated with religion. In “Before Sunrise” he talked about the Quaker religion; now he shares a story about his visit to a Buddhist Monastery. Celine is still a fighter for the betterment of the world, now working for an environmental agency. While the first film condensed the 14 hours the two spent together into one-and-a-half hours, “Before Sunset” chronicles their 81 minute reunion in real time. Here lies the brilliancy of this movie. Excellent real-time cinematography, especially when the characters are walking through a real city as opposed to strolling on a soundstage, is hard to achieve. Yet the way these two characters are captured in 5-7 minute long takes is breathtaking.

In the same way, Hawke and Delpy prove their excellence in the art of acting. They had to memorize pages of scripts that they had to deliver in one long take and have it look spontaneous. The script itself is one of the finest written. It truthfully captures the awkwardness of meeting someone dear to your heart who you have not seen for some time. At first, the characters hide behind standard phrases-“How are you?” “Fine.”-but slowly begin to reveal their true feelings, leading closer to the questions viewers of the first film want answers to: did they meet again six months later on the track? What happened in the past nine years? Are they meant to spend their lives together? While the first film captured the young adults’ feelings of freedom and endless possibility, this film tackles the questions whether the dreams one once had have been fulfilled and whether one has successfully made the transition into real adulthood with all its responsibilities and schedules.

In “Before Sunrise,” both characters became aware of the fact that their night together is special, that their time together should officially not be happening. She was supposed to arrive in Paris and meet a friend for lunch, but canceled it to stay with Jesse. Does this type of spontaneity still exist in adult life, and if not, are the routines and schedules of a career and parenthood fulfilling replacements? This, of course, leads to the biggest question of all: will Celine and Jesse start a life together, regardless of all the obstacles that accumulated over the past decade? While one can enjoy the film without having seen the original (flashbacks are provided at the beginning of the film), one will only fully understand what Jesse and Celine mean to each other when having seen “Before Sunrise.” (Renting this film from your local video store before heading to the movie theater for the sequel is the best solution.)

“Before Sunset” builds onto, enriches, and carries forward this unique tale of two strangers who met by chance on a train. It is a story everybody can relate to and that could be returned to every ten years, just as the “7 Up” documentary series by Michael Apted which chronicled the lives of 14 British citizens every seven years. “Before Sunset’s” script is so true to life that one can hardly tell a difference between the fictitious Jesse and Celine and the real individuals captured in “7 Up.” It is time that Richard Linklater is acknowledged as one of the greatest American filmmakers, bringing a realistic, enjoyable movie experience to theaters.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
Monika Raesch, age 26
Neutral—“Before Sunset” is a rather disappointing sequel to the film Before Sunrise. It carries on the same style as the prequel—essentially an all dialogue film. In this, it is as engrossing as it’s forerunner. The dialogue is generally excellent in both films. The acting is superb.

What strikes me about both films is the excellent characterization. The Hawke character, Jessie, is a more aged and less strident American cynic in Before Sunset. Much of his cynicism from the first movie seems to have been prophetic for his life. Celine (Delpy) has moved from a rather confused European who doesn’t seem to know what she wants from life and doesn’t trust much of anything or anyone but is yet hopeful for fulfillment has become absolutely disillusioned in her confusion.

The first film was full of sex, but mostly somewhat subtle and nuanced. Actually, this aspect of the first film was written and acted much better than in the second. Before Sunset is coarse and vulgar in dealing with the sexual theme. Hawke’s character, Jessie, was far too flat and too openly sexual early in the film to bring the audience into the moral dilemma he faces as a married man in love with someone not his wife. Celine, on the other hand, is a much deeper and interesting character. One truly feels for her.

In both films, I found Celine to be a very good image and example of most European young women I’ve met and talked with. The character was even chillingly evocative of acquaintances of mine in Europe—particularly one that I met on a train traveling to Austria.

Overall, the first film, though honest about American and European people and cultural issues (not all positive by any stretch) was hopeful and uplifting compared to Before Sunset, in which the audience is encouraged to root for this couple while a wife and a son hang in the balance. The movie does not really present the moral dilemma so that the audience can move through it with Jessie. In fact, I don’t think the audience wants to deal with the moral dilemma at all in the way it’s presented. The positives of the movie would have been even more positive, perhaps, if the “moral dilemma” wasn’t there and they actually had to work out the difficulties of their lives with each other. Alternately, had the sex been more subtle, then the moral dilemma might have had a chance to develop.

Overall, great dialogue, good critique of modern culture, excellent acting and poor development of plot and themes.
My Ratings: [5]
Father Foos, age 30’s
Neutral—This movie is quite remarkable in that it is really unique in it’s dialogue style and story. It’s easy to relate almost immediately to both characters, and is rather unpredictable, even until the end. It only gets a Neutral rating, because there are a couple of offensive conversation matters. However, overall, it left me with a warm feeling, and I would recommend it if you’re in a reflective mood.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/3]
Tehila, age 32
Positive—Excellent movie. It’s very dialogue based so that might bore some people who like a lot of action, but if you pay attention you should really enjoy it. It has one of those fabulous twist endings that I love too. It wouldn’t interest children, but besides some strong language there is nothing objectionable. I didn’t see the original, but honestly I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything. Highly recommended.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
Kat, age 19
Positive—If your faith is wavering, if your life’s experiences have not tested your beliefs or your personal moral resolve, if you have never questioned the edicts of Christian morality, if you have never felt the fragile and incomplete sense of what it is to be human, and if your perspective on the human condition is drawn in monotones intolerant of any gradation, then do not watch this film!

“Before Sunset” is not about pure, idealized love. It is not about what the perfect relationship is comprised of. It is not a preachy dissertation of what couples should strive for and what personal responsibilities we must adhere to in the context of our relationships and our day to day lives. “Before Sunset” is about real life in real time, with all of its ups and downs, its beauty and profane vulgarity. It is about the nature of living and about chance and choice. It is also about the intricate interwoven elements of time and circumstance that ultimately express a greater purpose and power in our being. This film asks the big questions without providing absolute answers; it recognizes our inability to always see the truth or the true way ahead.

This film exposes us to the messy details of the lives of two former lovers who’s love was seemingly broken by chance and circumstance, but who are now clearly brought together again by greater forces. Both these individuals have strived to live productive, meaningful lives that will ultimately contribute to something greater then themselves. Yet both have failed at a personal level and in their perceived contributions to the greater good. And now they are faced with some of the most difficult personal questions.

What would have happened had they been able to be together from the start? Were their lives worse off as a result of their initial inability to maintain contact? And will they now launch into an adulterous relationship in an effort to satisfy lost hopes and dreams? The questions are not answered in absolute terms. As in real life, we must choose the ending. Our free will is what we must ultimately answer for.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
Mario, age 43
Movie Critics
…adulterous conclusion, shallow thinking and humanism will offend people of faith… Strong humanist worldview with denial of God in one brief patch of dialogue …
Tom Snyder, Movieguide
…Hugely enjoyable drama about a brief romantic encounter taken up again years later… one of the most wildly romantic movies in ages…
Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
…Stilted dialogue, skewed priorities and a fussy atmosphere make Sunset as artificial as its predecessor was fresh…
E! Online
…a film of luminous delights… a romance with minimal physical contact and sex—and that’s part of what makes it work so well as a love story. It’s a movie about how people woo each other with words, looks and glances…
Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
…this movie is basically a yakfest, but an incredibly fluid and involving one, and if you have any kind of affinity for either of the characters, you’re bound to find the picture a kind of miracle…
Glenn Kenny, Premiere Magazine