A Hidden Reference in “Before Sunrise”

“Before Sunrise”

With all of the accolades that director Richard Linklater has (justly) collected recently for “Boyhood” it’s easy to forget that his previous work on the so-called “Before” trilogy is equally impressive.

This article by Sheila O’Malley at Movie Mezzanine does a very nice job paying tribute to the first entry in that series, the unexpectedly sublime “Before Sunrise” which, holy moley, is twenty years old this year. I remember watching it for the first time when it came out in theaters with skepticism—its premise of two privileged twenty-somethings talking about themselves for an hour and forty-five minutes struck me as suspiciously shallow, even then when I was in my twenties myself. But I was fully won over by the movie’s quiet magnificence, especially the way its pitch perfect, understated ending reflected real life with startling acuity.

Back to O’Malley’s article, which does a wonderful job teasing out the way Linklater uses time in “Before Sunrise.” Her general thoughts on the movie are well worth reading, but her literary background serves her especially well when she reveals a hidden meaning in the movie that I was previously never aware of:

In the closing scene of ‘Before Sunrise,’ Jessie drops Celine off at the train to Paris. The ‘little space’ between them now reverberates with connections, and they decide to meet six months from that day, at the same place. It is during this conversation that we learn that the entirety of Before Sunrise has taken place on June 16.

June 16 is known the world over as ‘Bloomsday,’ although one might need to be a James Joyce obsessive to really understand what that means. In June 1904, the young James Joyce, overrun by feelings of unwanted identification with religion, family, and state, had a chance encounter on the streets of Dublin with a woman named Nora Barnacle. Joyce, always attuned to the literary, loved the pun in her last name, and also loved that her first name was reminiscent of the famous lead character in a play by his hero, Henrik Ibsen. The two set up a time to meet, and Nora, perhaps understanding that her life was about to change, blew ‘Jim’ off. She was a total no-show. On June 15, 1904, Joyce wrote her a pleading note, saying, ‘I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!’

Joyce and Nora went for a walk on June 16, 1904. Three months later, the two fled to Europe, unmarried, leaving a wake of debt and scandal behind them. The two would not get officially hitched until 1930, but they lived as man and wife for decades, having two children and being virtually inseparable.

It’s worth noting that though “Before Sunrise” was released in 1995, the events of the film are meant to represent June 16th of 1994—ninety years to the day after Joyce’s fateful date. Read the full article at moviemezzanine.com.