Before Sunrise

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:02 pm

At the recommendation of my brother, my lovely wife and I watched Before Sunrise this past week. Ethan Hawke stars as an American traveler in Europe who meets a lovely French girl on the train, and invites her to spend the night with him walking the streets of Vienna before he flies home in the morning. It was written and directed by Richard Linklater, and it’s a very unique film. There are no major characters apart from the two protagonists (possibly not even any other named characters), and there’s very little action; the film focuses entirely on their developing relationship, primarily through dialogue, but it’s well-written enough that it doesn’t get boring and seems strikingly realistic.

The music was very minimal, and, interestingly enough, except for the very beginning and the very end of the movie, all of the music was source music. Source music (or, more technically, diegetic music) is music that has an on-screen or inferred source within the film, which the characters can hear (for example, a singer-songwriter playing in a bar or a man playing a harpsichord in his basement as the characters pass by). The only non-source or non-diegetic music in the film is a string orchestra playing at the beginning over a progression of shots of the train and its travels, and a similar piece at the end after the two part ways. (I wasn’t able to find definitive information on what the piece at the end was, although the beginning was the overture to Dido and Aeneas by the English Baroque composer Henry Purcell.)

The choice to use little or no music in a movie, or at least little or no non-source music, is always an interesting one. The example that came to mind for me was No Country For Old Men, the Best Picture Oscar winner from 2008 (and obviously worlds apart from Before Sunrise). In that movie, the lack of music created an eerie, too-quiet feeling of vulnerability–too much silence (or quiet) is often discomfiting. But in Before Sunrise, the lack of music has a very different effect. Like many other elements in the film, the music is stripped away in order to direct all the focus upon the two characters, and also creates a more viable environment of realism (since obviously real life isn’t accompanied by a non-diegetic score). Adding music would also create the dangerous likelihood of the film descending into sentimentality–only an especially talented composer, I think, could avoid that, and thus cutting out non-source music altogether (apart from the beginning and the end) eliminates that possibility.

My wife and I enjoyed the film quite a bit. Not a great movie, I’d say, but a good story, told well. Even without a score.



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