Before Sunrise was released in 1995. That was 20 years ago! It beggars belief. I watched it again at the weekend, and was struck by the thought of what such a film would be like in 2015 – and whether such a scenario could even be possible?
If you haven’t seen it, Before Sunrise begins on a train travelling through Austria. American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke) gets chatting to French student Celine (Julie Delpy). They feel a connection and Celine agrees to join Jesse when he has to get off the train in Vienna, rather than continue on her journey to Paris.
Jesse and Celine spend time wandering around Vienna talking about life, the universe and everything until early the next morning, when Jesse has to leave for the airport to take his flight home. Celine boards a train to Paris. They agree to meet at same train platform exactly six months later, but don’t exchange phone numbers or addresses, preferring to leave things to fate instead.
When I first saw Before Sunrise I was 18, and at university. Basic internet and email. No social media. No mobile phones. Almost a world away from today.
It got me thinking: would Jesse and Celine even have struck up a conversation with each other on that train? In the film, they are each reading a book (made of paper!). Today, on a long train journey you are possibly more likely to be watching a film or playing a game on your tablet; listening to music; typing away on a laptop. You might still be reading a book, but it may be a Kindle rather than one with real pages.
Today, we are often far too engrossed in our online lives, especially on public transport to notice other people. In fact, often it helps us avoid having to interact with our fellow travellers.
On arrival in Vienna, Jesse and Celine wondered what to see, and ask a random couple of guys on a bridge. In 2015, say they had struck up a conversation on the train. They would have missed the bizarre conversation about the strange play the guys were in (possibly not a bad thing) because they could have found a free wifi zone to check online tourist sites, or asked Twitter for people’s recommendations.
Jesse and Celine spend the hours wandering the city talking about all sorts. They barely stop talking – except for their moments of passion, that is.
In 2015, many of us can’t stop ourselves checking texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp notifications. What would that have done to the flow of conversation? It seems these days it is difficult to have a conversation for that long without a quick check of our phones.
Do you remember the scene in the bar when Celine and Jesse pretend to call their friends to tell them about the wonderful person they had just met? I wonder whether today, they wouldn’t indulge in such make-believe, instead messaging their friends or posting a status to let them know about the crazy thing they had done in venturing around Vienna with a complete stranger.
They would have probably been taking Instagram pictures of their journey around the city, loads of selfies.
About half way through the film, Jesse makes a comment about technology saving time, but what do we do with that time? His example is a word processor like it was a fabulous thing (which to be fair it was in its time!) It prompted a mirthful laugh. I remember my old word processor from university – great clunking machine with a small green screen that showed only five lines at a time, and an integrated printer that sounded like a machine gun.
Jesse made a good point! Technology can save us time. It can connect us, enable us to collaborate and make friends with people we might otherwise never have met. Technology provides excellent opportunities for procrastination – but we’ll find a way to avoid doing something with or without social media.
We can’t deny our addiction to social media, though – and while it can save a lot of time if we’re not careful it can sap it, too (how many evenings have been spent ‘just quickly checking’ Twitter, and several hours later…)
No spoilers, but social media could have given Celine and Jesse a happier ending. They depart, having fallen in love during the past few hours, with the promise of meeting again six months later. Dear readers, that meeting doesn’t happen…
If only they had today’s technology they could have kept in touch by email, exchanged declarations of love via regular Skype calls…and probably obsessed over each other’s social media statuses. Who are they with? They’re having fun without me?!
Swings and roundabouts, then. Happy endings are never that simple.
Technology doesn’t solve everything: Before Sunrise belongs in 1995. Even if you could suspend your disbelief at getting off a train in a strange city with a complete stranger, the events of the film just would not translate to 2015.