The reason why Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset might have one of, if not the greatest, movie endings of all time is simple. It’s not just because of how delightful it is to finally see our two leads begin a relationship. It’s not only because of how emotional it is with the singing and Ethan Hawke falling in love with Celine right a long with us. It’s the way the film is structured. The whole movie is a build up to that final two lines: “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane.” “I know.” Not since Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back have the words “I know” been so emotionally significant. We find out early on that Jesse has a flight to catch and barely has even an hour to spend with Celine before he has to fly back to the US at the tail end of his book tour. This limited time of the two being able to spend time together only makes the stakes that much more higher.
There are many instances throughout the movie where the pair could’ve parted ways and said goodbye to each other: The end of their time at the cafe; the end of their walk through the garden; the end of their boat trip to Henry IV; The end of the car ride to Celine’s apartment complex; Before they get to the stairs that lead to Celine’s room; The moment they reach the door. The two never seem to want to part ways because of this fear of regret. They both regret never giving each other their numbers or contact information the last time they parted ways. They spent nine years wishing they could see each other again, but they never were able to. Their lives haven’t turned out as well as they wished, because they both constantly thought about how perfect that night they spent together was and how nothing was able to top it. Jesse has a son, but is in a failing marriage. Celine has a great job, but can’t find a partner as perfect for her as Jesse is. They both know that they made a mistake by not seeing each other till 9 years later, and they don’t want to make the same mistake again.
Due to complications of Jesse having to make a flight and the two of them in serious relationships (one a marriage), they were never able to confess their love for each other or make a move right away, until that very last moment. When the film reaches its final scene with Celine singing on her guitar and soon after singing and dancing as Jesse just sits their mesmerized by how wonderfully unique and charming she is. They both sub-counciouslly know what the right move is, and it is shown in one of the most emotional and rewarding scenes in cinematic history. There are iconic endings like in Casablanca, Chinatown, and Fight Club, but no film has an entire story structure that is entirely built on the final scene, and a pay off that is incredibly charming, emotionally moving, and even inspirational like in Before Sunset.