I began reading Roger Ebert's wonderful Questions for the Movie Answer Man today, and I have no doubt that I'll zip through it by tomorrow. It's a compilation of the Answer Man column he runs on his website.
There's tons of interesting material and obscure factoids within the book (black-washing people in posters, etc) but I can't stop thinking about this one story, one young gentleman's tale of Before Sunrise coming to life in a very personal way for him, and possibly ruining his life.
Q. I wonder whether you'd be interested in my story. I recently saw the movie Before Sunrise, where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meet each other on a train, start talking, and end up spending the night walking around Vienna, Austria. Caught up in the romance of it all, I boarded a train from Philly to Charlottesville, Virginia (I had to go there anyway.) On the train I met a woman dressed exactly like Julie Delpy and about as beautiful. So began a rather romantic trip that began with her asking me to come to Atlanta with her and ended with my return to law school two days later.
But now the story takes an interesting twist, and could probably be called After Sunrise. Since I had missed some school, I felt the need to explain to a professor where I had been. Unfortunately, I was too embarrassed to relate the full details, so I informed him I was sick. Two weeks later I was asked to leave the school for lying to a professor.
My legal career is probably now over. So why do I write to you? To be honest, I don't know -- but the link between the movie, and my life seemed so strong I felt someone in the industry should know. Make of it what you will. (Daryl Elfleld, Berkeley, Calif.)
A. I am always getting letters from people who wonder if the movies these days are not a baleful influence on young people. In your case, Before Sunrise sparked a grand gesture of romanticism, which would have been wonderful if the consequences had not been so dire.
Having been a college student myself, I relished the way you worded this phrase: "I felt the need to explain to a professor where I had been." My guess is, this felt need was inspired by the professor's curiosity about your absence from his classes. In a similar situation I, too, might have hesitated to reveal the whole truth. On the other hand, rules are rules. In law school I am sure it is especially important to enforce the honor code, since, as we all know, no lawyer has ever said he was sick to get out of anything.
Curious about your case, I made a few telephone calls.
The woman you met on the train was Jessica Turner, a Spanish teacher from Fryeburg, Maine. I talked to her to check out your story.
"I hadn't seen the movie when we met," she told me, "but we saw it together after we got off the train in Atlanta. I really was wearing one of those black dresses, like the woman in the movie. Actually, I started talking to him. I had stopped to see a friend in Baltimore, who packed me a bagel and wrapped it up with a note that said, 'Don't talk to strangers.' I saw Daryl sitting at the next table on the train and told him what my napkin said. We started talking, he told me all about the movie, and when we got to Charlottesville, I asked him if he wanted to stay on the train and spend some time in Atlanta.
"I feel really awful about what happened. I vaguely remember him saying that his professor would never believe his story."
Then I talked with Alison Kitch, one of your law professors, at Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia.
"I had Daryl in my contract law class last fall," she said. "I am quite sympathetic with what happened to him. But he indeed broke the rules. He got thrown out for doing what the honors book says you will be thrown out for: He lied. If he had only told his professor he missed class because he met a young woman on a train and spent two days with her in Atlanta, he might have gotten a bad grade, but he wouldn't have been thrownout of school. If you believe in the honor system, then you believe students ought to do what they sign up to do."
Professor Kitch said you are "smart and resourceful," and she is sure you will land on your feet. She added: "If you have to be stuck somewhere, Vienna seems like a better place than Atlanta."
I also talked with Eric Chaffin, who represented you before the honors committee.
He confirmed the facts of the case, and added helpfully, "It's made me really want to see that movie."
Finally, Daryl, I talked with you personally. "I have a sales job right now," you said gloomily. "I'm applying to other law schools and hope to be accepted to one."
Will you see Jessica again?
"We plan to see each other in June."
"Daryl's taking me to a wedding," Jessica Turner told me. "It's in Boston. This time, he's going to fly."