This is one of the best films of 2015.
Daryl Elfield has been found! The subject of the best-remembered exchange in Answer Man history is alive and well and living in London. Before I tell you his current story, here are highlights from a letter he wrote me in 1995:
"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, Va. On the train I met a woman dressed exactly like Julie Delpy and about as beautiful. So began a rather romantic trip that continued with her asking me to come to Atlanta with her and ended with my return to law school two days later.
"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. Make of it what you will."
CALL OFF THE SEARCH: Daryl Elfield, the ultimate "Before Sunrise" romantic, has been found.The Answer Man made some calls. The woman Elfield met on the train was Jessica Turner, a Spanish teacher from Fryeburg, Maine, who told me: "I hadn't seen the movie when we met, 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. 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."
Then I spoke with Alison Kitch, Daryl's law professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., who said: "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 thrown out of school."
I also talked with Eric Chaffin, who represented Elfield before the honors committee. He told me, "It's made me really want to see that movie."
In July 2004 "Before Sunset," a sequel to "Before Sunrise," opened, again directed by Richard Linklater, again starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. They run into each other in Paris, where he is signing copies of a novel he wrote about their day and night together. They have not seen each other in the intervening years, but they pick up their conversation almost where it left off.
Rob Kelly of Marlton, N.J., wrote me asking if there was also a sequel to Daryl Elfield's story. I asked readers to help track him down. Aaron Honn of Houston, Texas, was the first of several readers to find an item from a University of California at Santa Cruz Web site, reporting "Daryl Elfield obtained a law degree in England in 1999 and is now working for a dot.com company near London."
Then reader Rich Gallagher of Fishkill, N.Y., narrowed the search until he came up with a possible name, address and e-mail. I wrote to Daryl Elfield, and discovered I had the right man:
Q. What happened in your life after leaving law school?
A. I moved back to live with my father in California for a few months. I started working in IT, but within six months, I had moved to New Zealand ... another romance! I stayed there for a year and set up my own Web site design company, but sadly things didn't work out with the girl, so I moved back to England, which is where I had been brought up (although my parents are American). Since then I've been living in London, working as a managing consultant during the day and studying to be a lawyer at night. I should qualify as a barrister next year.
Q. Did you ever see Jessica again?
A. Just once more. When we parted in Atlanta, we decided that since chance had played such a large part in us meeting, we shouldn't tempt fate by making any concrete plans to meet again (it made sense at the time!). Within a few days of me getting back to college, however, she called and whatever connection we'd made that weekend seemed to still exist.
Sadly within a week my life fell apart and I think, reasonably enough, Jessica was freaked out by the whole thing. I did fly up to Boston to see her about two weeks later, and we had another weekend together -- but I was in no state to enjoy it. When I moved to California, we stayed in touch for a few months by phone and by e-mail, but then lost contact. In terms of tracking her down, do you even have her last name? I thought of her quite a lot this year and imagined, in the wake of the sequel, that she must be thinking about me. However, I have no way to find her ...
Q. Have you found romantic happiness?
A. Yes and no! I've certainly had my fair share of relationships and I think they've frequently been characterized by the sort of romantic/insane spontaneity which I discovered with Jessica. However, I have managed to avoid getting fired! Have I been in love? For sure. Have I found lasting happiness? Not yet ...
Q. Was it all for the better -- or maybe not?
A. I get asked this question a lot. It took me about 18 months to realize I had a good story to tell. I was in Prague and I met a couple guys in a bar and we just started talking. They were just gobsmacked. It made me realize that it was time to move on and stop being resentful about being kicked out of college. I'm obviously sorry things happened the way they did but I can't regret that it happened.
I can remember even now the feeling I had when I made the decision to stay on the train rather than go back to college -- it was like stepping off a cliff without having any idea what lay beneath. I'm sure if I'd had any idea of the consequences of my actions I would never have done it, but in the end that's the point: You only have one life to live and sometimes you have to take chances.
Q. Anything else?
A. My friends got FAR too excited about you getting in touch with me, and I thought you'd be amused to know I now have volunteers for media-relations handler, manager and trophy wife, just in case someone decides to make the film of my life.
Both "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" are available on tape and DVD, and are reviewed at rogerebert.com.
Now on sale: Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2005, including hundreds of Answer Man items that are cross-indexed to their respective movies.
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