Jesse: Come on. It'll be fun. Come on.
Celine: What would we do?
Jesse: Umm, I don't know.
All three films contain examples of the following:
- Ambiguous Ending
- Extremely Short Timespan: All of them take place in under a day.
- No Antagonist: Except for the pressure of how little time they have in the first two movies. They do argue and antagonize each other heavily in the third, but still love each other.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: Well, yeah.
- Speech-Centric Work: All three films are very conversation-centric.
- Walk and Talk: Featured in all three films, though in different amounts.
- Women Are Wiser: Averted. Celine is just as philosophical, and sometimes just as fucked up, as Jesse.
Before Sunrise contains examples of the following tropes:
- Based on a True Story: Richard Linklater once spent the night wandering around Philadelphia with a woman named Amy.
- Brief Accent Imitation: When they're asking each other questions, Jesse does a German accent at one point. Later, when they're pretending to call their respective best friends, Celine briefly does an American accent.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Celine mentions at the beginning of the film that her grandmother is the reason why she's travelling. In Before Sunset, it's revealed that the sudden death of Celine's grandmother is why she misses their scheduled reunion six months later.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Everything that's going to happen in the film is laid out in the first ten minutes.
- Falling in Love Montage: Averted. The film revels in the kind of details that would normally be skipped over in these kinds of montages.
- Ferris Wheel Date Moment
- Follow the Leader: Follows in the footsteps of My Dinner With Andre.
- Hero of Another Story: When Jesse and Celine go to the cafe, the audience is treated to a two minute montage of people sitting around tables in pairs or small groups (including the actors from earlier), all engaged in deep conversation just like our protagonists have been all film. One gets the impression that we could've followed any of these other people out of the cafe and seen their journeys instead, and the end result would have been just as interesting.
- Lap Pillow: Near the end, and in some of the posters.
- Maybe Ever After: They both leave in the morning, just as scheduled, but promise to meet again in six months. In Before Sunset, we learn that Celine missed the appointment and they didn't see each other again for nine years.
- Meet Cute: An annoying couple on the train start loudly arguing, prompting Céline to sit opposite Jesse.
- Montage Out: The film ends with a montage of Jesse and Celine heading to their respective destinations, intercut with shots of the places in Vienna that they visited.
- The Mountains of Illinois: Dialogue in the film makes it clear that the train the two meet on was traveling west, from Budapest to Vienna. Yet the landscape outside the train is rolling and almost hilly in some places, more consistent with what you'd see traveling west from Vienna, in the direction of Salzburg and the Alps—what we'd see if they'd stayed on the train instead of getting off (The actual terrain between the two cities is mostly open plain, which wouldn't have made as nice a backdrop for their meeting).
- Shout-Out: There are subtle references to Ulysses and James Joyce. Jesse and Celine's time together mirrors that of Joyce and his future wife's first outing, when they spent a day and night walking around and exploring Dublin. Both took place on the 16th of June (Bloomsday), which Joyce later made the date on which Ulysses was set.
- Train-Station Goodbye
- Walk and Talk: About eighty percent of the movie.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: When they first get off the train, Celine and Jesse run across a couple of actors who invite them to see a play they're in. They don't end up going to see the play, though Celine and Jesse do end up lampshading it later when they realize they didn't go.
- Will They or Won't They?: Unlike most examples of the trope, the only real obstacle (besides the characters themselves) is time.
Before Sunset contains examples of the following tropes:
- Celine: (imitating Nina Simone) Baby, you are going to miss that plane.Jesse: ... I know.
- Based on a True Story: Unconfirmed. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Linklater, and many critics suggested that (much like Linklater in the first film) the two actors put a lot of their own lives into their characters. For example, critics point to Jesse's monologues about his Happy Marriage Charade and compare them to Ethan Hawke's ended marriage to Uma Thurman.
- In-universe, Jesse is pestered by literary journalists on whether his novel This Time was based on an actual meeting or not.
- Call Back: Jesse asks if Celine just "plugs in the name" when singing her waltz, much like he suggested the poet just "plugged in the word" in the first film.
- The Cast Showoff: Julie Delpy is an accomplished solo musician. She not only plays guitar and sings, but she wrote the song that Celine plays for Jesse, "A Waltz for a Night", as well as two others that appear elsewhere in the film
- Foreshadowing: The opening credits play over a montage of locations that Jesse and Celine will visit during the film, but in reverse order, starting with Celine's apartment and working backwards to Shakespeare & Company.
- Continuity Nod: Jesse brings up the entire "we're figments of an old lady's Dying Dream" theory they brought up while in bed in Waking Life.
- Granola Girl: Celine, sort of. She's an environmentalist, but doesn't have the usual perky attributes of a Granola Girl.
- Happy Ending Override: A variation, due to the realist depiction of the characters and their lives. The romantic side of both characters has almost completely died in the intervening years, so rather than picking up where they left off, Jesse and Celine put up a pretense before revealing that they've completely messed up their love lives and don't know how to get them back on track.
- Happy Marriage Charade: Jesse confesses to having one of these.
- Legendary in the Sequel: Again, a variation. Jesse is now a well-known author, and his latest best-selling work is based on the events of Before Sunrise, meaning that Celine has been immortalised in print.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Jesse has written a novel, This Time, inspired by his time with Celine, and the book has become an American bestseller.
- No Ending
- Real Time: This film takes place in the hour-and-a-half following Jesse's appearance at the bookstore.
- Serenade Your Lover: Another variation. Jesse asks to hear one of Celine's songs, and out of the choice of a song about her cat, a song about her ex-boyfriend and "a waltz", he picks the latter. Naturally, it's a song she wrote about Jesse and the events of the first film.
- Reality Subtext: It's a real song written by Julie Delpy.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Played with. Both characters have slid to the cynicism side - early, Celine blasts Jesse when he says he's "optimistic" about the world - but by the end, both have slid a little back towards idealism, at least towards each other.
- We Could Have Avoided All This: Invoked by both Celine and Jesse: why the fuck didn't they exchange phone numbers? Because they were romantic twits in the first film and figured it would be more romantic, and didn't realize an emergency (like the death of Celine's grandmother) might intervene.
- And then the fact that Celine and Jesse were living in the same neighborhood in New York City and didn't even know it...
- What the Hell, Hero?: Celine lets Jesse have it, big time.Celine: I was fine, until I read your fucking book! It stirred shit up, you know? It reminded me how genuinely romantic I was, how I had so much hope in things, and now it's like, I don't believe in anything that relates to love. I don't feel things for people anymore. In a way, I put all my romanticism into that one night, and I was never able to feel all this again. Like, somehow this night took things away from me and I expressed them to you, and you took them with you! It made me feel cold, like if love wasn't for me!...
Before Midnight contains examples of the following tropes:
- Belated Happy Ending: Jesse does manage to get together with Celine, and even start a family, but it's not without consequences.
- Bumbling Dad: Jesse comes across like this a little bit when saying goodbye to his son, but it is partly because he is trying so hard to make up for all the time he could not be there for him.
- Disappeared Dad: Jesse is wracked with guilt over not being able to see his 13-year-old son, who lives in the US, often enough. He pines to return to Chicago, but his wife Celine has a new job opportunity in Paris, and doesn't want her or their two daughters to live in the US anyway. This becomes a major point of contention in their big fight at the hotel.
- Happily Married or Happy Marriage Charade?: Played With and explored throughout the movie. They still do have plenty of happy times, as shown at the beginning where they enjoy their holiday with kids and friends to the fullest and still flirt with each other. On the other hand, they both had to make sacrifices (like Jesse living in the U.S. and being there for his son, and Celine having more of a career and more time for herself) and also have had less and less opportunities to spend quality time with each other, which lead to all kinds of unspoken resentments and regrets that are brought into the open in their night at the hotel.
- In Memoriam: Dedicated to a woman Richard Linklater had once met and spent an evening with called Amy Lehrhaupt, who inspired the original Before Sunrise. Although she actually died in 1994 while the first film was in production Linklater did not find out from her family that she had died until 2009.
- Parents as People: Jesse and Celine are shown as flawed parents who try very hard and love their kids to bits but ultimately are flawed and imperfect at being parents. Celine later confesses how ashamed she was of being clueless as the mom of their daughters and making mistakes and how she felt she was supposed to be instinctual and a natural at this parenting thing. Also, Jesse totally steals a half-eaten apple from his sleeping daughter!
- Real Time: The film is basically four, five long scenes of conversation in Real Time, with some time passing between those scenes.
- The Oner: The drive back from the airport is one continuous shot, save for a brief cutaway. The walk to the hotel is another.
- True Love Is Boring: The routines of parenthood and domestic life have worn them both down noticeably.
- Truth-Telling Session: The big fight at the hotel where previously unsaid things are brought out into the open, mostly in a very confrontational and hurtful way due to how long their resentments and regrets have festered over the years. In this fight they alternate between driving each other away and talking cautious steps towards each other. Celine runs out three times, comes back two times and Jesse goes after her in the end where they decide to give it another try in the hotel.
- Walk and Talk: When they walk to the hotel, and talk just the two of them for the first time in ages, they mention how much they have missed doing this.
- We Could Have Avoided All This: If they had taken time out to talk to each other more often and been more honest and upfront with each other in general, they might have avoided collecting so many unspoken resentments and regrets over the years of their relationship.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Both throw a lot of this at each other in their huge fight in the hotel. Neither really comes off as more or less flawed than the other, though.