Flashbacks are a fairly common storytelling device in films. Less common are extended flashback movies. These are the cases where the entire story is one great, big flashback, as opposed to just an individual scene or two. They start with some kind of setup, then proceed to take us back to the past for a lengthy stretch before wrapping up with a return to the present at the end.
What's fun about these pictures is that, in many cases, you can actually forget that you're watching a flashback. The plot's momentum will sweep you up, keeping you mentally in the moment. When this happens, it can even be a little surprising once the movie comes back to present day because you've been so invested in the story. However they make you feel, there is something admirable about a film that skillfully uses extended flashbacks not as a gimmick, but as a critical storytelling device.
Which of these movies best pulls off the long flashback idea? Your votes will decide.
- 1113 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
When Does The Movie Start? An old man named Paul Edgecomb lives in a nursing home. While watching the classic movie Top Hat, he becomes unusually emotional.
When Does It Flash Back? Paul tells a female companion that the film reminds him of his time working as a prison guard on Cold Mountain Penitentiary's death row. This leads to the flashback, which depicts how a prisoner named John Coffey, who appeared to have some sort of magical healing powers, changed not only life in the prison, but also Paul's life personally.
How Does It End? Paul reveals that Coffey healed one inmate's pet mouse, which is still alive decades later. More shockingly, he reveals that Coffey healed him, as well. He's 108 years old and, far from seeing longevity as a gift, he views his elongated existence as a curse. After all, he is doomed to watch everyone around him perish.
- 2122 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
When Does The Movie Start? A feather floats through the air, landing in the hand of Forrest Gump as he sits on a bench at a bus stop in Georgia.
When Does It Flash Back? A stranger sits down next to him. He offers her a piece of chocolate, compliments her shoes, and then says he can probably remember his own first pair of shoes. Thus begins him recounting the story of his remarkable, eventful life.
How Does It End? After detailing his meeting with important political figures, a literal run across the country, and a romance with his true love Jenny that leads to her becoming pregnant, Forrest sees their young son off as he boards a bus for the first day of school. Jenny is no longer alive, but the boy is a piece of her that remains. Looking down at his feet, he spots the feather resting by his shoe. The wind picks it up and carries it off.
- 3119 VOTESPhoto: DreamWorks Pictures
When Does The Movie Start? An elderly veteran, James Ryan, walks through a cemetery.
When Does It Flash Back? After coming across the tombstone he's looking for, Ryan is overcome with emotion. He begins reflecting back on the efforts of Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his platoon to locate and rescue him during WWII. After much heavy combat, they do indeed find him, but Miller is fatally wounded in the process. His final words are "earn this," which he directs at Ryan.
How Does It End? The older Ryan cries at the gravesite, asking his wife if he's been a good man. Decades later, he's still trying to make sure he's earned the sacrifices that were made for him. The film ends with him saluting Miller's tombstone.
- 474 VOTESPhoto: Columbia Pictures
When Does The Movie Start? Gordie Lachance is reading a newspaper article. It's about a man who was fatally stabbed in a restaurant.
When Does It Flash Back? He sees that the deceased, Chris Chambers, was his childhood best friend. This leads him to reminisce about an incident from their youth where they and two friends journeyed to a remote location in order to view the corpse of a deceased boy who'd gone missing.
How Does It End? Gordie, it turns out, is writing about this episode, which ended when the boys made an anonymous call to the police, alerting them to the location of the boy's body. Reflecting back on Chris - and his demise attempting to break up a fight - spurs him to walk away from the typewriter, go outside, and play with his son. His life was clearly changed by this incident from his past.