Flashback: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Flashback (also called analepsis, plural analepses) is an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached. Flashbacks are often used to recount events that happened before the story’s primary sequence of events or to fill in crucial backstory. Character origin flashbacks specifically refers to flashbacks dealing with key events early in a character's development (Clark Kent discovering he could fly, for example, or the Elric brothers' attempt to bring back their mother). The television show Lost is particularly well known for extensive use of flashbacks in almost every episode. In the opposite direction, a flashforward (or prolepsis) reveals events that will occur in the future. The technique is used to create suspense in a story, or develop a character. In literature, internal analepsis is a flashback to an earlier point in the narrative; external analepsis is a flashback to before the narrative started.


Notable examples


An early example of analepsis is in the Mahabharata, where the main story is narrated through a frame story set in a later story.

Another early use of this device in a murder mystery was in "The Three Apples", an Arabian Nights tale. The story begins with the discovery of a young woman's dead body. After the murderer later reveals himself, he narrates his reasons for the murder as a flashback of events leading up to the discovery of her dead body at the beginning of the story.[1] Flashbacks are also employed in several other Arabian Nights tales such as "Sinbad the Sailor" and "The City of Brass".

Analepsis was used extensively by author Ford Madox Ford. Also by poet, author, historian and mythologist Robert Graves, as a source of inspiration.

The 1927 book The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder is the progenitor of the modern disaster epic in literature and film-making, where a single disaster intertwines the victims, whose lives are then explored by means of flashbacks to events leading up to the disaster.


Sometimes a flashback is inserted into a film even though there was none in the original source from which the film was adapted. The 1956 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's stage musical Carousel used a flashback device which somewhat takes the impact away from a very dramatic plot development later in the film. This was done because the plot of Carousel was then considered unusually strong for a film musical. The 1967 film version of Camelot also uses this technique, but in the case of Camelot, according to Alan Jay Lerner, it was not done to soften the blow of a later plot development but because the show had been criticized onstage as taking a too abrupt shift in tone from near-comedy to tragedy.

A good example of both analepsis and prolepsis is the first scene of La Jetée (1962). As we learn a few minutes later, what we are seeing in that scene is a flashback to the past, since the present of the film’s diegesis is a time directly following World War III. However, as we learn at the very end of the film, that scene also doubles as a prolepsis, since the dying man the boy is seeing is, in fact, himself. In other words, he is proleptically seeing his own death. We thus have an analepsis and prolepsis in the very same scene.

The creator of the flashback technique in cinema was D.W. Griffith. One of the earliest examples can be seen in his film Intolerance (film), it is very brief, consisting of only one shot.

However, flashbacks stopped being used until the late 30s, early 40s, in films such as William Wyler's Wuthering Heights, in which, as in Emily Brontë's original novel, the housekeeper Ellen narrates the main story to overnight visitor Mr. Lockwood, who has witnessed Heathcliff's frantic pursuit of what is apparently a ghost. More famously, also in 1939, Marcel Carne's movie Le jour se lève is told entirely through flashback: the story starts with the murder of a man in a hotel. While the murderer, played by Jean Gabin, is surrounded by the police, several flashbacks tell the story of why he killed the man at the beginning of the movie.

One of the most famous examples of non-chronological flashback is in the 1941 Orson Welles film Citizen Kane. The protagonist, Charles Foster Kane, dies at the beginning, uttering the word "Rosebud". A reporter spends the rest of the film interviewing Kane's friends and associates, in an effort to discover what Kane meant by uttering the word. As the interviews proceed, pieces of Kane's life unfold in flashback, but not always chronologically.

Satyajit Ray experimented with flashbacks in his 1972 film The Adversary. One of the experimental techniques which he pioneered was photo-negative flashbacks.[2]

Occasionally, a story may contain a flashback within a flashback: one example of this is the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: the main action of the film is told in flashback, with the scene of Liberty Valance’s murder occurring as a flashback within that flashback. An extremely convoluted story may contain flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks: examples of this are the movies Six Degrees of Separation, Passage to Marseille, and The Locket.

Though usually used to clarify plot or backstory, flashbacks can also be used in the manner of the "unreliable narrator". Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright notoriously featured a flashback that did not tell the truth but dramatized a lie from a witness. The multiple and contradictory staged reconstructions of a crime in Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line are presented as flashbacks based on divergent testimony. Akira Kurosawa's classic film Rashomon does this in the most celebrated fictional narrative use of contested multiple testimonies.

Near the end of his life, film director Howard Hawks boasted that he was proud that none of his films ever used a flashback.

Flashbacks are a trademark of the Saw movies, with many scenes adding extra depth to characters and adding insight to various aspects of the series. Saw IV has one scene set in real-time, while the rest of the film is a flashback, structured around a series of other flashbacks.

An occasional twist is the insertion of a character who was not part of the sequence being depicted, usually one to whom the events shown are being described. For instance, during a police interrogation in Under Suspicion, the events described are shown in flashback with the interrogator watching – signaling that the flashback represents the events as described by the witness, not necessarily as they really happened.

In the 2006 animated film Ice Age: The Meltdown, Ellie the mammoth has a flashback after walking through a deeply wooded area with Manny, and it is revealed that Ellie apparently had walked through that exact area when she wasn't much more than a baby. In this flashback, a very young Ellie is wandering aimlessly and is completely lost in a huge blizzard. She is apparently an orphan as there are no adult mammoths shown here. She rests under a frozen tree, but then sees a mother opossum and her two babies and was apparently adopted by the mother, ultimately leading to Ellie believing that she herself was an opossum. After this flashback, Ellie, after many years, realises that she is indeed a mammoth.


Lost extensively uses flashbacks. Almost every episode focuses on a single character in their on island struggles and how it relates to a struggle before they arrived on the island. In the season three finale "Through the Looking Glass" they switch to use a flashforward to show what happened to the characters once they got off of the island, and has been used in multiple episodes since then. Season 6 introduced the concept of "flashsideways", wherein the narrative it switched to the lives of the survivors in an alternative dimension.

The television show Psych uses flashbacks in nearly every episode focusing on the exploits of the younger Shawn and Gus.

The television show Chuck has used numerous flashbacks revealing some backstory for nearly every major character.

Flashbacks have been used extensively in the TV show Prison Break for most characters.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel, flashbacks show events in the history of the principal vampires Darla, Angel, Drusilla and Spike, from 1609 until shortly before the beginning of the series.

In One Tree Hill at the end of season 4, the characters graduate high school. In the start of season 5 the series takes place 4 years in the future. The series includes flashbacks to explain what happened to the characters.

In Cold Case, each episode begins with a flashback scene establishing the year in which it is set. Further flashbacks are used in each episode.

In Desperate Housewives in season 4 a flashforward takes place 5 years in the future. The next season takes place 5 years into the future. Season 5 will likely include flashbacks to explain the mysteries revealed in the season finale.

How I Met Your Mother can be considered one long flashback, as the show is set in the year 2030 with the narrator narrating the events of his life to his children.

Family Guy includes many series of flashbacks throughout many of the episodes, many of which do not include the character initiating the flashback. These mostly are used to prove points, showing a clip to reveal why a stated simile is accurate. (These may also be called cutaways).

In the anime Fullmetal Alchemist, a 7-episode extended flashback sequence gives background information from the lives of main characters Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric. It lasts from episode 3, "Mother", to episode 9, "Be Thou for the People", and outlines main events from their early childhood up to adolescence, until the plot comes full circle.

In Friends, in the 5th season, after the third baby is born when Phoebe Buffay is in labor, Frank Jr. then goes into the emergency room and shouts "CHANDLER'S A GIRL!" twice. Chandler then says "Kindergarten flashback" although no flashback is shown.

In movies and television, several camera techniques and special effects have evolved to alert the viewer that the action shown is from the past; for example, the edges of the picture may be deliberately blurred, photography may be jarring or choppy, or unusual coloration or sepia tone, or monochrome when most of the story is in full color, may be used.


  1. ^ Pinault, David (1992), Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights, Brill Publishers, p. 94, ISBN 9004095306 
  2. ^ Nick Pinkerton (April 14, 2009). "First Light: Satyajit Ray From the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy". The Village Voice. http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-04-15/film/first-light-satyajit-ray-from-the-apu-trilogy-to-the-calcutta-trilogy. Retrieved 2009-07-09. 
  • Pattison, Darcy. Writing Flashbacks. When and why to include a flashback and tips on writing a flashback.


Flashback or flashbacks may refer to:

  • Flashback (narrative), in literature and dramatic media, an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point
  • Flashback (psychology), in which survivors of traumatic experiences are (usually unexpectedly) revisited by elements of the traumatic experience
  • Flashback (welding), a dangerous hazard of using an oxyacetylene torch
  • Flashback arrestor, a device most commonly used in oxy-fuel welding and cutting to stop the flame from burning back up into the equipment

In comic books

In video games

In music

In computing

  • Atari Flashback, a line of video-game consoles that emulate various 1980s-era Atari games.
  • Oracle Flashback, a means of retrieving data as it existed in an Oracle database at an earlier time

Roller coasters

Publications and media

See also


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Flashback: The Quest for Identity article)

From Wikiquote

Flashback: The Quest for Identity, released in 1992 as just Flashback in some countries, is an action-adventure platform game developed by Delphine Software of France, a now defunct company, and published by U.S. Gold in America and Europe, and Sunsoft in Japan.

  • That's my story, just the way I lived it... The galaxy I am in today doesn't appear on any of our navigation charts; It's impossible for me to calculate my return trajectory. I'll probably drift in space for a very long time...
    • Conrad
  • They made me work on a terrible experiment... I'd rather not talk about the consequences, I was so frightened by the prospects revealed to me.
    • 437th day - Phillip Howard Clark
  • I've decided to move tonight. I'll have to borrow a vessel from the hangar before everything blows up. This is my final message. May Heaven help me...
    • 1200th day - Phillip Howard Clark

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Flashback: The Quest for Identity


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also flashback


German Wikipedia has an article on:
Flashback (Psychopathologie)

Wikipedia de


Flashback m. (genitive Flashbacks, plural Flashbacks)

  1. (psychology or drugs) flashback

Simple English

A flashback is a technique used by writers. It is often used in movies, television and literature. It involves a character remembering something that happened to him in the past. Scrubs is a television show that uses flashbacks often.

The term is also used colloquially, to describe lingering effects of a drug (such as LSD), or memories of a bad experience triggered by things in the present.

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