AskDefine | Define flashback

Dictionary Definition



1 a transition (in literary or theatrical works or films) to an earlier event or scene that interrupts the normal chronological development of the story [ant: flash-forward]
2 an unexpected but vivid recurrence of a past experience (especially a recurrence of the effects of an hallucinogenic drug taken much earlier)

User Contributed Dictionary

see Flashback



flashback (plural: flashbacks)
  1. a dramatic device in which an earlier event is inserted into the normal chronological flow of a narrative
  2. a vivid mental image of a past trauma, especially one that recurs
  3. a similar recurrence of the effects of a hallucinogenic drug



a dramatic device in which an earlier event is inserted into the normal chronological flow of a narrative
a vivid mental image of a past trauma, especially one that recurs
a similar recurrence of the effects of a hallucinogenic drug

See also

Extensive Definition

In history, film, television and other media, a flashback (also called analepsis) 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 prior to the story’s primary sequence of events or to fill in crucial backstory. 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.


An early example of analepsis is in the Mahabharata, where the main story is narrated through a frame story set in a later time.
Analepsis was used extensively by author Ford Madox Ford.
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.

Example In Film

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. 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.
One of the first films to use a flashback technique was the 1939 Wuthering Heights, in which, as in Emily Brontë's original novel, the housekeeper Ellen (Flora Robson) narrates the main story to overnight visitor Mr. Lockwood (Miles Mander), who has witnessed Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) 's frantic pursuit of what is apparently a ghost. More famously, also in 1939, Marcel Carne's movie "Le jour se leve" 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.
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 infamously featured a flashback that did not tell the truth, but, instead, 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 unusual twist to the typical flashback plot device is the insertion of a character whom was not part of the sequence being depicted, usually in the presence of an interrogator whom was being answered by his subject as to the events that happened. For instance, once scene in the movie Under Suspicion (2000) depicts a policeman (played by Morgan Freeman interrogating a subject (played by Gene Hackman). During the explanation, the flashback is depicted with the subject doing what he is describing. Within the flashback, the interrogator watches the action being described. This gives the audience the added dimension of knowing that the interrogator is seing the scene as portrayed by the subject.

Example in Television

In the world of television flashbacks are also very common. They are sometimes incorporated into episodes, but often whole episodes are devoted to them. One recent show which is well-known for this is Lost which utilizes flashbacks in every episode and more recently flashforwards to advance the storyline and provide a link between the characters' past and their current behavior.
The TV Series 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 the TV series Desperate Housewives in season 4 a flashforward takes place 5 years in the future. The next season may take place 5 years into the future. If so Season 5 would likely include flashbacks to explain the mysteries reveled in the season finale.
In movies and television, several camera techniques and special effects have evolved to inform the viewer that the action on the screen is from the past. For example the edges of the picture may be deliberately blurred or unusual coloration may be used.
flashback in Arabic: مشهد إرتجاعي
flashback in Danish: Flashback
flashback in German: Rückblende
flashback in Spanish: Flashback
flashback in French: Flashback (cinéma)
flashback in Galician: Flashback
flashback in Italian: Analessi
flashback in Hebrew: פלשבק
flashback in Dutch: Flashback (kunst)
flashback in Portuguese: Analepse
flashback in Russian: Флешбек
flashback in Simple English: Flashback
flashback in Serbian: Флешбек
flashback in Swedish: Flashback (psykologi)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

commitment to memory, exercise of memory, hindsight, learning by heart, looking back, memoir, memorization, memorizing, recall, recalling, recollecting, recollection, reconsideration, reflection, remembering, remembrance, reminiscence, retrospect, retrospection, review, rote, rote memory, study
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