Casablanca, The Social Network, (500) Days of Summer, Once Upon a Time in the West, Ordinary People
I set this discussion into motion here and here. To wit: Hollywood conventional wisdom is that voice-over narration and flashbacks are a no-no, yet some of the greatest movies ever produced use these narrative devices including Fight Club, Goodfellas, The Silence of the Lambs, and Rashomon.
My conclusion: Voice-over narration and flashbacks are not inherently bad, rather they are tainted by how poorly they get executed by inexperienced writers.
Goal: Find five movies in which each is used well, then analyze those movies to come up with — hopefully — guidelines on how best to handle this pair of narrative devices.
In this series, we hit on several takeaways:
- We can use flashbacks to tease out and reveal a story’s mystery as with The Social Network, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Ordinary People.
- We can use flashbacks to portray an accurate way in which memory actually works, jumping around in time as with (500) Days of Summer.
- If the events from the past are so traumatic, so memorable, and frankly so visual, they can make for great cinema.
Hollywood’s conventional wisdom may default to ‘flashbacks = bad writing’, but that’s simply not true. Write it well and it can be an asset to a story. Like this:
Write. Write well.