There is something delightfully pretentious about having a dead person narrating a film. It requires a sense of suspended disbelief from the audience, and once you have achieved that, anything is possible in your story. Surprisingly, dead narration is rarely utilized in Hollywood, whereas most tropes this original have been squeezed dry by now.
In some cases, the death of the narrator is made known right away in the film. And in others, it is used as a “big reveal” to switch up your perception of everything you had seen up to that point. One thing it rarely fails to be is interesting, though. And here are five examples in particular that stood out to me. But be forewarned weary traveler, for there are SPOILERS AHEAD!
I had to start off this list with this example, only because it gets all those “Tupac faked his own death” enthusiasts all worked up. All seven of them.
Yes, Tupac is narrating a movie about Tupac that came out seven years AFTER Tupac was killed. How could one conjure such wizardry, you may ask? Well, it is as simple as you would think it to be. They use is audio clips compiled from before he was killed, obviously.
I love that you can go to threads about this movie and people, to this day, will argue that this is definitive proof that Tupac is alive. None of these fans of his seem to recall the fact that this is like, the fifteenth example of that. The man has released more after his death than he did while we was alive. I think. I lack the passion to look the numbers up on this one.
Now I lay me down to sleep, pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I will make sure to release atleast 15 albums posthumously. Amen.
Tupac Shakur documented his whole life, with video and audio. It was just part of who he was, so it sort of makes sense that there would be enough footage and audio clips for about twenty years worth of steady material, which, by the way, is exactly what it has been.
So this example, while maybe the most interesting example of a deceased narrator, it is definitely the strangest. There is something undeniably odd about hearing a dead man narrate poetry and visions of his own death.
This is the one that seemed to start the trend of dead narrators in film, though I would hardly call a handful of films a trend. The big reveal of a character having been “dead the whole time” was a new concept when this film was released in 1950, and subsequently, would be borrowed and used by many movies for many generations. Remember though, kids, Sunset Boulevard did it first.
The movie begins with a man, floating, face down in a pool. The narrator chimes in and lets us know he intends to tell us everything that leads up to that exact moment. What we come to find out, when the movie ends in the exact spot where it began, is that the narrator himself IS the man floating in the pool, face down.
Someone fish me out so I can get to my voice over sessions at three!
Though now it may seem mild to a generation weened on “twist endings”, at the time it was a genuinely riveting moment and a brilliant twist. This film was also the first time I found myself wondering: Where does a dead person narrate from? I mean, are they floating around in the vast empty space of nothingness as they tell this story? And who are they “telling” it to? My existential mind started young.
Wristcutters: A Love Story
This was a great little film that not enough people saw, but it was not hard to figure out why. People often tend to find suicide as sort of a downer, and perhaps not the greatest theme for a love story, but the film itself is surprisingly uplifting and quite comical at times. Plus, Shannyn Sossaman is in it, and that woman is a Godess born unto Earth.
If more people knew there were people who looked like her in the afterlife, the suicide rate would skyrocket.
Perhaps in the name of the film, much of its mysteries are revealed. The movie is about a place people go when they kill themselves. It is not Heaven and it is not Hell. it is just like your real world, only far less enjoyable. A sort of bleak purgatory that looks like Detroit.
You still have to work, but your job sucks THAT much more. And you are surrounded by other people who also took their lives, though some swear up and down that is not the case.
So in a movie filled with dead people, it makes sense that perhaps there would be some dead person narration, but it is kept to a minimum, surprisingly. And when it is used, it is quite effective. Specifically, when the weird, rag tag group comes together, and they explain their suicides to each other.
Oh, and Tom Waits is in it, so it is amazing by default.
What could be a bleak, hopeless scene is actually played for laughs, but not callously. It is more the people themselves realizing how stupid (or in the case of the wannabe rockstar, epic) their deaths were.
And while this movie could have overused it, they keep the dead person narration to a minimum, and to great effect.