On Flashbacks and Flashforwards

I don’t know about you, but as tv series addicted,  I have grown annoyed with the massive unnecessary use of flashbacks and flashforwards in storytelling. “ How to get away with Murder” drove me absolutely crazy because of the exaggerate use of this technique, thus making the narration somewhat predictable and BO-RING. Let alone “How I met your mother”.  After yet another flashforward in season six I had to wait till season eight to finally know who married who. Two entire seasons! Even a couple of days ago, while watching “Harlem”, the black, LGBT version of “Sex and the City”, the most unnecessary flash back –  an entire episode which meant to give light to some absolutely superfluous truths – was placed in the midst of the story. I understand that they want us to be glued  to the screen, but if these interruptions to a chronological narration are not skilfully planned, the outcome is just boredom rather than revived interest.

Flashbacks, in fact, help  find  the sense of a particular situation of the present, revealing  details  or  secrets from the past. While flashforwards provide anticipations. Their function  is  to enhance curiosity, as you are allowed to see a small fragment of the future, but as it is only a small part of a whole and being devoid of its context, it  is meaningless, but intriguing enough to make us want for more. Yet, their use should be dosed, pondered, otherwise flashbacks and flashforwards cannot but be downgraded to useless special effects.

The point is  that if you mean to write a story breaking here and there the chronological order of narration, there must be a good  reason to do it and you should figure the impact on the watcher.  On this purpose, I would humbly suggest to these screenwriters  the reading of a masterpiece of literature where there is an excellent use of flashbacks and flashforwards: “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte  .

When the novel begins 95% of the story has already taken place. The first narrator, Mr Lockwood,  is “hired” only on the purpose of arousing our curiosity, but  as he is a total stranger to the events, how can he perform his duty? Just telling what he sees. In the first three chapters of Wuthering Heights, in fact,  Lockwood only describes people and tells us his impressions about his neighbours: the atmosphere of Wuthering Heights, his meeting with his rude, hot landlord named Heathcliff, the bunch of sullen, mysterious people who live there, whom  he can’t detect  how they are connected one to another, the night visit of a ghost and more. It is the detailed report of  his experience there, that triggers a great quantity of questions in the reader, but this narrator won’t be allowed to give the answers. This is the reason why Emily Bronte calls him Mr Lockwood, as to remark  that “unlocking” mysteries is not  his function here, but quite the contrary.

As Lockwood cannot tell us more than his impressions, a second narrator is needed. Somebody  who knows everything and can unravel the thread of the story, and Emily Bronte’s choice falls on Nelly Dean, a witness of the events. Being the governess of Thrushcross Grange , where Lockwood resides, Nelly is able to satisfy all his curiosities, therefore, she tells him the entire story starting from the beginning. From this moment a long flashback  begins, which stretches from the arrival of Heathcliff when he was a little boy to the present events.

I have to say  that the first three chapters of Wuthering Heights are so rich and extremely powerful  in narrative tension that after the initial fireworks the chronological  narration proceeds in a sort of slow “diminuendo” rather than “crescendo” in emotion, despite the many twists in the story.  It is very likely that the necessity to enliven the end of  the novel  could be the reason why Emily Bronte employs the flashback stratagem in her the last three chapters too. Lockwood, in fact, comes back after six month absence and he is told the latest, shocking  news by Nelly, which includes: Heathcliff’s death, his reunion with his beloved Catherine after death – as their ghosts have been seen wandering in the moors – but also happier outcomes. Hence, Emily Bronte not only manages to engage once again her –exhausted – reader, but also balances the structure of the novel providing it with and effective “finale”.  

Read the classics, dear screenwriters, read the classics!


The Macbeths at the White House


I  have always enjoyed tv series, more than movies, actually. Once you are engaged in the plot, the protagonists become your new companions for a long time. Therefore, I’ve been walking  in the streets of N.Y. with four girls talking about sex and men and craving for a certain Mr Big for almost six years and when the series ended, I went to Seattle and bumped into gorgeous Doctor Mcdreamy at Seattle Grace Hospital. I cannot hide that I am more attracted by the sentimental on tv series, so when Shonda Rhimes, inexplicably, decided to make Doctor Mcdreamy die, I guessed it was high time to look for something else. Hence, about a month ago, my attention was surprisingly caught by a tv series, which, I may say, is really far from being regarded sentimental, but rather, deals with the darkest and wicked side of human nature, one of the most prizewinning drama series ever, as a matter of fact: House of Cards.

hc5Based on the novel of Michael Dobbs, House of Cards is  the U.S. adaptation of the U.K. miniseries of the same name.The story of Claire (Robin Wright) and congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is set in Washington and mostly in the secret chambers of the White House. Disappointed for not having been appointed Secretary of State as promised by the President Garret Walker in exchange for his support, Francis and Clare make a pact to destroy Walker and his allies.  The great protagonist of this series is, actually, the boundless ambition of the couple, who plots for a position of greater power using whatever means possible; ambition that won’t be yet satisfied even when Francis eventually succeeds in achieving the presidency of the U.S.A. . The story was so involving that Mr Run and I found ourselves galloping in a marathon made of 39 episodes that we were able to conclude in the record time of only a couple of weeks. However, while I eagerly followed the events, I couldn’t but find the dynamics of this couple somehow familiar, as if I had already known those guys, till, in a scene, when I saw Claire’s ruthless determination in aiding and encouraging her husband as he seemed to falter, I recognized them both. Hidden under that allure and fancy clothes, here they were again: the Macbeths.

hc8The Underwoods like the Macbeths are devoted only to one god: power. The crown of Scotland becomes the presidency of the U.S.A. here. The White House is Francis and Claire’s playground, where the people, who somehow are connected to them, are cards, whose only function is to make them win the game, but they do not hesitate to throw them away, as soon as they are no longer useful. Merciless, manipulative, the Underwoods don’t know the word gratitude and their success is the result of a perfect symbiosis which does not follow the rules and moral of common couples. “I made you president“, Claire reminds her husbands at a certain point, but those words could have come from Lady Macbeth’s lips as well : without her support, Macbeth would be still there, trembling, talking nonsense and with the evidence of the murder of King in his hands. Yes, she had made him king.

hc7The Underwoods like the Macbeths are a childless couple. These two women don’t give the impression  of having  have a real motherly attitude, as they only seem to be willing to nourish their plans of power and revenge: “I have given suck, and know/how tender ’tis love the babe that milks me ” Lady Macbeth says referring to the plan to kill king Duncan. Her murderous plan is being personified as a baby nursing on her evil soul.  However, while Macbeth and lady Macbeth’s inability to have children affects their relationship negatively and it is one of the factors that plays a part in the decline of their relationship, motherhood has never been part of the plans of the Underwoods, who don’t seem to display any real regret, at least, not yet.

hc1Differently from Macbeth and any Shakespearian play, in House of Cards there is not the eternal battle of good versus evil. In fact, all the characters of the series, with different degrees and no exception, are predatory, cruel and inhuman like the wolves of the Latin proverb  “Homo, homini,  lupus”  ( “a man is a wolf to another man”). In Macbeth , for example, King Duncan’s benevolent, virtuous nature makes Macbeth’s murder more infamous and reprehensible if possible, while in the series, the equivalent of Duncan, president Garret Walker, is two-faced, weak and even ingenuous sometimes, hence unworthy to rule. The political murder plotted by the Underwoods, therefore, can’t have the same moral meaning of Macbeth’s action and you cannot but stay by their side, enjoying the company of the wolves and why not, even becoming one of them.

hc6Clare Underwood and Lady Macbeth have in common an exceptional, burning ambition, but while the latter eventually becomes mentally deranged when the pace of events becomes too much for her, for the former, being the wife of the President is not enough to satisfy her thirst of power. She wants more, therefore her ambition seems to mine the stability of the couple in season 3 and we have to wait for 2016 to know more. In the meantime, would you be so kind to suggest me a new tv series worthy of my attention? Thanks 🙂