A story told in reverse order, from end to beginning, revealing effects first, and working towards a climax which reveals cause and motive. Difficult to do, but very effective when done well. An interesting thing to ask yourself when you see this is whether or not the story would have been interesting forwards.
May be used as a framing device to portray a Non-Linear Character
or one suffering from Merlin Sickness
. This allows the audience to connect cause and effect without knowing any more about prior events than the character.
Also see How We Got Here
, where the last scene comes first and everything else is in order; Anachronic Order
, where scenes are presented out of any chronological order at all, aka Non Linear Storytelling
. This is similarly implemented with In Medias Res
, where the middle of story precedes the start. Compare Unstuck In Time
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- Sealab 2021, the "Shrabster" episode. It also parodied the Superfriends narrator, who would describe the temporal relationships of the scenes with glib prepositions. "Meanwhile!"
- In The Venture Bros. episode "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel", all of the Brock scenes are shown front to back, but are intercut with the scenes at the Venture compound that run Back to Front. The point in time is monitored unusually; rather than following time, it follows the resale value of an original copy of Marvel Comics # 1, which gets progressively more abused as the Venture household doesn't realize its value.
- At one point, in Chuck Jones's Tom and Jerry cartoon "Shutter Bugged Cat", Tom plays footage from "Heavenly Puss" backwards. Not a bad idea for a Clip Show.
- Lampshaded in an episode of Home Movies, when the kids make a movie in reverse because Brendon insists it's the hip thing to do.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode "Remains of the Platypus". It even includes a few nods to Memento.
- While the main part of the movie in normal order, the flashbacks to Jason Todd's tenure as Robin in Batman: Under the Red Hood are in reverse order, beginning with him as a moody, rebellious teen sidekick and the final scene of the movie showing the first day the exuberant boy first donned the costume.
- The Twitter Song on Cracked.
- In Hitherby Dragons, the legend Hard And Cold. Margaret wakes up in a prison yard after being stabbed with a shiv, gets put in prison awaiting trial for three years, then gets told that she's going to kill a man.
The future’s the same as the past. It’s all written down in the book of the world. The only reason we think any different is that our memory only works one way—aligned against entropy with the ordering of the world. But that’s an illusion. It’s not the truth. The truth is, it’s all just there, future and past, lifeworld and deadworld, hard and cold.
- The Let's Play of Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Special Edition had each segment of its Metropolis Zone video played in reverse order, starting with the character-unlock screen and finishing with the otherwise-episode-starting prayer.
- An absolutely brilliant "review" of the film Memento. The writer describes how he came to watch the film, but in reverse order - just like the film itself. (The review is in Hebrew, see translation here).
- The main story of Planetarium is relatively straightforward, but some of its subplots are told in this style: the Major Puzzle's answer can be deciphered only by entering the parts of it in backwards numerical order, and the contents of the love letter are revealed to be made up of the first letter of each different animal that was on a mission in each part starting with the Iguana in part XI and ending with the Weasel in part I.
- Mushroom Engine is a fan-game where you can play Mario backwards.
- Braid begins with "World 2". World 1 is actually the final world, and only accessible after you complete the other worlds. In World 1 the flow of time apart from the main character is inverted. The final level is actually the beginning of the game chronologically, and its revelation allows one to make sense of the rest of the story.
- The entire The Tale of ALLTYNEX trilogy is told in reverse.
- Although Battlefield 3's single-player campaign is told in the form of flashbacks during the interrogation (just like Call of Duty: Black Ops) of Staff Sergeant Blackburn, the interrogation itself is set before the final level, "The Great Destroyer." Likewise, Dima's playable levels are in reverse chronological order; the penultimate level "Kaffarov" is played mostly as Dima (the last portion has the player as Blackburn being confronted by Dima) and is set after, while the first level where you play as Dima is set between "Kaffarov" and the interrogation / "The Great Destroyer." Coincidentally, just like Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the first level "Semper Fidelis" is a partial (dream sequence) version of the final level "The Great Destroyer".
- In To The Moon, Eva and Niel (and consequently the player) see Johnny's life in reverse.
- Thanks for playing (A.K.A. The Last Hope of Dr. Zeit) is a whole game of this, complete with the gameplay going backwards.
- Retro/Grade is a rhythm game framed as a 2d shmup played backwards: the player plays through the levels in reverse, dodges backwards enemy fire and "unfires" his shots, all which are in beat with the music.
- In OFF, the Room tells a story in reverse order, from chapter 5 to chapter 0.
- The Harold Pinter play (and film version) Betrayal chronicles a broken marriage in reverse, over a period of several years.
- In the 1931 Kaufman & Hart play Merrily We Roll Along, each scene takes place in an earlier year than the previous one, opening in 1934 and ending in 1916. Merrily We Roll Along was loosely adapted into a musical by Stephen Sondheim and and George Furth in 1981, with a Setting Update; voices from the Greek Chorus count the years of The Seventies and The Sixties going backwards during the scene changes.
- The musical The Last Five Years chronicles the doomed courtship/marriage of Jamie and Cathy, employing this trope selectively: her songs and side of the story go backward in time, while his go forward. They only sing two duets in the entire show. The first is at their wedding when their timelines meet, and at the end, where Cathy is saying goodbye at the end of their first date while Jamie says goodbye for good.
- The video for Coldplay's "The Scientist" runs backwards; it took Chris Martin a while to learn the lyrics backwards so they would sync up when the film was reversed. Quoting the website, "Everytime I see Simon Pegg he teases me about it, so now I [Chris] can't watch it. He wonders why someone after a car crash would go into town and have a nap. He can f*** off."
- Played with in Depeche Mode's video for "Wrong" It starts with a car rolling backwards through a city street, the driver apparently having fallen asleep inside. As it proceeds, the driver sits up and looks around drowsily at the point where he would have collapsed behind the wheel. But as the video goes on we realize that the video isn't playing backwards, the car is rolling in reverse. The man behind the wheel isn't the driver — he's a victim who had been bound, gagged, placed in a mask (disguising the gag) and probably drugged before being placed in a car with all the controls removed, and he spends the video trying to free himself. It manages to be way creepier than what the viewer first thought.
- The video for Enigma's "Return to Innocence" features scenes from a man's life, in reverse. The man starts the video as an dying elderly guy, and ends it as a baby. It also started out in black-and-white, which turns to color as the music begins.
- Mutemath's video "Typical" is a oner filmed in reverse.
- As is Peter, Björn and John's "Second Chance".
- Jack Johnson's "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" is as well.
- And Ricky Martin's "Private Emotion", displaying him and his love interest first coated in ice, then the ice melting back to water, which returns to the sprinkler heads, so that the fire ignited by their passion reappears before un-igniting. It's quite something.
- "Severlá", a song and video from Chilean show 31 Minutos, is completely filmed and sung in reverse. Severlá is "al revés" ("backwards") in Spanish, backwards.
- The bulk of the video for "Sacrilege" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a series of short clips in reverse temporal order.
- The events of "All Along the Watchtower" start with the approach of the riders in the 3rd verse, followed by The Thief's reaction to that in the second verse, and end with The Joker's reply in the first verse.
- Pet Shop Boys' "One Thing Leads to Another" starts with a man's death and goes back through the tragic series of events that caused his fatal car crash; it all starts when the man's girlfriend leaves him and he falls into alcoholism and deep depression.
- Nine Inch Nails' "Deep" shows us the narrative in reverse order, although each scene plays forwards.
- "Little Motel" by Modest Mouse. Good god... It starts off as if a mother is tucking her child into bed, but as the reverse story reveals everything, it is revealed that the child is dead.
- Rewind by Nas. It starts with a man getting shot, and ends with him getting a message.
- The french song Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise (Best known in its Russian version, to the extent of the titlee becoming a proverb there). A woman calls to ask how things are going at home. Well, everything is fine, except for your horse dying... because the stables burned down... because the entire house did... because your husband learned he was broke and shot himself, knocking down a candle when he fell dead. Otherwise, everything is fine.
- The backwards episode of Seinfeld entitled "The Betrayal". The episode's title is a Shout Out to the play mentioned above, as is the the fact that one of the characters mentioned in the episode is named Pinter.
- "Zig Zag", an episode of The Outer Limits revival.
- Thirtysomething used the device to good effect to dramatize a character's pregnancy.
- A variation on the theme was Red Dwarf's "Backwards", where the characters encounter a world where time moves backwards. A mysterious ache in Lister's ribcage and back, which appears when he first lands on the planet, is explained when a backwards Bar Brawl — or more accurately a barroom tidy — breaks out. Cat hides in the bushes near the end, for the sort of purpose cats do that for. Quite what happens isn't shown but it clearly isn't something he enjoys very much.
- An episode of The X-Files ("Redrum", #167, or S8-6) made use of this, but the central character was aware of it. He woke up in prison, not understanding how he got there. He goes to sleep that night, and wakes up the next morning to discover that he is going to trial, for the crime he was incarcerated for "yesterday."
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Before and After" has Kes living her life backwards. It even foreshadows episodes in the next season (specifically "Year of Hell"), though events proceeded differently since Kes had left the ship by then.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
- An episode started at the end of the shift and kept showing one case being worked, then jumping backward to the case just prior to it, showing how incidental characters in the later case were affected by the prior one, and at the end tying all the cases together in various ways.
- CSI: New York's episode "Nothing For Something" opens with footage of the victim-to-be getting together with a guy from a bar, with the footage run in reverse. It actually doesn't look that odd until the spooning couple start putting their clothes on in bed.
- The episode of China Beach with Ricky Lake's character getting pregnant and having an abortion.
- An episode of Malcolm in the Middle showed an escalating prank war between Reese and Malcolm in reverse, each time showing the provocation for the last scene, and ending with the predictably inoffensive spark that ignited the whole thing.
- Doctor Who:
- River Song's arc up until "Let's Kill Hitler" was this, since due to time travel her meetings with the Doctor aren't in the right order, and of the three times we've seen her they've been steadily earlier in her own timeline. Since then, it's become Anachronic Order.
- A later episode reveals that all of their meetings have been progressively earlier from the Doctor's point of view, and that she's dreading the day when he won't recognise her at all. This is a case of massive irony for the viewers, who have already seen that day in River’s very first appearance. At the time, it was most baffling and intriguing. Now that we know her character, it’s really, really tragic. Oh, and did we mention that she dies on that day?
- Whose Line Is It Anyway? has a game called "Backwards Scene," where the actors would improvise a scene backwards.
- ER had a backwards-running episode which "began" with a defenestration from a hospital window. Subsequent scenes showing earlier and earlier events revealed the reason for the suicidal character's desperation.
- Another one began with two staff members being rushed to the hospital following a car accident. As it turns out, this is the culmination of an incredibly bad day for one of them. Like the abovementioned example, the scenes showing earlier events explain ho things got to this point.
- Smallville episode Abyss had Chloe losing all her memories except Davis Bloome due to a computer virus in her mind, where they flashed back all here memories in reverse order.
- In the Sliders episode "As Time Goes By", one of the worlds has time going (kind of) backwards for the sliders. Quinn abuses this to prevent a murder, which causes a hole to appear in the sky.
- The Investigation Discovery series Redrum (a possible reference to The X-Files episode?) starts out with the murder in question.
- Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus involves a group of (future) scientists who study the past using machines that can look directly into it; one of the scientists was noted for always watching stories backwards, from a person's death to his birth.
- One of Louis Sachar's Wayside School books has a chapter whose sentences are in reverse order. To bring it full circle, when read back-to-front (the only way it makes sense) the story ends with the main character being told to read the story backwards.
- Sarah Waters' The Night Watch is in three sections, starting in 1947, then moving back in time to 1944, and finishing in 1941 as most of the characters meet.
- Iain Banks' Use of Weapons has a superficial story in the present told forwards, but a deeper backstory that is told backward.
- Just about everything in Martin Amis' Holocaust novel Times Arrow happens in reverse.
- This happens twice in-universe in The Wheel of Time. Both times, it's because the character is being tested by the strange ter'angreal in Rhuidean. The first time, it's Rand in book 4, who sees the Aiel people's past, working backwards all the way to the War of Power in the Age of Legends. The second time, it's Aviendha in book 13, who sees the future of the Aiel. Both times, this leads to shocking revelations for both the character and the reader.
- The children's book The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash opens with a little girl named Meggie telling her mother about a class trip to the farm, and how things didn't get interesting until the cow started crying... because the farmer knocked a hay bale onto it... because he was distracted by the sight of his pigs climbing onto the school bus to eat the kids' lunches... and so on. There were three sequels, Jimmy's Boa Bounces Back, Jimmy's Boa and the Big Splash Birthday Bash, and Jimmy's Boa and the Bungee Jump Slam Dunk that featured the same girl telling similar backwards stories about a string of Disaster Dominoes started by Jimmy and his pet snake.
- An in-universe example from Making Money; Moist admits to the Patrician that putting mongooses in the post boxes was a bit much. Why were there mongooses in the post boxes? Well, to control the snakes. Why were the snakes there? Because of the toads. Why were the toads there? To keep the snails under control. Why were the snails there? Well, the Post Office had introduce cabbage-flavoured stamps...
- In Guy Haley's Warhammer 40,000 novel Baneblade, roughly half the chapters tell the current war story chronologically while the other half are flashbacks from the protagonist's past, going each further back in time.
Action-Live — Films
- The film Memento, which spawned a number of parodies/homages/ripoffs.
- The Back to Front scenes (in color) alternate with shorter front-to-back scenes (in black and white), until they meet mid-timeline at the climax.
- It's lampshaded as well: the protagonist Leonard at one point has a flashback to his wife reading a book which she had read so many times the cover had fallen off. He mocks her for this, observing that "I always thought the pleasure in a book was wanting to know what happened next." This, in a movie for half of which the viewer knows what is coming next but not what preceded it.
- The DVD contains an Easter Egg which lets you watch the movie in chronological order.
- The French film Irreversible. Hard to notice, though, when you're choking on your own vomit (partially thanks to the Infrasound on the first half of the movie)...
- In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the story is told backwards through the Lacuna memory erasing machine, since it erases the newer memories first and the old ones last.
- The short film Previously is played entirely in reverse.
- 5 x 2 begins with the end of a marriage and ends with the beginning of the relationship. Reportedly, another edition that uses normal chronology is called 2 x 5.
- A video artist took The Andromeda Strain and cut it so every shot appears in reverse order. The resulting piece was entitled Strain Andromeda The.
- There was a Krazy Kat strip that started with Ignatz in jail, proceeded through Officer Pupp dragging him there, arresting him, Pupp hearing the brick impact, Ignatz throwing the brick at Krazy, and ending with a brick.
- In one Pearls Before Swine strip, Rat complains about that day's strip being printed in reverse order. The punchline is in the first panel, the setup in the last.
- Midnighter #7 tells the story backwards. Apparently it makes sense and is still good whether you read it front-to-back or back-to-front.
- There was a Simpsons comics story that did just this. The bottom right corner of the last panel of the last page read, "The Beginning".
- Tear Jerker example: Star Trek Annual #3, which traces Montgomery Scott's relationship with his ex-wife in reverse order, from his notification of her death to their first meeting as children.
- Issue #71 of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic book did the entire issue like this, with the letters page coming first, then the backup story, and then the main story. Incidentally, this was the issue where they provided an explanation for Sonic's makeover for Sonic Adventure.
- Roger Zelazny's short story Divine Madness chronicles a man being forced to relive in reverse his mourning for his dead love.
- An issue of The 3 Geeks tells a story this way.
- The twelve issue miniseries, Marvel: The Lost Generation, gave snippets of the history of the First Line (a team of superheroes retconned into the Marvel Universe), with each issue taking place earlier in time. The first issue showed the final fate of the team, while the last issued showed how the it formed. The series is unique, however, in that it was written to be read either way; by proper numerical order (starting with issue #1 and ending with #12) or published order (#12 to #1). You end up getting the whole story no matter what "direction" you chose to take it in, but the concept is fairly novel.
- The Serenity comic "A Shepherd's Tale" uses the back to front device like peeling an onion, moving progressively back through Book's life to reveal his long-awaited origins.
- Zannablu and the Smartness Serum starts right at the climax, with the protagonist barricated inside his house while people from different factions are trying to get in and get hold of said serum. The story is unveiled in a series of flashbacks, each probing a little further in the past, as Zannablù tells How We Got Here to his friend Crazy Pig. Parodied when Zannablù overdoes it and starts recounting his birth.
Manga & Anime
- Touka Gettan keeps this up over the course of a full 26-episode anime series, airing the episodes in reverse order.
- Osamu Tezuka's seminal manga Hi no Tori (Phoenix), which was also adapted into an anime series, starts at the dawn of humanity, then skips to the end of the world in the second chapter, then back to early history, and skips back and forth from there, with half told Back to Front, and half proceeding slowly forwards from the beginning. Regrettably, Tezuka died before getting to the chapter in present-day Japan that would have tied everything together.