Exposition of Immortality
Is The Hero
of your Fantasy
tale Really 700 Years Old
or your Big Bad
is a Time Abyss
? Perhaps Mr. Exposition
gained most of his knowledge by being Older Than They Look
? They are? Great. Now, how best to go about showing the audience that they are?
Exposition of Immortality is a Narrative Device
common in Speculative Fiction
, Fantasy Literature
and media derived from those sources. If a work has a character who falls into one of the immortality tropes you can be 99% certain that, at some point, their age is going to come up in conversation or otherwise be brought to the attention of the audience. The methods that a work uses to show that a character is really, really old generally occurs in the following ways:
- Incriminating Evidence. Bob has maintained a series of identities down the ages, all with the same face and often related to their predecessor. Eventually, someone finds photos or paintings of him from hundreds of years ago. Or: Alice has a company of which she is CEO. And someone finds the documentation that shows she's been CEO since the company was originally founded. During the Renaissance. For some reason, with this trope, no one ever seems to consider the possibility of Identical Grandson, which is generally the more reasonable conclusion.
- Trinkets I've Picked Up Over the Years. Bob maintains a collection of historical artifacts, not because he's an antiques dealer but because he personally collected them. At the time when they weren't antiques.
- I Was Old When The World Was Young. Emperor Evulz knows he is superior to The Hero, because he's been around since the dawn of time. And he's going to tell them all about the things he's seen since then and how much longer he's been around.
- Such Memories! Bob drifts into a Flashback, or a Photo Montage, or a Dream Sequence about that time he was a soldier. In the Roman Legions.
- When I Met So and So. "Oh my word, yes! The parties the Sun-King used to throw at Versailles." Sometimes, Bob might even be So and So.
- An Ancient Accent. Alice speaks and writes with Antiquated Linguistics of ſome ſort.
Exposition Of Immortality is not
the same as Time Travel
. Characters who end up with memories of past times or encounters with historical figures solely due to temporal tourism did not live through that period of history, and thus, aren't demonstrating their extreme longevity at all. Such characters may, however, be encountered by people who know them in the future via Time Travel
. Exposition Of Immortality only
applies to characters who're unusually long-lived or actually immortal. Naturally old characters reminiscing does not invoke this trope.
Closely related to Really 700 Years Old
, Time Abyss
and Older Than They Look
. Often involves Dreaming of Times Gone By
, The Time of Myths
and settings with a Fantasy Kitchen Sink
. When Played for Laughs
, this becomes a Historical In-Joke
Exposition of Immortality will often lead to two sub-tropes being invoked: Exposure of Immortality and Evidence of Immortality.
- Exposure of Immortality: When a character in a work is immortal, he is often either perceived to be normal or actively trying to be perceived as such. Sometimes, these characters will need to out themselves to the world at large in order to prove the existence of the supernatural to doubters and deal with a greater threat. Sometimes, they just want to prove it. And sometimes, they're exposed by others deliberately; either to reveal their True Nature and bring about their downfall or during the course of a mundane investigation that uncovers their secret.
Exposure of Immortality: When an immortal is outed by themselves or other parties.
- Evidence of Immortality: Exposition that shows a character to be immortal or otherwise older than he appears to be can happen in any of the forms listed in Exposition of Immortality. However; memories, conversations and flashback sequences don't tend to hold up too well as evidence. Photos, paintings, objets d'art and a series of documents showing that you and the last 10 generations of your 'ancestors' have the same handwriting are much more damning proof of your unnatural longevity.
Evidence of Immortality: When documentary or objective evidence is presented to expose an immortal character (or when such characters do so themselves).
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Anime and Manga
- Code Geass: C.C. states that she knew Benjamin Franklin. The main series takes place in ATB 2017-18, which is their alternate timeline's equivalent of AD 1962-63.
- Parodied in Dragon Ball, where Master Roshi's proof of being immortal is his driver's license. Third parties confirm that he's as old as he claims to be, however.
- In the Fullmetal Alchemist manga and Brotherhood anime, Selim Bradley is confirmed as the homunculus Pride because there are pictures of him from many decades past, looking exactly as he does now, particularly dramatic in this case because he's shaped like a ten-year-old boy.
- Mahou Sensei Negima!: Resident immortal Evangeline recalls Negis Father and a couple of things outside that range (including recalling her past with exact details).
- Colin's memories make up the bulk of Highlander: The Search for Vengeance as we get flashbacks as current events remind him of the past.
- Rin from Mnemosyne pretends to be her own descendant during a visit to an old acquaintance from WWII when the latter recognizes her.
- Neo Angelique has Nyx, who reveals to an old friend that he is in fact not his grandson, but has been alive since they originally met.
- Lyrical Nanoha: After the Sankt Kaiser was introduced in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, it has become common for newly introduced immortals to show that they lived through the time of Ancient Belka by personally recognizing her and acting shocked that she's still alive. See Ixpellia from Striker S Sound Stage X and the Unbreakable Darkness of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha As Portable: The Gears of Destiny if Vivio faces her. The latter also mistakes Einhart for her more famous ancestor, Hegemon Klaus Ingvalt, if you pick Einhart against her.
- Shows up in both Last One Standing and Reflections. In the case of Last One Standing, it's given as a means by which Princess Celestia tries to console Twilight Sparkle by convincing her that death is a blessing and that there's nothing to be afraid of. In Reflections, it shows up repeatedly throughout the story as Celestia and Luna are talking together about how they miss many mortals long dead whom they remember perfectly. It gives the interesting concept of immortality as a punishment.
- Played with in Make a Wish, where a series of random happenstances make people believe that Harry's alter ego Mr. Black is extremely old or possibly even immortal.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula: Whilst at Castle Dracula early in the film, Harker passes comment on a painting of Dracula from the 15th Century, noting the "family resemblance." Of course, as the audience, we've already seen the Count fighting the Turks in 1462 via an opening sequence.
- Cocoon: The aliens in Cocoon make casual mention that they built a base on Earth before. It was Atlantis. Their leader also makes passing comment about his own extreme age:
"Every ten or eleven thousand years or so, I make a terrible mistake."
— Walter Cocoon
- Dogma: Loki and Bartleby explicitly discuss Loki's past career, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah whilst buying guns and have long argument about the creation of Man and the actions of Lucifer that precipitated his Fall from Heaven.
- Highlander: Connor MacLeod has a collection of things he's picked over his life, masquerades as an antique dealer and gets found out thanks to his handwriting on old title deeds and some inconvenient photos. MacLeod's also got many memories of times gone by; saving Rachel from Nazis, dueling drunk in 18th Century New England, and of course, his original life in 16th-century Scotland.
- The Hunger: Miriam has a collection of ancient items; ancient Egyptian pendant, a 500-year-old bust that Sarah notes looks a lot like her.
- Legend: Darkness makes a lot of how long he's been around when taunting Jack about how he can never be destroyed.
- Subverted in The Man from Earth: John Oldman ("Old Man"), an immortal human being born in the stone age and surviving, barely aged, into the 21st century, has a particular paleolithic tool in his home, which he claims he bought in a flea market. Even after he reveals that he is really approximately 14,000 years old, he still claims that the tool came from a flea market. When asked by his friends why he doesn't keep some mementos of his old life, John tells them that the idea of a person hanging onto the same object for thousands of years is actually pretty absurd.
- Underworld mostly employs a combination of dialogue and flashbacks for this. Selene states that she's been a vampire for six hundred years and that Viktor was her maker. Flashbacks in the first and second films show the date for the Lycan-Vampire conflict, establishing Kraven as at least as old as Selene.
- The werewolf doctor in Underworld has a family tree showing the dates for the Corvinus family dating back to the fifth century with Marcus Corvinus.
- And then there's Alexander, who reveals himself to have been the father of the original Marcus Corvinus; still alive after approximately 1,600 years.
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine starts with Wolverine and Sabertooth as young children in 1845, then starts a montage of them fighting in every American war from the Civil War to Vietnam.
- In X-Men: First Class, There's Wolverine's cameo during the Xavier and Lehnsherr mutant recruitment montage; it's 1962, and Wolverine looks exactly like he has throughout the films.
- The Djinn in the fourth Wishmaster reminisces about the Roman Emperor Caligula, and speaks fondly of him.
- The Lord of the Rings repeats the example from Literature section: Elrond is narrating a flashback and looks exactly the same in it.
Live Action TV
- In Alcatraz, the character of Sophie was just a minor character working on the special task force investigating the reappearing criminals who disappeared from Alcatraz Island several decades before, but a flashback revealed her working as a psychiatrist in the 60s on Alcatraz Island. A single video of her known to have been taken in the 60s is the one clue to the other characters of her true age.
- The criminals and guards who disappeared from Alcatraz in 1963 return to the present day the same age as when they left, as evidenced by photos of them taken in the prison, and a few individuals who happened to have known them before their disappearance.
- Angel mentions crashing The King's Vegas party and several famous Las Vegas mobsters in "The House Always Wins".
- Angel tells a girl about being in Montana "during the Depression... I mean... my depression... I was depressed there."
- Babylon 5 has Kosh and Lorien, both of whom have invoked the "I was old when the world was young" line. Sebastian, the Vorlon Inquisitor invokes the Such Memories subtype when reminiscing about his past life as Jack the Ripper.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, being a TV show about vampires, demons and other supernaturals, has several instances of characters getting to show off their long history. Angel, Spike and Dru (among others) all get to reminisce about the past and it gets shown to the audience in several Flashback sequences.
- In Castelo Ra-Tim-Bum, the witch Morgana teaches historical facts (like the invention of cinema, or the invention of numbers) to her pet crow Adelaide (and, by extension, the audience), by reminiscing the time when she actually was there.
- Doctor Who uses this on several occasions. Fourth Doctor serial The Stones of Blood is a case of Incriminating Evidence in the form of a set of portraits showing the villain over several centuries.
- After the events of "The Big Bang" and the reset of the universe, Rory Williams has the memories of his Auton duplicate that spent nearly 2000 years guarding the Pandorica in the alternate. As such, he's taken multiple levels of Badass and been written into the histories and legends of the world as "The Last Centurion".
- The Event: The extraterrestrials look just like humans, but live much longer and age slowly. Photos of these characters taken decades ago, but still looking just the way they do now, are often the only clue the human characters get that reveal the true nature of friends and family members they thought they knew very well.
- One of the episodes has a Human Alien character being in a relationship several decades ago but forced to leave his girlfriend by another member of his race before she realizes that he doesn't appear to age. Many years later, he accidentally encounters her on the street, as an old woman. She immediately recognizes him, but no one believes her and assumes she's just senile.
- Forever has a few examples. Henry Morgan's pocket watch is eventually revealed to have been a gift from his father just before his (the father's) death and not long before Henry's first death. In fact, the watch is much older, having been passed on from father to son for several generations before that. He also keeps his old medicine bag from the 19th century as a fondly reminder and is upset when his adopted son Abe (who's now in his 60s) sells it; Abe ends up re-purchasing the bag for triple the amount. The 2000-year-old Adam (although that's probably not his real name) likes to find objects from Henry's past and send it to him, including an expensive tray with the Morgan family crest. Adam himself appears to be looking for an object from his own mortal past, a certain Roman dagger from several decades BC. Both immortal characters have interacted with well-known historical figures or have been involved in key events. For example, Henry effectively founded forensic science during his attempts to catch Jack the Ripper. Adam was being experimented on by Josef Mengele in Auschwitz and, as such, would never harm anyone who survived the camps.
- Forever Knight has several types. Nick has Incriminating Evidence photos, mementos like Joan of Arc's cross and plenty of memories he likes to share, usually Once an Episode.
- Lexx: His Divine Shadow's Divine Predecessors have attained a clinical immortality by being a Brain in a Jar. The first episode of the run of TV movies, "I Worship His Shadow," has one the Predecessors sharing his memories of the destruction of the Brunnen-G two thousand and eight years before.
- LOST: Richard Alpert never ages, which we first see in a flashback when Ben Linus meets him as a child and Richard looks exactly the same. Through more flashbacks and Time Travel, we see Richard in various time periods, always looking exactly the same as he does in the present.
- New Amsterdam: John keeps painting the Times Square every so often, keeping the different paintings in his apartment to see how New York has changed since he was mortal (back when it was called New Amsterdam). He also keeps having flashbacks to his past encounters and occasionally tells his colleagues what a particular place used to be in such-and-such decade.
- In an episode of the newer Outer Limits, a character proves she's immortal by having her future father-in-law look up a photograph of a portrait of the wife of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), who she is.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Hilda and Zelda mention that they had all the money because they kept a lot of common items over time and sold them when they found that the items had become valuable antiques.
- Sanctuary: Between the revelations and remembrances about times she worked for the French Resistance, sailed on the Titanic and had sex with the man who became Jack the Ripper, Sanctuary wants you to know Helen Magnus has lived through her 159+ years on this Earth.
- To a lesser degree, James Watson, who Helen reveals is the inspiration behind Sherlock Holmes.
- "Dr. Curtis Knox" in Smallville is never implicitly referred to as Vandal Savage, but that's pretty much who he is. A Civil-War era photo of a bearded Knox which Lex shows Clark confirms he's immortal, or at least older than he looks. He also tells Chloe that he was once Jack the Ripper himself.
- Star Trek
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah", Mr. Spock finds an unknown waltz by Johannes Brahms written in original manuscript in Brahms' own hand inside Flint's home. Likewise Flint has a collection of Leonardo da Vinci masterpieces that have been recently painted on contemporary canvas with contemporary materials. Flint later admits that he was Brahms and da Vinci.
- In "Metamorphosis", Kirk wonders about Cochrane's "antique" equipment before learning that he's actually warp-drive inventor Zefram Cochrane, who had disappeared 150 years previously.
- In "Time's Arrow", a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise crew runs into Guinan, the El-Aurian bartender on their ship, while on a Time Travel trip to the 19th century. She's shown talking with Mark Twain and Jack London; but when Data approaches her, believing that she too, has traveled through time, she doesn't know him or the rest of the crew.
- In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a member of the Q-continuum shows us a picture of him and an ancestor of Will Riker from the time of the American Civil War. He also knew Sir Isaac Newton.
- In the Supernatural episode "Something Wicked", Sam discovers the identity of the witch they are looking for, because he finds a news article with a picture of the witch as a doctor back in the 1890s.
- Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness shows his age every way possible. There's his Army greatcoat, his Webley revolver, a Photo Montage of him through the ages in one episode, him remembering meeting fairies in 1909 and being the British contact for the 456. He speaks normally, though, being a native of the 51st century rather than the 19th.
- True Blood has done this a few times. Bill gets given a Civil War era photo of himself while giving a talk to a group of descendants of veterans of that war, Russell and Talbot have centuries old paintings and tapestries decorating their home, Russell has his collection of trinkets and trophies from down the ages and Maryann not only has her ancient statue but speaks Ancient Greek.
- In the original Twilight Zone episode Long Live Walter Jameson the titular character is a history prof. who knows his stuff, who has a retiring colleague who comments on his appearance, and who is seen in a Civil War picture.
- In The X-Files episode "Squeeze", Mulder is shown a photograph of the suspect in his current case from 1963 who hasn't aged at all since then. Mulder also looks up the suspect's original birth certificate, showing he was born in 1903.
- Similarly in the episode "Tithonus", Scully realizes Fellig's great age when she looks up old ID photos and notices that he hasn't aged in a century.
- In The Dresden Files, while looking through an abandoned building, the vampire Bianca refers to it as a hideout. Harry repeats the word, and jokes that Bianca sounds like a 30s gangster's moll. She responds she was a 30s gangster's moll, and adds she's led a long and interesting life. In the same episode, one of Bianca's associates refers to Harry as "Mr. Wizard," and Harry says she doesn't look nearly old enough to remember the show, only for her to say she's 57.
- Moonlight has several characters find evidence of Mick's unnaturally long life, such as an old picture of Mick's from a decade ago where looks exactly the same. He pretends it's a picture of his father, who has since passed away. This gets disproven when Beth interviews an old cop friend of Mick's who reveals that the Mick he knew (and still knows) has never had children. Later, she finds pictures of herself through the years taken by Mick and realizes that he was her savior all those years ago and has been checking up periodically to make sure she's OK.
- Joseph also loves to reminisce about the good old days, such as him dating famous movie stars back in the day. He also looks younger than the rest of the cast. When another (even older) vampire comes to town, he casually mentions meeting her when she was trying to put a pirate crew together.
- Mick also occasionally remembers his days fighting Germans in Nazi-occupied France. However, he was still human then. He also occasionally makes use of his skills as a battlefield medic (such as using a silver necklace to tie off a bleeding artery).
- The pilot episode of New Amsterdam has John paint a picture of Times Square and put it on a board near other paintings of the square from past years, dating back hundreds of years ago. Other people are also surprised at his intimate knowledge of old things, such as knowing about a club that used to be a speakeasy in The Roaring Twenties. He also goes to AA meetings and honestly tells them (in days) how long he's been sober (over 50 years). When somebody does the math and tries to catch him on that, he simply claims that he looks young for his age. Oh, and then there's the reveal that his Black Best Friend Omar York (who is 65 years old) is really his son.
- Kenneth in 30 Rock, Played for Laughs, will have a moment like one of these, or let something slip like "I've had that bird for 70 years!" A flash-forward has his gravestone; the date is hard to make out but it appears that he was born in the 18th century. The series finale had a more "recent" flash-forward featuring Kenneth, aged not at all, sitting in his executive office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, cars flying by the window, while one of the main characters' grand-children pitches him a show based on stories he actually experienced parts of. Because it's played for comedy, we're probably never getting the kind of explanation a sci-fi show would have.
- Highlander has various forms of this. Characters collect Trinkets, both individual Immortals and the Watchers accumulate Incriminating Evidence over time which can and has been uncovered by mortals. Immortals will also recount memories of historical events and people, and there are many flashbacks involved. However, actually showing Immortality to those not in on the secret tended less towards material things and more a demonstration of their Healing Factor.
- A small example in Blood Ties pilot. After discovering the truth about Henry, Vicki walks through his apartment and sees a picture of Henry VIII. She asks why he would keep it there? He answers that, like everybody else, he's allowed to keep pictures of family members in his home. Being a bit of a history buff, she immediately realizes that he's Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Henry VIII's bastard son. Henry is impressed with her knowledge. Later, Vicki's ex-partner (an ex-lover) Mike figures Henry's identity on his own (the Internet helps), since Henry hasn't bothered to change his last name. Henry also occasionally references historical events at which he has been present and famous people he personally knew, such as Queen Victoria.
- Sebastian Baczkiewicz' drama serial Pilgrim for BBC Radio 4 features the 900-year old William Palmer, cursed to live forever by a Lord of Faery. Most of the exposition of Palmer's age comes from his memories and conversations with other supernaturals.
- Call of Cthulhu 1990s campaign Utati Asfet: The Eye Of Wicked Sight featured a Big Bad who dated back to the Egyptian Empire. The players have an opportunity to uncover this at one point via a set of diaries, documents and paintings.
- In the Ravenloft setting, Dr. Van Richten realized that the fiend Drigor had been manipulating a particular family for generations when he looked at the family journals, and realized their writing styles hadn't changed for the past two hundred years.
- Shadowrun. Some of the elves in the game are immortal and have lived thousands of years, since the previous age of magic, but this is not generally known. Several supplements provided evidence of their great age.
- In Jenna Ni'Fairra's home in Tir Tairngire, there's a painting of her that "felt old" to the person who saw it, showing signs of cracking and decay.
- In Dark•Matter, Count Claude-Louis de Saint-Germain is a vampire-like creature who has been alive since the 1700s. He occasionally "accidentally" lets slip historical details from even earlier (but he's lying).
- Fallout 1: Harold, a ghoul-esque mutant you can meet in The Hub, was 5 years old when the Great War began, and emerged from Vault 29 in 2090. The Vault Dweller encounters him in Oldtown in 2162. He'll tell you a little about his life in Vault 29 and what he remembers of the beginning of the war if you ask.
- Fallout 2: Harold can be encountered once again by the Chosen One. Along with much of the ghoul population of Necropolis, he's settled in an abandoned nuclear power plant and formed a small town named Gecko. Fallout 2 is set a further 80 years after the first game, making Harold 189 when the Chosen One meets him.
- Fallout 3: Many of the ghouls you can encounter in Underworld lived through the war and can tell what they can remember (frequently little) of the time before. Carol, the ghoul who runs the bar and eatery there, was born in 2051, twenty-six years prior to the Great War.
- Some of his dialogue and unused security logs in the terminals imply that Fawkes was alive during the initial FEV experiments conducted in Vault 87 before the war.
- Harold makes his third and final appearance (to date) in Fallout 3. A further 15 years after Fallout 2, Harold's most distinguishing feature (a tree growing out of his head) has now mostly consumed his body, making him a face growing out of a tree.
- Fallout: New Vegas: Mr. House, once you finally get to meet him, reveals himself to be quite a bit older than you might have been expecting. He's got quite the collection of pre-War artifacts, and he's more than happy to pay you to expand it. He's also reduced to living in a life support system and communicating entirely through electronic screens and his robot minions, but given that he was born 260 years ago and isn't a ghoul or a disembodied brain, that's not bad going.
- Raul Tejada, age 234, is the oldest ghoul seen so far in the series. Lily Bowen was born in Vault 17 just a year after the war and was converted into a Super Mutant at age 75, making her the oldest known surviving West Coast Super Mutant at a total of 203 years.
- Sovereign, Harbinger and the other Reapers of the Mass Effect series make a lot of noise about how they were here long before humans and that they'll be here long after they've devoured them all. Since Harbinger is the first reaper based on the Leviathans and created by the Catalyst, he is at least 1 billion years old and has participated in at least 20,000 galactic exterminations.
- Conversations during Mass Effect 1 with Liara reveal that she herself is 106 and that the asari live for a great deal longer than that (one thousand years is considered average) - she's considered to be little more than a child by many of her species' elders. Similarly, Urdnot Wrex will, if asked about his people, talk about the Krogan Rebellions and their immediate aftermath from what sounds suspiciously like a first hand account. Krogans also live for about one thousand years (though their violent lifestyles mean that they rarely die of old age) but the Rebellions happened more than 1400 years ago- Wrex is one of the few remaining krogan Battlemasters (krogans with biotic powers) and according to in game lore they have a longer lifespan than normal krogan.
- A data log found in the Mass Effect 3 DLC "The Citadel" indicates that when she was young, ME2 party member Samara (who, like Liara, is an asari) was on an exploration vessel that accidentally crash-landed on Earth during the Age of Sail.
- In The Senkari, Freija complains about inaccurate historical accounts of events she witnessed.
: Look at Lindesfarne, unprovoked Viking raids my @r%3
. Everyone who was there knows; they started because a pagan trader was savagely beaten by a monk. But no, the books say this. Books books books.
- Resident Time Abyss Jones of Gunnerkrigg Court gets one that lasts all of Chapter 40 and dates back to the Hadean eon.