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Happier Home Movie

Is your character alone in the world? Have they lost a family member? Do you want to show that no matter how much time has passed, they just can't get over it? It's easy: just have them watch a home movie of the happier times with that family member. Said movie will often include one or both parties declaring outright how much they love the other, just to drive the point home. For bonus unhealthiness points, have the grieving character rewind the tape and watch it over... and over... and over...

A character in desperate circumstances, perhaps alone, on the verge of death, or on the run, will come "home" to watch old videos of his past life, usually childhood videos or family outings, sometimes surrounded by items from his past life or memorabilia he has carried with him the whole way which turns out to be significant to learning more about his persona. A person trying to find him, may find him watching the videos, even if he was strenuously attempting to avoid pursuit earlier; or the videos will have been left on.

May also be used to reminisce about life After the End or set up a Disappeared Dad or Missing Mom.

A common subtrope is watching a Wedding Video. Sometimes this is after a divorce, an affair, or something else breaking up the couple. Or maybe it's after a death leaving one of the couple behind.

See also Alas, Poor Villain, Really Dead Montage and Happy Flashback.

Related to Troubled Backstory Flashback. If it was made intentionally prior to death, see Video Will.

This doesn't have to be a death trope, but it is often a beginning or ending trope, so may involve spoilers.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • A Scare 'Em Straight PSA about fire safety has a mother and father crying and watching movies of their child opening Christmas presents.
  • A series of anti-drunk driving PSAs in the 1990s and early 2000s featured home movies of individuals in happier times — a child playing happily at home, a young man playing in his high school marching band, a young woman having fun hanging around with her friends — only to reveal their names, the fact they were all victims of drunk driving accidents, and the age they were at the time of their deaths.
  • Played for laughs in a commercial advertising financial solutions. A man is sitting in a dark living room, wistfully watching recorded news segments of skyrocketing stock prices during the DotCom bubble which...well...aren't quite as high anymore.

    Anime and Manga 
  • This shows up in GunBuster, when Admiral Takayama watches the short clip of Noriko as he goes down with the ship.
  • Played with in Cowboy Bebop when the crew receives a mysterious antique videotape, which leads first to amusing escapades as they try to locate a matching player and then to Mood Whiplash when it turns out to be a happier home movie the amnesiac Faye sent to her future self during the childhood she can't remember. Eventually, however, it becomes the key that unlocks her memories of the past.. only to trigger another Mood Whiplash when she realizes that world is gone for good.

    Comicbooks 
  • In Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee's dad at one point watches a home movie of Squee's birth... playing it backwards. Try to figure out what times daddy considered to be the happier times...

    Film 
  • After they make it to Jim's home and find his dead parents in 28 Days Later, Jim sits down and watches a home movie by candlelight. Sadly, the light is visible through the curtains...
  • Falling Down. It works really well in this one.
  • The Butterfly Effect
  • Death Sentence (2007 film with Kevin Bacon) — the "I am dying" version.
  • Strange Voices, a Lifetime Movie of the Week about schizophrenia, features one of these, about the happy family life the family had before schizophrenia struck.
  • The hero of Minority Report habitually watches hologram home movies from before his son was taken.
  • The ending of The Sixth Sense though to be technical, it's the main character's wife who's watching the video, since he's already dead.
    • Also when the dead girl's father watches the movie in which her mom poisons her. Before he realizes what he's watching, he gets lost in the tape. May not count in that he didn't choose to watch it, but it was given to him by Cole and the girl's ghost, but it still has the same effect on him.
  • At the beginning of the movie Starman, Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) watches old home movies of herself and her deceased husband. Though we don't see her do it more than once, it's implied that this is not the first time.
  • A lighter version is the son in All I Want for Christmas, about before his parents split up.
  • Soylent Green has something similar in the suicide booths, only with footage from the world before its ecology was destroyed rather than home videos.
  • Matinee (1993, with John Goodman) combines this trope with Nuclear Nightmare, because the hero's Disappeared Dad is on a boat in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • The Day After features one of these, in the form of flashbacks in the mind of the dying-of-radiation-poisoning Dr. Oakes, of the life he had before the nuclear war.
  • Just Like Heaven, with David and his wedding videos.
  • This was actually deconstructed on Rollerball, where the main character manages to get his ex-wife, whom he has seen in old home videos only to see how empty she is and erase said videos.
  • Cloverfield offers flashes of the home movie of Rob and Beth's trip to Coney Island a month before the events of the film, offered in glimpses as the malfunctioning camera is taping over the trip.
  • One scene in Knowing has Caleb watching a video of his late mother.
  • This is one of Vincent Price's most effective scenes in The Last Man on Earth.
  • Philadelphia ends with home movies of Andrew Beckett's childhood being shown at his funeral.
  • In Akunin, the father of the girl the main character murdered is seen sitting alone watching home movies of her childhood during her funeral.
  • Mr. Freeze watches one from his wedding in Batman & Robin
  • Less dramatic version in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Clark, stranded in the attic while the rest of the family is out shopping, kills time by watching old filmstrips of his childhood Christmases. It skirts the trope because he's looking at older, happier Christmases while the one he's trying to host is slowly and hilariously falling apart around him.
  • In Super 8 Joe watches a home movie of himself as a baby with his mother.
  • Variant in Sunset Boulevard: Norma constantly watches the old movies that she starred in.
  • The opening credits of All Good Things are underlaid with home video footage depicting the protagonist's happy childhood.
  • Max Walker watches a home movie of him and his late wife in Timecop.
  • The Fighter shows home video footage of the protagonists' happy teenage years.
  • In The Boy Who Could Fly, Milly's Disappeared Dad left one for the family before killing himself due to his terminal illness.
  • Taken start off with video footage of the daughter's fifth birthday.
  • In Contact, the heroine is shown video footage of her happy childhood.
  • A variant occurs in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, when Eddie goes through old photos of him and his brother Teddy on a vacation.
  • Testament uses home-movie footage to contrast the happy times of the family members who are the main characters with life in the small town After the End.

    Literature 
  • The Isaac Asimov short story The Dead Past has a variation where an inventor produces an improved chronoscope, a device that allows you to view images from the past. He is horrified that his wife intends to use it to relive scenes from the life of their daughter who died as a child in a house fire, worried that she would be dangerously obsessive and end up living in the past. He's also afraid that she might end up finding out that it was his accidentally dropped cigar that started the fire that killed her.
  • In Mockingjay, Peeta's brainwashing is heavily repaired after watching videos of his and Katniss's time together.
    • Although the videos in question are of the Hunger Games so "happier" is probably not the right word.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happy Days: A couple:
    • The 1978 episode "Richie Almost Dies" (a show where Richie is critically injured in a motorcycle accident and is clinging to life), where Fonzie's girlfriend Leather plays the mournful ballad, "Find Strength in Your Friends" in the Cunningham living room as a cross-fade to a montage of Richie clips plays. Several are stock footage clips, while others come from the first 4,1/2 seasons of the show.
    • The Season 9 opener, "Home Movies," which features Joanie and Chachi in happier times ... not long after which we see them fighting and their first major breakup.
  • Criminal Minds
    • In the episode "Slave of Duty", Haley's death is pounded home when her son watches home movies of them because he "can't remember her".
    • Also, in "Hanley Waters", the UnSub's ex-husband managed to overcome the grief for their son's death by watching videos of them together.
    • What kind of a "happier" home movie would a serial killer watch? His abusive father killing his mother in a fit of jealous rage, of course!
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "And The Children Shall Lead". Captain Kirk shows the children tapes of them playing with their parents to remind them of the happy life they had before Gorgon the Friendly Angel corrupted them.
  • On Angel after Doyle makes his Heroic Sacrifice they watch the video he made at the beginning of the episode when Cordy was trying to make a commercial for Angel Investigations.
  • The ending of the Scrubs episode Jordan first appears in, which is actually a video from the actress's real life wedding.
  • Happens on Monk, after a Jerk Ass jokes about the title character's wife's death, Monk watches their Wedding Video alone.
  • In one episode of Hannah Montana, Miley watches a family Christmas from when her mom was still alive before she undergoes a throat surgery that might leave her never being able to sing again.
  • The ending of "I Don't Remember Mama" from The Nanny. Coupled with a heartwarming moment when Gracie finally remembers her.
  • Alcoholic Tommy in Rescue Me lost his cousin and best friend in 9/11, his wife and kids have left him and he is in a relationship with a woman he hates who was also married to said friend. After watching an old home movie, he pours vodka all over and nearly immolates himself.
  • The end of the Charmed episode "Thank You For Not Morphing", when the Halliwell sisters reconcile with their estranged father.
  • In one episode of Full House, the family watches the video of the now-dead mom arriving home from the hospital with then-newborn baby Michelle.
  • Utilized to cruel effect against Daniel Shaw by the Ring on Chuck. After being captured by the Director, Shaw is played a video made by his slain wife on his birthday. The video loops through a scene of her telling Shaw she loves him intercut with surveilance footage of Sarah Walker's "Red Test," in which she unknowingly shot and killed Shaw's wife, and is intended to manipulate him into making a Face-Heel Turn. It works. This same video is later played by Shaw himself for Sarah in the opening of the next episode, and is also shown to be going through Shaw's mind before he is shot by Chuck to keep him from killing Sarah in retaliation at the end.
  • Boy Meets World had a less dramatic version of this. Mr. Matthews watches videos of Cory as a kid after Cory gets his driver's license and decides to spend his birthday with his friends instead of his family. The videos appear to be the actor's actual home movies with overdubbed audio by the actors who play Mr. and Mrs. Matthews.
  • In the Glee episode "Grilled Cheesus", Kurt's father is in a coma after a heart attack, and Kurt sings "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and the performance is interspersed with a home video of a six-year-old Kurt having a tea party with his dad. Fridge Brilliance kicks in and makes the video extra-heartbreaking when you realize that it was probably Kurt's mother—dead in the present—who filmed it.
  • Mad Men has a variation in the season one finale, when Don shows a slideshow of photographs (he's rolling out an ad campaign for the Carousel) of his happy family (which anyone who's watched the show would know is not exactly the truth).
  • Used for a Tear Jerker in the second episode of Weeds, Nancy breaks the family video camera out of frustration which upsets Shane because he had been watching videos of his dad on it throughout most of the episode. It ends with various clips of Judah and a sad indie song.
  • A variation occurs in an episode of Home Improvement. After Mark gets dumped by his girlfriend, he reverts to his goth persona and shaves his head. Tim tries to talk with him but Mark refuses to and storms off. After he's gone, Tim looks down at a photo album the family has been working on and picks up a picture of Mark from the first season smiling and happy.
  • Season five of Fringe: While going through his lab, Walter finds a home video of one of the deceased Etta's birthday parties from her early childhood. He encourages her mother to watch it so she can face her grief, hoping it will prevent her from doing anything outrageous to cope. The scene of her watching the tape and dealing with the death is contrasted with the father going to nearly suicidal lengths to get revenge.

    Music Video 
  • The end of Ultravox's "Dancing with Tears In My Eyes" features a young couple (of which the male component is played by Midge Ure) and their little girl having fun having at what looks to be a picnic in their back yard. The last scene is of the little girl playing around in the yard, during which the film is burned by the nuclear radiation.

    Video Games 
  • Used and subverted for creepiness in Silent Hill 2.
    • The movie that serves as the opening to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories falls under this trope by implication. It's rewound and replayed several times consecutively, as if to suggest that the watcher is really hung up on their loss. It's also Invoked during the Multiple Endings, and often Subverted with a final scene giving a clearer look at what Harry was really(?) like.
      • Also, the first time the player sees the video being played over and over, they might think it's Harry watching the video because he's so worried about his daughter. After The Reveal, however, you realize it's the oppposite, and that Cheryl is the one watching it obsessively because she misses her dad so much.
  • In Sanitarium, we see a father doing this after his daughter's death.
  • In Heavy Rain, you can make Ethan watch a home movie of his dead son — how many times he watches it (and whether he even makes it all the way through) is up to the player.
  • Child of Eden has the "Tree of Memories" during the credits, comprised of fan-submitted photos, and accompanied by touching Tear Jerker music.
  • One scene in Modern Warfare 3 puts you in the POV of a man filming his wife and daughter on vacation in London just before they are killed by a gas attack.
  • Fallout 3's ending montage concludes with a portrait of the player character and their father (James), accompanied by the music box tune heard at the beginning of the game.

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd has played videos of himself as a kid playing NES before showing a mortifyingly terrible game. He started off the review of the Dick Tracy video game by showing a home movie of himself trick or treating as Dick Tracy. Young nerd re-enacts the "I got a rock!" scene from It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Grown-up nerd reflects how he'd rather have a rock than the crappy game he now has to review.

    Western Animation 
  • A variation in Futurama: In one episode, Fry sank into a deep depression and started watching all sorts of programs and shows from the 90's (he misses his family and much of the things he left behind when he was accidentally cryogenically frozen and revived in the year 3000).
  • In The Simpsons Movie, after Marge and the kids leave Homer to go save Springfield, Homer watches the video Marge left him that explained why they had gone. She had recorded the video over their wedding video, and Homer watches the rest of the wedding video as it finally hits him how much he's screwed up.
  • The Far Side animated TV special did a segment where a wolf is watching old home movies of his mate, the last one of which is said mate fooling around with a large animal trap.
  • In Daria, Jake Morgendorffer transfers old home movies to videotape, but cannot get past one of him falling off his bike as a child that serves to bring back traumatic childhod memories and unresolved conflicts with his father. He sits and watches the same thirty seconds on an eternally repeating loop until well into the night...
  • Parodied in the Ren and Stimpy episode "I Was a Teenage Stimpy", where Stimpy goes through puberty and Ren (acting as a father to him) watches an old home movie of him playing catch with a baby Stimpy.


Troubled Backstory FlashbackFlashbacks and ChronologyViewers Are Goldfish
The GrotesqueTear JerkerHeartwarming Moments
Gross-Up Close-UpMontagesHard Work Montage
Half the Man He Used to BeDeath TropesHave a Nice Death
Hannibal LectureNarrative DevicesHarmful to Minors
Bizarre Alien BiologyImageSource/Live-Action FilmsAlligator

alternative title(s): Happier Times Montage
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