Occasionally, in watching a show or film that features a narration in voice over, you find that the narration is not
because the writers got too lazy to show what's happening, but because they want to present you with the odd phenomenon of a deceased character telling you the story. There's no explanation given for why or how this character can tell the story in question, or whom he's telling it to; we don't see him (assuming it's him) as a ghost, or as a character writing or speaking his last words. He's just a very talkative voice that happens to belong to a character who doesn't survive the movie
Being a death trope
and all, there are going to be unmarked spoilers below. You have been warned.
See also Dead All Along
and Dead to Begin With
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Narrating the events leading up to their death
- The narrator of the film American Beauty, who comes right out and tells us that we're going to see him die at some point.
- Sunset Boulevard actually starts with William Holden's death; he tells us his story in Flashback.
- In Bruges, possibly. It's intentionally not left very clear whether the main character lives or dies, last we see him his is in critical condition begging in narration to live, while everything goes black...
- Interesting variation. Joe Pesci's character narrates much of the film - not aware that his character is going to get whacked - and the second his character does, the narration gags violently and ends - leaving the audience wondering just who the hell he was talking to.
- Also subverted: The main character is shown dying in a car bomb at the start of the film, but it is later discovered that he escaped with his life.
- Another interesting variation in the movie Fallen; the narrator isn't dead, but he is Not Himself.
- Brazilian movie Redentor opens with the protagonist lying among rubble as he narrates - though you don't know he's dead until the narrative eventually reaches that scene. Considering his ghost emerges from his body shortly later, it avoids the "no explanation given" part.
- Both Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson's characters from The Bucket List.
- Danny Devito's character from L.A. Confidential.
- Played with in ''Megamind. The movie starts off with the main character falling to his death, and almost everything after that is his life flashing before his eyes. When the flashbacks catch up to the present, he seems completely willing to die.
Megamind: ''So, this is how it ends. Normally, I'd chalk this up to my last, glorious failure...but not today!"
- Toorop states at the beginning of Babylon A.D. that he's going to die, and we see it happen. Flashback to a week earlier. Subverted as it turns out he's revived after being shot through the heart, and the other two protagonists are killed instead.
- Played with in Reversal Of Fortune; Sunny Von Bulow isn't dead, but she's in a coma.
- Looper. The audience doesn't find out the trope is in play until the very end though.
- Tie-in novel Halo: The Flood features this, mainly as a way for the reader to get information about a battle that no one actually survived.
- The whole point, played for laughs, of Shel Silverstein's poem "True Story."
- In Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant series, which is presented as being the title character's memoirs edited for publication by his daughter, the final chapter of the last book rather unexpectedly ends with his death, which he narrates in detail. This is followed by an afterword by the daughter, which is mostly a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue but also explains that he did write most of the memoir while he was alive, leaving it off just before he embarked on the journey on which he died, and that after she began editing the manuscript, she found the final chapter on her desk one morning, rather spookily written in her own handwriting...
- The Brazilian novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (also known in English as Epitaph of a Small Winner) by Machado de Assis, which the protagonist opens by dedicating "to the first worm who eats my corpse". (and in the trend set by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, received the version Undead Memoirs of Brás Cubas)
- In The Book Of Skulls by Robert Silverberg, two of the four narrators are dead by the end of the story, yet they still narrate the events leading up to their death, leaving the reader wondering who it is to whom they were actually talking.
- A Russian book We were executed in 1942 is narrated from the point of Soviet soldiers who were executed in 1942.
- In Nick Perumov's books, most of the narrating characters die later in the book.
- Everybody in Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology is dead: each character speaks up from the grave. However, while the characters appear to have some awareness of what's happening immediately on or around their graves, they don't communicate with each other.
- The Art Of Racing In The Rain is told by a dog who dies at the end.
Live Action TV
- Subverted in the Doctor Who 2-part season finale "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday": Rose Tyler begins each part saying "This is the story of how I died"...only it turns out she was merely trapped in a parallel universe while being declared dead in her own. Since she is separated from the Doctor forever though, this could have more than one meaning...
- Played straight in the final episode of Doctor Who Confidential, in a section called "River Song's Story" — River Song sums up the events of her life in the order she experiences them, as opposed to the order the viewers saw them, up to and including her death. Justified in that her consciousness was subsequently saved in a computer, and it's that version of her narrating the story, post-"Forest of the Dead". We see her telling the end of the story at the end of that episode.
- Subverted in an episode of the sitcom Wings. An episode opens with Joe face down in a pool in a shot intentionally reminiscent of the opening of Sunset Boulevard, with a voiceover from Joe telling us that he's going to show us how he got there. At the end of the episode (Part I of a two-parter where Joe leaves Sandpiper Air and Brian, Lowell and Helen have to figure out how to track him down and convince him to come back) it's revealed that he was face down in the pool because he was setting a new breathholding record at a wild party.
- In the Tales from the Crypt episode "The Man Who Was Death", the protagonist's final narration is heard immediately after his death by electric chair. For extra irony, he is telling his imaginary audience that didn't he have his head shaved to prevent it from catching on fire during the execution because he's confident that the governor will grant him a reprieve. Meanwhile, his head is starting to smoulder.
Manga and Anime
- Grave of the Fireflies. "September 21st, 1945... That was the night I died."
- At the beginning of Bokurano one of the characters is monologuing, presumably having seen the events of the series already. The character is Waku, who died in the second episode.
- The narrator in "Raw Deal" by Judas Priest, a gay man describing the last moments of his life before being murdered by thugs in a bar.
- The narrator in Neil Young's "Powderfinger" is a young man trying to defend his home in an unnamed war. It's revealed at the end of the song that he's killed before he gets off a single shot.
- The cowboy narrator of "El Paso" by Marty Robbins. The ending is quite heartbreaking.
- Sore Thumbs lampshades it in one story arc, which has a narrator who tells us up front that he's dead and talking to us from Heaven. We never found out which character he was, and everybody who wasn't a main character wound up dead.
Narrating the events following their death
- Samurai Jack: X-9 in the Tale of X-9 Film-noir episode.
- Similar to the Wings example above, the American Dad! episode "Star Trek" (nothing to do with the show, for once) starts in the Film Noir-style with Steve lying facedown in a pool of cherry jello. Steve narrates how he became an accomplished children's book writer by writing a book making fun of Roger. He gets everything he wants, including a giant mansion and a pool of jello. There's also a movie that is going to be filmed based on his book. Then it turns out that the person in the pool was actually an actor who was supposed to be playing Steve in the movie accidentally killed by Roger (he wanted to kill Steve). The episode ends with Stan helping Steve dump the body in a lake. Steve admits this was "kind of a screw to the audience" and apologizes for it.
- Simon, the Sacrificial Lamb in Gear gets a brief monologue after he dies. Interestingly, the comic shows far more of his personality here than it did when he was alive.
- Johnny Seaview provides a posthumous narration describing the Doctor investigating his murder in the comic strip "The Deep Hereafter" in Doctor Who Magazine.
- In The Grey Zone, the girl who survived the gas chamber and was executed narrates the results of the Auschwitz uprising.
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the ending monologue is given by Spock after his death. Of course, what the audience doesn't know is that he's Only Mostly Dead.
- Jimmy's brother rises from the ground to give an introductory monologue in Two Hands.
- In Galápagos, the entire story is narrated a million years after the fact by the ghost of someone who died back in 1986.
- Rachel in the final Animorphs book, which was a little weird because the books had previously emphasized the Direct Line to the Author trope, and there wasn't an explanation for how she could continue to record her thoughts as she died on an enemy spaceship.
- Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones, who also does a little narration before her death.
- In Douglas Coupland's Girlfriend In A Coma, Jared - who died of cancer while still in his teens - is the narrator for most of the book, although Richard narrates most of the first part.
Live Action TV
- Mary-Alice Young, the narrator of Desperate Housewives, died in the opening of the pilot episode.
- Machinima The Strangerhood explicitly parodied this:
Wade: But didn't you, like, die and stuff in the last episode?
Nikki (voice over): "It's called artistic licence, you loser!"
- The song "Passage" by Vienna Teng is told from the point of view of a young woman killed in a car accident as she describes moments from the lives of her loved ones as they move on.
- "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, arguably. The fact that only after the character's death can he see how wrong he was is utterly heartbreaking.
- Martin Septim in Oblivion. Made more weird by the fact that he turned into a dragon.
- In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Honest Hearts, Jed Masterson also does the closing narration, even though he died at the very start of the tale.
- This can also happen with various major characters in the main game and all DLC. If they die, of course.
- Dead Money zigzags this; Elijah narrates the ending despite his mandatory death, while the companion characters will only take part in the narration if all of them survive.
- Double subverted (?) in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time where The Prince would say this didn't happen even though he's narrating over his death in game. "No, wait, that's not right, I didn't die..."
Narrating the events both before and after their death
- In the beginning of a 1970s British farm safety PSA, a boy playing outside with his friends narrates that his family is preparing a "dinner party". At the end, it's revealed that the "dinner party" is actually his funeral.
- Ed in one of the "Plot-Hole" featurettes on the Shaun of the Dead DVD. He gives voice-over narration about how he died and turned into a zombie, but he speaks articulately. He doesn't grunt incomprehensively like his zombie form does at the end of the actual movie.
- In The Bucket List, the opening narration makes it look like Carter outlives Edward. It's actually the other way around.
- In the Russian film Zvezda (The Star), the captain who sent titular scout unit to their deaths narrates the result of their sacrifice at the end of the film. Then he mentions that he also died later in the war.
- The main action of the much-maligned PIF Apaches is intercut with scenes of preparation for a tea party, commented on by the film’s young narrator, Danny. At the end, the party is revealed to be Danny’s funeral wake. "I wish I was there...honest."
- The main character of Struck By Lightning dies in the first scene. The majority of the film is an extended flashback of his life.
- Bibi Chen in Saving Fish From Drowning. She mostly narrates the events after her death, but also flashbacks to her childhood and events some time before her death. She doesn't get around to narrating her own death until the very end of the book, because she herself has no idea how she died.
- The Dresden Files is always narrated from the first person, so in Ghost Story which takes place after Harry's death in Changes, Harry Dresden narrates it while dead as a ghost. He's revived.
- In a Poem Within A Book example, "The Legion's Pride", recited by a soldier in A Study In Sorcery, is couched as a posthumous declaration by another Anglo-French soldier, who'd died during a peacekeeping mission to avert conflict between rival German baronies.
- In an oddly justified example, the story of The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian is told by "the recording angel," a being required to observe and record in exact detail The End of the World as We Know It and the life of a woman (our protagonist) who will play a key role in it, from her birth to her death. Said recording angel just happens to be what is left of the main protagonist's older brother, who committed suicide as a teenager, several years before the events of the book. In the midst of the story, he occasionally cuts back to a childhood memory of himself and the protagonist, although he never refers to the brother in the first person in these scenes.
Live Action TV
- The episode "Random Shoes" from Torchwood does exactly this, with the events after Eugene's death being narrated by Eugene as they are figured out in the present. Massively confusing, but very interesting.
- The murder victims in every episode of The Forgotten narrate their own identification and the efforts to find their killer.
- Augustus Hill in Oz does his odd narrations throughout the series. He's killed in the Season 5 finale.
- Various dead inmates took their turn at narration in the last season.
- The Investigation Discovery series "Stolen Voices, Buried Secrets" uses this as its basic premise: each episode has the victim of a Real Life crime narrating the circumstances surrounding their murder.
Manga and Animation
- In Death Note, L does this in the opening to the second Re-Light Special: "L's Successors".
- Played with in the same special with Watari. He shows up during these segments, but he merely acts as an announcer/human title card. He does not talk about his own death or any other events of the film.
- Well, you can say that in a way, Kirie Goshima of Uzumaki isn't really dead...
- In Windaria, the story begins at Alan's funeral and is told by him after his soul has left his body.
- "Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel" by the Barenaked Ladies. Just think about that title for a minute.
- "Long Black Veil", originally by Lefty Frizzell and later covered by The Band among others, has the singer telling how he came to be hanged, and why a woman secretly mourns for him.
- The narrator in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Melody" describes how his obsessive stalking of the eponymous woman finally led him to jump to his death from a sixteenth story window.
- In Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, Musa's roommate Abdallah died in a ferry accident during his pilgrimage to Mecca, and narrates during scene transitions.
- In On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Daisy's recollections of her past life as Melinda Welles include a memory of her own funeral.
- In Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, the rescued Empress of Time is the narrator and dies at the end of the tutorial section of the game, which doesn't prevent her from continuing the narration. Given her mystical nature as the incarnation of Time, it is at least partially justified.
- After the Big Bad is defeated, she shows up in the form of the Sands of Time and leaves for another world. Given that she is the Sands, it makes sense that she was simply trapped inside the Big Bad.
- In Age of Empires II's Joan of Arc campaign, the main narrator is a French nobleman. In the last mission, where he can be controlled as a hero unit, he states the possibility that he could die in the battle, and if he is killed, he says "It is here... that my tale shall end." After the player wins the mission, he continues narrating regardless of whether he survives or dies, and refers to Joan's being canonized as a saint, which happened in 1920, long after he died.
- May happen in Fahrenheit after Lucas dies if you make the wrong choice
- Eternal Darkness includes this line in the opening: "I am Dr. Edward Roivas. I am a clinical psychologist. I am also dead."
- In Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations, the narrator is Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Third Hokage, who died fairly early on in the series. He talks about his own funeral too.
- A variation in Star Trek Online: Ambassador Spock was thrown into the past of an Alternate Universe rather than killed, though anyone in the prime universe where the game is set would assume that he has been dead for many years and he certainly would have no knowledge of the goings-on of the game's universe after he left it. Nonetheless, the Ambassador provides substantial narration to explain events that occurred long after he vanished.
- The College Humor video "Every Teen Movie Ending" utilizes this trope. After the narrator explains what happened to his friends following graduation, he notes that he really misses them and that it's "too bad I drowned in a pool when I was eight."
- In Tangled, Flynn Rider starts out narrating the film with "This is the story of how I died." He did. But he got better.