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Cutting Back to Reality

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In stories featuring hallucinations, illusions, fantasies, VR, flashbacks or other unreal elements superimposed on reality, a popular means of demonstrating this to the audience is by allowing them to see these imaginary elements from the perspective of the character experiencing them, often without indicating that they are anything other than reality... and then cutting and/or transitioning to a different perspective that shows that the character is interacting with something vastly different — or in extreme cases, something that isn't there.
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This can be used in many different ways: sometimes the "real" perspective is simply part of the audience's point of view, with no in-story justification required; at other times, it belongs to another character who isn't privy to the unreal, and often reacting with a good deal of confusion as a result. On occasion, this may be used as part of the original character's Moment of Lucidity, or a permanent return to normality (if such a thing is possible).

Often used to illustrate Sanity Slippage or Through the Eyes of Madness; if the unreality of the situation is kept secret up until this point, the use of this trope often constitutes a Wham Shot. Can also be used, usually to more comedic effect, in combination with Inner Thoughts, Outsider Puzzlement.

Supertrope to Crashing Dreams, when this happens to dreams specifically.

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Often used to show that a character is Acting Out a Daydream or is having an Indulgent Fantasy Segue. Compare Daydream Surprise and Imagine Spot, which can use this kind of cut/transition, but are by nature limited to the realms of the imagination. Compare and contrast Once More, with Clarity!, which is this trope played after the fact instead of concurrently. Contrast Invisible to Normals, a trope which can also make use of this cut under circumstance, but deals with elements that are real and not imaginary.


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Examples:

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     Anime & Manga 
  • AKIRA:
    • Tetsuo begins to hallucinate not long after escaping from the lab for the first time: first, he sees the ground beneath him beginning to crack open, sending him tumbling into the chasm below - only for a cut to reveal that the ground is still intact and he was just falling forward onto his hands and knees. Then Tetsuo's guts appear to spill out of his torso, much to his horror; another cut reveals that he's completely unharmed and frantically trying to scoop up internal organs that exist only in his mind.
    • During Tetsuo's second stay at the lab he is suddenly attacked by a trio of giant toys, and his attempts to escape his room result in the walls turning to Lego and the floor turning to milk under his feet. With nowhere to run to, he backs up, trips over his fallen glass of water - and when he hits the ground in the next cut, the room is suddenly back to normal. Turns out that the whole thing was just a psychic illusion created by Kiyoko, Takashi and Masaru.
  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!: Catarina has a group of five alternate personas who meet in her head to form plans and discuss the situation...which, since Catarina is a genuinely lovely person but in many ways thicker than a yard of lard, takes place at about the speed of normal conversation and absorbs all her attention while reality continues without her. One early episode, where she drifts into a Council of Catarinas discussion while eating snacks with Geordo and Keith, ends the scene by cutting back to the two boys, who are idly discussing whether she's heard a word they've said in the past several minutes.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's more immersive fantasy stories usually cut back to mundane reality once per strip at moments of situational irony. This was particularly common in older Sunday Strips, which would depict Calvin in all but one or two panels as Spaceman Spiff exploring an alien world, a Tyrannosaurus rex terrorizing prehistoric jungles, his six-year-old self trapped in an artistic nightmare or whatever.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In A Beautiful Mind, it's revealed about halfway through the film that John Nash is suffering from schizophrenia, but it takes a while for him to accept it, and a relapse causes him to briefly abandon the truth. This results in a very tense scene where John's "handler" orders him to stop Alicia from calling the hospital; we then cut to Alicia's perspective as she turns to see what John is looking at - only to find there's nothing there. From then on, it becomes common to cut between John's perceptions and what is actually happening.
  • Brazil ends with Sam being rescued from the Department of Information Retrieval by Harry, escaping from the bureaucracy-ridden dystopia and his own demons, then finally achieving a happy life with the girl of his dreams... and then Jack Lint and Mr Helpman loom into shot for no apparent reason. Cut back to reality: Sam is still in the torture chair at Information Retrieval, having been completely broken by his ordeal and retreated permanently into his Happy Place.
  • Late in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, a gold-crazed Thorin finally begins to experience a Heel Realization as he walks across the golden floor of his new fortress and begins hallucinating out of guilt. Initially only seeing Smaug's ominous shadow under the gold, he soon finds the golden floor collapsing under his feet as if still molten, forming a whirlpool that slowly swallows him despite his best efforts to claw his way to the top... and then we cut back to Thorin standing on the surface, unharmed but deeply shaken.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, conversations between Gollum and Smeagol are depicted via cuts between each personality as they speak, with Gollum on the left of the screen and Smeagol on the right, making it look as though they really are two different people. However, once Smeagol finally plucks up the courage to tell Gollum to go away and never come back, we cut to a wide angle shot of Smeagol sitting alone as he slowly realizes that it worked.
  • Requiem for a Dream features Sarah Goldfarb descending into amphetamine psychosis as a result of her addiction to "diet pills", resulting in a sequence where characters from the TV show she was watching appear in her living room and her fridge tries to eat her. Sarah naturally flees the building in terror... but a cut back to her apartment reveals that everything appears perfectly normal and the TV was tuned to a test pattern all along.
  • Bob Arctor finds himself losing his grip on reality throughout A Scanner Darkly as his addiction to Substance D worsens, his perspective often being overwhelmed with hallucinations but just as often changing back to normal in cuts, usually while his eyes are closed or his back is turned. In one of the most prominent ones, Arctor rolls over in bed and finds that the woman he's just slept with has transformed into Donna Hawthorn - the woman he really wanted to have sex with; Arctor is confused and alarmed, but in the following cut, he looks again and finds that Donna has turned back into his bedmate.
  • In the finale of Shutter Island, Teddy Daniels manages to get his hands on the firearm that was confiscated from him at the start of the film and hold Dr Cawley and Dr Sheehan at gunpoint. Cawley makes it clear that shooting them is the only way Daniels is going to get off the island, so Daniels shoots him four times in the chest, splattering the board behind him in blood, then turns the gun in Sheehan's direction... and then we cut back to Cawley, who is completely unharmed. The gun is a toy and always has been: Daniels is actually a patient at the hospital - specifically the mysterious Andrew Laeddis that "Daniels" has been pursuing - and wouldn't be trusted with a real firearm even in the roleplay scenario that's been established for him.
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth: Macbeth has a fight with his hallucination of Banquo, but after we see Lady Macbeth and the court enter the room, we cut back to reveal Macbeth has really been fighting a raven.
  • During Renton's big withdrawal scene in Trainspotting, he frequently hallucinates people sitting on or around his bed who immediately vanish in the next cut. In one instance, while hiding his head under the covers he finds Begbie lying next to him, threatening to kick the heroin out of him if it's still there when he comes back; terrified, Renton crawls out from under the covers in an attempt to escape - only to find that the bed is empty and he's once again alone.
  • The Trip (1967) cuts back and forth between Paul's LSD-induced hallucinations and his real life as he hangs around John's apartment and later wanders around Los Angeles. For example, as he drinks from a dish of water held by a dwarf in a forest, there's a quick cut to him sipping from a glass of wine in John's apartment.
  • Used frequently in X2: X-Men United during Charles Xavier's interactions with Jason Stryker: in the first demonstration of Jason's power, for example, Charles finds himself back at the mansion, standing happily at his desk... and then the background flickers ever-so-slightly. Cut to the real world, where Charles turns around and yells at Jason to stop it. However, on the second attempt, the illusionist manages to fool Charles into believing in the scenario he's been presented with; as a result, the cuts back to reality from this point onwards are from Jason's perspective.

    Literature 
  • The Dresden Files: When Harry is possessed by the shadow of a Fallen Angel, she tries to win him over by helping him out at times. In Dead Beat, she shows how much worse she could make his life by making him hallucinate that the apartment building is on fire; she breaks it off just before he climbs onto a fire escape that isn't really there.
  • In Jago, the Big Bad has apparent Reality Warper powers that actually work by telepathically imposing the illusion of change on everybody around them. As the climax approaches, the protagonist learns how to temporarily block the illusions, and when he does the narrative gets flashes of the underlying reality: in one case, a group of people being attacked by demons under a thunderous sky is really the people standing in broad daylight screaming and flailing at thin air; in another, the heaven the Big Bad has supposedly transported his loyal followers to is just the attic of his house, with his followers standing around looking dazed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • From the HBO adaptation of Angels in America:
    • In Chapter IV, Harper retreats into her drug-fueled fantasies after finding out that her husband doesn't really love her, descending to an illusory Antarctica with the help of the travel agent Mr Lies. This eventually results in her apparently cutting down a spruce tree - though Mr Lies points out that there aren't any trees in Antarctica - and using it to light a fire for warmth; Harper then notices red and blue lights in the distance, and turns... only for a cut to reveal that she's actually in Central Park. At it turns out, Mr Lies is actually a very bemused homeless man, and the spruce tree was stolen from the nearby arboretum, hence why the police have been called.
    • As his AIDS worsens and he grows steadily closer to death, Roy Cohn is frequently haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenburg. At one point during his stay at the hospital, he irritably remarks on Ethel's presence in the chair by his bed as the nurse Belize tries to administer his medication; after several minutes of trying to get Cohn to cooperate, Belize just asks what he's talking about. A cut reveals that the chair is empty.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): Gaius Baltar frequently has conversations, arguments and other interactions with Head Six who is only visible to him. In the first two seasons this often involved him picturing them back in his house on Caprica. A lot of humour was milked from hard cuts out of the imagined house, or simply cutting to another angle during their ship-bound conversations, to show that to the other characters Baltar is just staring into space and talking to himself.
  • Breaking Bad
    • In the episode "Cancer Man", a paranoid and hopelessly methed-up Jesse Pinkman flees through his back yard after seeing two menacing-looking bikers approaching his house with machetes and grenades. A cut to outside the house reveals that they were just Mormon missionaries.
    • Jesse's first scene in "Felina" features him daydreaming of carpentry, putting the finishing touches on a beautifully handcrafted box. Satisfied with his work, he steps away from the bench with the box still in hand - and then we cut back to reality with a loud clank. He's still chained to the ceiling in Jack Welker's meth lab, bearded, scarred and traumatized for life; the "box" is actually the latest ingredient of the meth that the neo-Nazis are forcing him to cook.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Velvet Web", the Doctor and his companions visit the apparently utopian city of Morphoton, which is actually a Lotus-Eater Machine that keeps its inhabitants happy with illusions. After the brainwashing on Barbara fails, the episode alternates between the illusion that everyone else sees and the grimy reality that Barbara has become aware of. For instance, Susan shows Barbara a beautiful new dress that she's been given, then a cut to Barbara's POV shows her holding a bundle of dirty rags.
    • In "Asylum of the Daleks", Amy is slowly getting brainwashed by nanogenes that will eventually turn her into a Dalek. One of the first signs is when she begins to hallucinate that a room full of decrepit Daleks is a ballroom filled with people dancing. The view switches between her point of view and reality until the Doctor snaps her out of it.
  • Farscape
    • In "Rhapsody In Blue," a group of Delvian priests use their Enlightenment Superpowers to keep the crew preoccupied with illusions while they deal with Zhaan. In one case, they convince Aeryn that her pulse rifle has been smashed to bits, but a quick cut to D'Argo's perspective reveals that it's actually still intact. D'Argo exasperatedly tries to get her to see through the illusion by picking up the rifle and giving it back to her, but she only perceives it as him giving her the broken-off scope.
      Aeryn: [obliviously shaking the entire rifle] I don't have any training to use this bit!
    • "Crackers Don't Matter" features the crew of Moya being driven insane by the influence of the Monster of the Week; Crichton's form of this manifests as an imaginary Scorpius following him around and urging him to kill his friends. Naturally, this results in several scenes in which Crichton angrily points a gun at Scorpius, only for the camera to cut to the perspective of D'Argo or Aeryn, both of whom can clearly see that Crichton is talking to someone who isn't there.
    • The imaginary Scorpius appears again in "Beware Of Dog," at one point being seen lurking menacingly behind Aeryn. Crichton is so freaked out he draws his pistol and opens fire, scaring the crap out of Aeryn - as a cut from a third-person perspective reveals that Crichton had just shot at the bulkhead right next to her for no reason whatsoever.
    • The conflict between Crichton and the imaginary Scorpius AKA Harvey comes to a head in "Die Me Dichotomy," in which Harvey appears to him in a mirror, taunting him. Pushed to the absolute limit of his sanity, Crichton smashes the mirror - only for it to reappear intact with Harvey still mocking him; Crichton ends up breaking the mirror about five or six times before Aeryn drags him away, whereupon a cut to reality reveals that he actually destroyed the mirror on his first try and he's been punching the wall behind it on every other attempt.
    • In "The Choice," a chronically-depressed Aeryn begins imagining a ghostly version of Crichton after the one she's been in love with for most of the season dies. At one point, the two of them share a kiss - only for a cut to reveal that nothing has changed and Aeryn is still alone. The episode ends with Aeryn finally managing to come to terms with her grief, but tells the illusory Crichton he has to leave as a result; her Imaginary Friend sadly turns his back on her, and a cut reveals that Aeryn is once again alone.
    • Noranti doses Crichton with a hallucinogenic powder in "Dog With Two Bones" in an effort to show him the potential results of returning to Earth; consequently, the action cuts between his activities in the hallucination and what he's actually doing: in one case, he imagines himself dancing with Aeryn at his wedding, when he's really dancing with Noranti; in another case, the sudden arrival of Peacekeepers at the wedding results in him drawing his pistol and shooting at inanimate objects in the real world.
  • Hannibal:
    • The episode "Coquilles", concludes with the Angelmaker found dead at his own hand, strung up and given the Blood Eagle treatment. However, after being left alone with the corpse for a moment, Will Graham is suddenly started to discover that the Angelmaker has climbed down from his perch and is approaching him. For a few seconds, we have every indication that the killer is somehow still alive, even cutting to a shot of Will from his perspective, Wreathed in Flames... and then another cut reveals that Will is alone and the Angelmaker is still hanging from the roof - one of the earliest indications that Will's mind is starting to suffer as a result of his work.
    • In "Buffet Froid", troubled killer Georgia Madchen happens to walk in on Hannibal Lecter just as he's tearing Dr Sutcliffe's skull open. However, Georgia suffers from Cotard's Syndrome and cannot recognize faces, so when Hannibal turns to look at her, she perceives him as The Blank. Just as quickly, we cut back to reality to observe Hannibal's face as he hands her a pair of scissors to frame her for the crime.
    • Another Will Graham moment: in "Roti", a feverish and delusional Will manages to capture a man he believes is deceased serial killer Garret Jacob Hobbes; however, cuts confirm that the man is actually Dr Abel Gideon, another psychopath. In a state of some confusion, Will takes him to Hannibal's house and begs Hannibal to identify the man... but Hannibal is actually able to convince him that he arrived at the house alone. Consequently, Will's perspective shows that Gideon's chair is empty, while cuts back to reality reveal that Gideon is most definitely still present and rather confused.
  • The Haunting of Hill House features three notable instances of this in the episode "The Bent-Neck Lady": here, Nell returns to the house and is quickly ensnared by an illusion of the house in its heyday, eventually being lured into a dance with a ghostly simulacra of her husband... and then the camera cuts away to reveal that Nell is dancing alone through the ruined house. Shortly afterwards, Nell is invited upstairs to a tea party by Olivia, and is finally given the locket she was promised so long ago. Suddenly, Nell looks down, realizing that something is wrong: cut back to reality where it turns out that Nell is on the wrong side of the staircase railing, poised to fall - and the locket is actually a noose around her neck. Ignoring her daughter's pleas, Olivia pushes her off the edge and out of the illusion; in the next cut, Nell jolts to a stop in the real world.
  • Jessica Jones (2015):
    • Early in the pilot episode, Jessica suffers numerous flashbacks to her time spent with Kilgrave, all of which are at first framed as if real: in one, she's spying on Luke Cage from a fire escape when the camera slowly begins to zoom in on her face and Kilgrave appears next to her, whispering in her ear - only for a cut to reveal that she's alone. In another scene, Jessica is half-asleep at her desk when Kilgrave suddenly dips into view and licks her forcibly across the cheek. Next cut, Jessica shoots upright in a panic... only to find that it was just a nightmare.
    • In season 2, after Jessica accidentally kills a sadistic prison guard who was brutalizing her mother, she begins repeatedly hallucinating Kilgrave as a sadistic Spirit Advisor, all the more upsetting given that he's gleefully commenting on how low Jessica's prepared to sink in pursuit of her goals. Eventually, she gets so upset by the visions of Kilgrave accosting her in the street that she actually attacks one of them - only for a cut back to reality to reveal that she's just assaulted an innocent bystander.
  • In Preacher (2016) Jesse Custer accidentally uses the power of Genesis to send Eugene to Hell; however, in "El Valero," he manages to call Eugene back to Earth, leaving him unharmed but desperate for a glass of water. While he drinks up, they discuss what to do with Genesis; however Eugene happens to mention something that Jesse hadn't shared with anyone else, immediately arousing the preacher's suspicion... and then we cut back to a shot of the suddenly-unoccupied pew in front in front of Jesse, where the requested glass of water is still sitting, untouched. Turns out that his rescue of Eugene was just a guilt-induced hallucination.
  • In The Prisoner (2009) episode "Schizoid", the protagonist starts seeing a double of himself with a darker personality appearing around the Village. Several times during the episode, a scene between the two of them ends with a cut to another camera angle in which the double has suddenly disappeared. In keeping with the series' Mind Screw nature, there's also one time where it's the protagonist who disappears while the double is still there.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • Played for laughs in "Back To Reality": here, the Despair Squid's ink causes the crew to believe that their experiences so far were just part of a virtual reality game taking place in a fascist dystopia. The audience is given no indication that this is a hallucination up until the Dwarfers have to escape from the police in a dramatic car chase... whereupon we cut back to the crew in the midsection of Starbug as they sit down on a bunch of crates and act out the chase - complete with swerves, bullet wounds, and driving over a spit bridge — all while Holly remains in the background, trying to tell them that they're hallucinating.
    • In "Psirens", one of the eponymous monsters corners Lister in the form of his old crush, Pete Tranter's sister; unable to resist after going for so long without sex, he gives in and kisses her... and then the shot dissolves to the reveal of what Lister is actually kissing: a giant slime-drooling cockroach that's about to suck out his brains with a straw.
    • "Gunmen Of The Apocalypse" begins with Lister apparently starring in a black-and-white film noir movie as a private detective. When he kisses the Femme Fatale, however we cut back to reality to reveal that Lister is playing a virtual reality game and acting out the seduction in thin air - complete with him working on an invisible bra strap!
  • Scrubs: Dr. Cox and Ben chat on and off with each other throughout "My Screw Up", until they're walking to an event together and are interrupted by J.D. The next shot shows that Ben isn't there and Cox is actually going to his funeral.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Shadow Play," a Kelownan scientist by the name of Dr Kieran offers aid to SG-1, claiming to have become part of a resistance movement that can reopen negotiations with the other superpowers on Langara and prevent a war. Unfortunately, it turns out that Dr Kieran has been studying naquadria with inadequate shielding, and has developed schizophrenia as a result - meaning that the resistance movement was just a delusion. In his final scene before he's taken away to a psychiatric facility, Kieran assures Jonas that the coup is almost ready to begin - then looks up to that one of his allies from the resistance is standing behind the observation windows, nodding reassuringly. Jonas follows his gaze... but there's no-one there.
  • The Terror: The final episode has Lt. Thomas Jopson, in the last moments before his death, hallucinating a feast with Captain Crozier seated at the head of the table, completely oblivious to him. He proceeds to crawl onto the table, knocking everything off in a desperate attempt to get Crozier to notice him - but then the scene cuts away and we see that he was only crawling on sharp rocks a little ways from his tent.
  • In an episode of Vikings, a Christian missionary preaching in Scandinavia comes to Kattegat, where he gets a very rough welcome from the locals when he tells them their gods are fake. Aslaug gives him a challenge to prove the power and existence of the Christian god: to carry a red hot bar of steel a relatively short distance without being harmed. The missionary seems to do it perfectly, to the astonishment of everyone... and then we see that this was actually an Imagine Spot the missionary was having without any visual cues for the audience. Then the steel bar actually gets put in the missionary's hands, and the result is... messy. And very, very painful for the unfortunate missionary. After his failure to perform his miracle, Aslaug orders his execution.
  • The West Wing: "Two Cathedrals" features a prominent scene where President Bartlet imagines himself having a conversation with his recently deceased assistant Mrs. Landingham. Partway through the scene the camera cuts to a wide angle that shows Bartlet sitting alone in the Oval Office to remind the viewers that Mrs. Landingham isn't really there.

    Music 
  • The Lonely Island: The end of "Great Day," where the coked-up singer Dennis sings that they're all in the Matrix, and everybody around him begins moving extremely slowly. Cut to a couple watching Dennis by himself, moving slowly and making weird noises.
    Woman: What is wrong with him?
    Man: He's on drugs.

    Radio 
  • The Goon Show: "Forog" is a spoof Paranoid Thriller in which Neddie Seagoon plays the role of a scientist who believes he is being threatened by agents of a conspiracy that wants to suppress his latest discovery. Scenes in which he interacts with the conspirators (and the scene at the end in which he defeats them to cheers from a gathered crowd) end with an auditory equivalent to this trope, such as a sudden change in the background noise (in the last scene, the cheers abruptly cut off) and his assistant Eccles remarking to the audience, "I don't want to worry Neddie, but I can't see who he keeps talking to..."

    Video Games 
  • Alice: Madness Returns features Alice frequently crossing from the real world to her fantasy world of Wonderland and back again, often resulting in considerable disorientation when she awakens to find that she's travelled for quite some distance during her latest episode. At one point, while observing the now-gigantic Caterpillar emerging from his cocoon as a butterfly, Alice suddenly returns to the real world to find herself in a jail cell, staring at a real butterfly just outside the window.
  • In the Batman: Arkham Asylum game series:
    • At various points in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman gets a dose of Scarecrow's fear gas and descends into hallucinations, eventually resulting in a symbolic journey to resist the fear, avoid going insane, and finally fight off the influence of the toxins. The first two have very little crossover with the real world until you finally manage to reach the Batsignal and snap back to reality; however, during the third encounter, the game will abruptly switch back to reality to reveal that Scarecrow has gotten impatient with Batman's resistance to the gas, and is giving him a significantly more powerful dose via his syringe glove.
    • In Batman: Arkham City, Batman is forced to accept the "Blood of the Demon" from the League of Assassins in order to temporarily counteract the effects of Joker's toxic blood transfusion, and is quickly drawn into a hallucinogenic vision quest. Consequently, the eventual boss battle with Ra's al Ghul takes place largely within a hallucination of billowing sands, giant opponents and multiple doppelgangers. At several points during the battle, we briefly cut back to the chamber Batman and Ra's are really fighting in while Talia delivers a Circling Monologue.
  • In the climax of Bioshock 2, Subject Delta briefly finds himself controlling a Little Sister, and learns that their mental conditioning deliberately warps their perceptions of reality: they see Persephone as a golden palace where angels sleep peacefully in clouds of butterflies, beautiful men and women in masks study artworks, and a princess's dress, tiara and gloves wait to be collected. However, when the Little Sister is gathering ADAM or being attacked, the illusion breaks down with a flash of light, allowing her to briefly see the world for what it is: a dark, dilapidated prison complex littered with rotting corpses and cultist Splicers.
  • In Far Cry 3, Jason Brody ends up lapsing into hallucinations during the final showdown with Hoyt Volker and finds himself in a much larger room than the office he was previously in - allowing him plenty of space to do battle in. However, when his opponent finally goes down with a knife in both his throat and his skull, Jason's vision blacks out... and then he finds himself back in the office: not only has he killed Hoyt, but also both his bodyguards and their reinforcements.
  • Throughout Outlast II, Blake's harrowing journey through Temple Gate is periodically interrupted by flashbacks to his childhood, forcing him to wander his deserted school while being pursued by ghostly phenomena. Often, he will cut or transition back from his hallucinations to find that he's travelled for quite some distance without even realizing it, and often, his activities in the flashback will correspond in some way to what he was doing in the real world: for example, Blake will be shimmying through the vents at the school, only for a seamless transition to reveal that he was actually crawling through a tunnel or a hollow log.
  • The Park begins with Atlantic Island Park at sunset, just before closing time, with everything seeming orderly and even idyllic. However, while ascending the escalator, Lorraine's perspective blacks out for a moment, and when she looks again, the park is a dilapidated ruin that looks to have been abandoned for years on end. It turns out that this is the park as it really is, for the game is set well after the venue was shut down and taken over by the monsters that rule the park by the time of The Secret World; Lorraine was only imagining the park in its heyday.
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road gives Sam an opportunity to use a virtual reality headset in order to access the security systems at Bumpusville. Finding himself in a fairy-tale kingdom with a sword in a stone nearby, Sam naturally tries to pull it out - and then we cut back to reality to find that the "sword" is Max, who is being yanked into the air by his ankles while his head is pressed flat against the ground with Sam's feet. Later, Sam uses the sword to slay a dragon within the simulation, which another cut reveals to involve Max being swung energetically through the air. To his credit, Max doesn't seem to mind.
  • Spec Ops: The Line features this in spades as Sanity Slippage piles up:
    • After Agent Riggs is killed, Walker can stumble upon two statues in a rather suspicious condition: if you mercy killed Riggs with a gunshot to the head, one of the statues is pointing finger guns at the other; if you allowed him to burn alive, the two statues appear to be made of molten lava. Either way, one flash of light later and the two statues are back to normal.
    • The attack on the Radioman's Tower goes slightly awry when Walker finds himself running into an enemy trooper who looks and acts exactly like Adams, prompting a shock-induced standoff; upon noticing the Adams lookalike reaching for a sidearm, Walker beats him to death in a panicked frenzy... but then there's a flash of light, and when you look again, the now-dead trooper quite clearly looks nothing like Adams.
    • During the final assault on the Burj Khalifa, the Damned 33rd launches a white phosphorous rocket at Walker; one explosion later, and the landscape is engulfed in hellish flames, Konrad is welcoming Walker to hell, and screaming men on fire are charging in from all sides, immolating Walker on the spot. Then, there's a flash of light: cut to everything being back to normal.
    • The finale: Upon making it to Konrad's lair at the top of the Burj Khalifa, Walker finds Konrad's desiccated corpse and finally realizes that the man killed himself long before Walker ever set foot in Dubai: everything seen and heard of him up until now was just Walker's hallucinatory efforts to deflect blame onto a convenient villain. The imaginary Konrad remarks, "it takes a strong man to deny what's in front of him," - and then with a flash of light, the perspective shifts to reveal that Walker is alone in the penthouse, silently mouthing along with Konrad's lines.
  • Struggling: The epic final boss fight against the Metaphorical Duck is revealed to be All Just a Dream when the game cuts to show Troy sleeping (or knocked out) on a boat...with a normal duck's corpse lying right next to them. Whoops.
  • In Sunless Skies, the Quest for the Martyr-King's Cup delivers several cases of this in print. As you grow closer to unlocking the power of the Cup, you begin to experience visions of a fantastical kingdom where the Unseen Queen holds sway, but with an effort of will you can see through the illusion into the industrial wastelands and garbage heaps where the quest actually takes place. Perhaps the most detailed of these moments involves the player revealing their quest to the officers of their locomotive, envisioned as a meeting of heroic knights in a medieval dining hall (including the rat brigade if you have them); after having a opportunity to talk with all of your thoroughly nonplussed officers/knights, you drive your sword into the table in a grand heroic gesture... only for the text to cut back to reality and reveal that you just drove a butter knife through four inches of solid oak!
  • In the Team Fortress 2 trailer "Meet The Pyro," it's revealed that the eponymous character sees the world as an idyllic Sugar Bowl: enemy team members are portrayed as cupidlike infants, and Pyro plays with them by feeding them giant lollipops and blowing bubbles in their faces. At various points in the trailer, we cut back to the real world to see that Pyro is massacring the opposing team, with every innocent act revealed as another brutal murder.
  • During the final chapter of Until Dawn, Josh suffers a psychological meltdown due to a combination of stress, guilt, withdrawal from antidepressants and being captured by a Wendigo, and begins hallucinating. This goes on for several scenes, with Josh screaming at hideous monsters in caverns made entirely of meat - and then we cut to Sam and Mike, who are standing directly in front of him and trying to bring him to his senses.
  • On occasions in Whacked!, Eugene is shown having vivid imagination spots, only for the game to cut back to reality where, in fact, he’s just standing there. A good example of this is in his audition, where he’s shown doing Matrix-like stunts to dodge missiles, but when we cut back to reality, he’s standing afraid as a missile is facing him.

    Visual Novels 
  • Melody:
    • At the very beginning of the story, the protagonist is waiting to play in a concert and having a conversation with a bartender. Then, the story cuts to him at home with Bethany, revealing that he is just daydreaming. Bethany is so angry that she kicks him out of the house and breaks up with him.
    • The protagonist also has sexual dreams about Melody several times, which always tend to culminate in him waking up. This is usually lampshaded as well, with Melody (in the dream) telling the protagonist that he’s dreaming and that it’s time for him to wake up.

    Web Videos 
  • I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC
    • In Episode 2 of Happy Hour, the Green Goblin is accidentally run over by the Batmobile and Batman has to dose him with powerful anaesthetic so his recovery won't be as painful as it normally wound be, causing him to hallucinate frequently. When a group of brainwashed superheroes manage to capture both the Goblin and Spiderman, he somehow manages to break free and defeat all of them in an epic fight... only for a cut back to reveal that the whole thing was just a hallucination: Goblin is still being held captive.
    • In Zero Hour Episode 3, Lex Luthor orders the Green Goblin to retrieve the head of an LMD from Deadpool, giving him yet another truckload of drugs so he can mentally keep pace with the legendarily crazed mercenary. What follows is an insanely elaborate fight scene that apparently ends with Deadpool dropping a nuclear bomb on his opponent... only for a cut back to reality to reveal that the entire fight took place in the combatants' imaginations, and Goblin is just writhing around on the floor, play-acting his temporary death scene - much to Lex's annoyance.
      Lex: WHAT THE F**K IS WRONG WITH THESE MORONS?!
  • Jacksfilms: The main gag of the "DUBSTEP SOLVES EVERYTHING" trilogy is that Jack is performing dubstep in real life. We get scenes of him dancing to dubstep music...only for it to cut to the other character's perspectives, in which he's just flailing around and making the sounds with his mouth.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: In "The American Dad After School Special", Stan becomes worried that he's gaining weight and hooks up with an abusive trainer named Zack. A little later, it's revealed that Stan is actually suffering from anorexia, and a cut to reality shows him totally emaciated and talking to thin air.
  • Archer
    • "El Contador" features Ray, Pam and Cheryl taking a special "herbal tea" that Krieger promises will cleanse them of all traces of illegal substances and allow them to pass the drug test they're due to take. Not long afterwards, Ray appears to turn into a Decepticon, Pam melts, and Cheryl finds that the floor has become molten lava. Cut to Krieger watching with amusement as the three of them trip balls and scream at each other.
    • At the very end of "Fugue And Riffs", a talking ostrich randomly appears next to Archer and Lana, prompting a terrified scream from Cheryl (who has been eating LSD-laced gummi bears for a good chunk of the episode, by the way). Once she's finished screaming, we cut away from her reaction and back to a wide shot of Archer and the others: the ostrich is nowhere in sight.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "The Inconveniencing," Mabel ends up getting high on Smile Dip, resulting in one of the strangest sugar highs depicted in animation. At one point, she finds herself meeting two giant backwards-talking dogs in a psychedelic landscape and tries to eat their candy paws... only for the narrative to cut back to reality, where she is still slumped in a corner, chewing on nothing.
  • Towards the end of the Love, Death & Robots episode "Beyond The Aquila Rift," Thom finally becomes aware that he's trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine, to the point that the world around him appears to stutter in and out of reality as he grows more upset. Eventually, Greta unveils the true nature of reality: the repair station is a gigantic alien hive, Thom is a withered husk of a human being, and Greta is an Eldritch Abomination "caring" for the unlucky spacers caught in her web. Then, without warning, Thom finds himself waking up back in his pod and being welcomed to the station by Greta for the first time. For a moment, it looks like the big reveal was just a nightmare... but then the closing shot of the repair station flickers, and suddenly it's an ugly red-and-black alien hive floating in space.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: The first episode has KO facing off against Darrell for the first time, with him defeating the later in a spectacular fashion. A cut reveals this all to have been a dream, as KO got knocked out from his fire gauntlets going of in his face when blocking Darrell's punch, tripped over his own cape, and got electrocuted from accidentally sitting on his lightning nachos. KO is very embarrassed when told about it.
  • The Simpsons episode "The Cartridge Family" has Homer obtain a handgun, ostensibly to protect his family. While shopping at the Kwik-E-Mart, he daydreams about robbing the Kwik-E-Mart and living in luxury; emerging from this Imagine Spot, he decides, "I'll do it!" - only to for a cut to reveal that he's finished his shopping, paid Apu, and is driving home. Apparently, Homer's body can function perfectly without his mind engaged.
  • South Park:
    • In "Cartman Finds Love", Cartman talks to and plays with a little cherub version of himself that he calls "Cupid Me", and the show occasionally cuts to people watching Cartman talking to nothing and jumping around like an idiot. This continues in "Tweek X Craig," with the final scene of the episode depicting Cartman having sex with Cupid Me before it cuts to his mom walking in and seeing Cartman just masturbating.
    • The episode "Major Boobage" has both Kenny and Gerald being addicted to cheesing (getting sprayed in the face with fresh cat urine and huffing the smell of it), with both of their hallucinations occurring in the same fantasy land. The two eventually engage in an epic battle in a gladiator ring in said world, only for the scene to transition to the real world where the two of them are just wrestling in a sandbox with Gerald in his underwear and everyone in town watching them. According to Jimbo, they had been going at it for a good thirty minutes until Kyle and Shiela broke them up.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In the episode "Cuddle E. Hugs", a bite of a moldy Krabby Patty causes SpongeBob to hallucinate the titular hamster; when he asks for a hug and SpongeBob leans in for one, Patrick comes by and only sees SpongeBob hugging on air.

 
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Trashing the Camp Site

The animals have a musical number, but all Jane and Tarzan see and hear is them trashing the camp site.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / CuttingBackToReality

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