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According to some folklore, the last thing a person sees before death remains stored in their eyes and can be recovered with the appropriate use of Applied Phlebotinum. This is technically known as Optography. In fiction, often used to help catch their killer.

Subtrope of Interrogating the Dead. Compare Eye Recall.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Used in an episode of the Astro Boy anime (both the 1960s and 1980s series). The victim in this case is a robot, which makes the whole thing somewhat more plausible, but the folklore about being able to do it with humans is explicitly referred to.
    • This plot point was worked into the beginning of the Ultimate Universe Remake Pluto, where a dead police bot's salvaged memory chip reveals that the junkie who smashed him to pieces was only able to do so because the robot was distracted by the sight of a mysterious figure jumping between two buildings who turns out to be the perpetrator of a completely different murder case.
    • The classic manga story The Eyes of Christ revolves around a twist on the trope. A priest who is murdered for witnessing a group of arms dealers testing a robot armed with illegal weapons manages to scratch a clue onto the eye of a plaster statue of Jesus with his fingernail as he dies.
  • There was a story in the Black Jack manga about a girl who receives an eye transplant from a murder victim who seems to be seeing visions of the last thing the eye's original owner saw. When Black Jack consults a specialist about whether it's possible for an eye to store an image that way, the man bursts out laughing and says that it happens in science fiction all the time, but This Is Reality. (Though naturally he's wrong about that.)
  • A one-shot device in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Sympathy for the Devil" plays out the "eyes of the victim" trick, although the victim in this case is only brain-dead.
  • Abiru Kobushi from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has a green left eye as the result of a cornea transplant. Said cornea comes from the victim of a car accident, and Abiru claims she can see the last thing the donor saw: the license plate of the killer car. It's later revealed that the victim was actually a young girl named An Akagi, AKA Kafuka Fuura.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Anon involves a society where by law everyone has to wear an implant that records everything they see. This should make it impossible to get away with murder as the police can simply download the recorded memories; the killer gets around this by hacking his Murderer P.O.V. onto that of the victim so they can't be seen.
  • In Barb Wire, one of the pieces of Applied Phlebotinum used by the bad guys is a device that enables them to see the last few minutes of a dead guy's vision. Stupidly, they try to use this on a blind guy and are surprised when it shows them nothing.
  • Hoping to identify the killer, the police in Four Flies on Grey Velvet take a picture from a victim's retina. What she saw were four flies which actually helps the lead identify the killer as the flies were actually his wife's necklece.
  • The heroes of Horror Express decide to study the eye of the ape man that reawakened on their train. They discover that the thing wasn't acting on its own accord, as closer examination of the eye's fluids under microscope reveal that it was taken over something that came from space, as they find a picture of Earth (as seen from space) in there.
  • Used in the 1936 film The Invisible Ray to determine who killed Sir Francis. This is how the cast learns of Dr. Rukh's quest for mad vengeance.
  • The Theatre Bizarre: "Vision Stains" is about a writer/Serial Killer who cannot dream. She extracts fluid from her victims' eyes as they die and injects it into her own eye so she can experience the others' lives as they flash by in their dying moments. She then logs it all in her journals. According to her, everything a person ever sees is stored in the vitreous fluid in the eye, and the strongest memories flash before a person's eyes when they die.
  • One of the gadgets in Wild Wild West is a device that projects the last thing the dead person saw by mounting the head on a projector. The belief is called "Retinal Terminus Theory". The image is also inverted when projected, as a reference to the fact that the eye lens flips the image that then hits the retina (i.e. everything we see is upside-down, but our brain interprets it as right-side-up), despite the fact that the lens should be flipping the image the right way for the projection.

  • The novel The Alienist by Caleb Carr plays this straight, as it's set in the late 19th century. In fact, taking shots of the eyes of a victim is considered more scientific than fingerprinting. It doesn't work.
  • In Artemis Fowl #2, there's the retimager, which reads the imprints left on the eyeball of whatever that person has seen. In this case, it's used as an interrogation tool on living people.
  • In The Demolished Man, the police announce they're going to use this technique to discover the murderer. Their actual motive is to flush out the scientist who was the murderer's Unwitting Pawn.
  • In the Discworld novel Feet of Clay, the city watch are able to see the eyes that were the last thing the murder victim saw. Unfortunately for convenient cases, that person wasn't the killer.
  • The Dresden Files explicitly dismisses the retinal image theory as largely mythical, though it does feature other ways of Interrogating the Dead.
  • In the Lord Darcy story "The Eyes Have It", the limits and flaws of this technique form the core of the story — the image that Master Sean recovers is a subjective image that isn't a very good objective representation of the killer, which is just as well, as it allows them to avoid the scandal that would have arisen if the fact that the Count tried to rape his sister, who then shot him in self-defense had gotten out to the general public.
  • In John Bellairs' The Eyes Of The Killer Robot, an Evil Sorcerer discovered a way to build a Magitek robot powered by a human being's eyes. When he decided to put it into practice, he had a grisly idea: what if the last thing a person's eyes sees are himself/herself? He murdered a man and made sure the last thing the guy saw was his own reflection. When he implanted the victim's eyes into the robot, the robot somehow took on the appearance of the dead man.
  • Forest Kingdom: Referenced early in the Hawk & Fisher spinoff series' book 3 (The God Killer) when Hawk and Fisher are told that they could easily get a glimpse of the killer's face. Fisher, noticing that the victim's head is gone, asks how that's possible, since they'd need the head first — the killer's face would have been reflected in the dead person's eyes. The Guard Doctor calls that an old superstition and tells them they have other options.
  • At the climax of Rudyard Kipling's horror story "At the End of the Passage", a friend of the dead man tries this. What he sees in the dead man's eyes is so horrifying that he destroys the film before his companions (and us, alas) can see it.
  • In He Lover of Death, a serial killer punctured eyes of his victims to defy this trope. Fandorin told the cop that it is a superstition. Then Fandorin understood that the cop is the killer because he stopped to puncture the eyes.
  • Used in Shatterglass, the last book of Tamora Pierce's "The Circle Opens" Quartet. The detective Nomasdina casts a spell over dead victims to show him the last thing they saw. Unfortunately, the killer always struck from behind, so this was never actually useful.
  • In the novella Skulls by Tim Marquitz, the protagonist, by staring into the eyesockets of one of the titular skulls, sees what the deceased saw at the moment of his or her death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: A technological variation: An agent has an artificial eye with a built-in recording device which manages to capture his own assassination.
  • In the first season finale of American Gods, Easter examines the zombified Laura's eyes to see the face of her killer.
  • In Season 5 of Babylon 5, the frequencies of energy weapons used in a series of mystery attacks are discovered burned into victims' retinas.
  • In an episode of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, one story was about a woman who couldn't stop looking at this one guy in a bar. He abducted the woman, demanding to know if she was a cop. The man was eventually arrested and the woman was saved. She later learns that the woman he murdered was the same woman whose transplanted corneas she received. (The implication here was that she couldn't stop staring at the guy because her transplanted eyes recognized him. This was doubly silly because a cornea doesn't actually receive light; it just acts as a lens.)
  • In Crossing Jordan, Dr. Macy claims he has a machine which does exactly this in order to trick/blackmail some violent thugs into letting him go. He's totally lying, of course.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Ark In Space", the Doctor specifically mentions this myth while trying to figure out the life cycle of a now-dead parasitic wasp alien. He retrieves the membrane of its eye and uses some Applied Phlebotinum and Psychic Powers to project the alien's dying point of view onto a viewscreen. Notably, the view he gets isn't just a snapshot, but an extended sequence of memory like a film that the other characters can watch and comment on.
    • "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" have a variation. Staring at an Angel for too long eventually creates an image of an Angel, which is also an Angel, inside your eye. As you can imagine, this is fatal.
    • In "The Crimson Horror" the Doctor says this is rubbish, but it can happen under certain chemical conditions. Which happen to him.
  • In the second episode of Fringe, Walter Bishop does exactly that to help the FBI find the serial killer.
  • In the pilot episode of the RoboCop: The Series show, Robo used this to discover that Cray Mallardo was the person killing vagrants. He had to do a lot of processing on the image to get something clear enough to identify what he was looking at.
  • The Soviet Sherlock Holmes series mentions it. Holmes says he conducted some experiments, and can tell it's complete rubbish.
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    • In "Ex Post Facto", Tom Paris is condemned to watch the Impending Doom P.O.V. of a man he allegedly murdered.
    • In the episode "Timeless", one of the show's numerous Bad Futures showed the crew buried in ice. The Doctor extracts the eyepiece from Seven of Nine's body and uses it to pinpoint exactly when she died. Her cybernetic eye contains an internal memory of its own.
  • Star Trek: Picard: In "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2", the memories of a Soong-type android are stored in its optical processors, so when Altan Soong attempts to transfer the deceased Saga's memories into a V-module as a memento for her "twin sister" Arcana, he runs into problems because the damage to Saga's eye has corrupted the data stream. However, he's able to partially restore the final moments of what Saga saw before she died, and he's horrified to discover that Sutra is the actual murderer (while Narek, who was blamed for Saga's death, turns out to be the accomplice).

  • Once on The Ricky Gervais Show, Risky and Steve convinced Karl that scientists had discovered that crabs dream and devised a way to extract the pictures that were somehow recorded on the insides of their eyes.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the Giovanni powers in Vampire: The Masquerade allowed a vampire to do this.
  • Corax, wereravens in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, can see the last moments before a person's death by eating their eyeballs. Specifically, they can see it from either a negative (violence, gore, pain) or positive (whodunit, what was happening around them, etc.) perspective depending on WHICH eye they eat. The negative perspective is stated to be generally more stressful, traumatic, and confusing for the Wereraven, but players are advised that favoring only one perspective can/should/will lead to undesirable long-term side effects for their character.
  • In Los Angeles 2035, some mutants withe the right Psy + mutation can look a dead person in the eyes and watch the last moments of his life. It is noted that post-mortem eye mutilation gets more and more common since the Police started employing mutants.

    Video Games 
  • Used at the end of Parasite Eve to explain why Aya keeps having flashbacks of herself lying in a hospital bed — the flashbacks belong to her sister Maya, whose last memory before she died was of being in the hospital after a fatal car accident, and when her cornea was posthumously donated to Aya, the memories went too. Fridge Logic kicks in when you realize that the person who reveals this information to her is a scientist.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the visual novel Jisei, the protagonist has a similar power, in which he can feel a dead person's emotions at the time that he or she died. However, he cannot see the person's last moments, and in the event of a murder, he is unable to physically see who committed the crime.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice makes use of this with the "Divination Seance" mechanic. Princess Rayfa channels the victim's last memories, which usually paint a pretty damning picture of the suspect. The attorneys have to prove that their client didn't do it by pointing out contradictions between the testimony and what's shown in the seance.

    Real Life 
  • British detectives trying to solve the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888 actually attempted this, photographing the eyes of the victims in the hope that they would find an image of the killer. Needless to say, they did not.