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Crime Scene Photographer: They say the eyes capture the last image a murder victim sees before they're killed.
Detective Cline: What do they say about the entrails?
Crime Scene Photographer: "Yuck".

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.

Sub-Trope of Interrogating the Dead. Compare Eye Recall.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Astro Boy:
    • 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.
    • Used in an episode of the 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.
    • The above plot point is worked into the beginning of the Ultimate Universe Remake Pluto, in which 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.
  • One Black Jack story is 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 that 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, a.k.a. Kafuka Fuura.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Brave and the Bold #188-189, during a team-up between Batman and Rose and Thorn, Batman comments that seeing the image of a killer in a dead man's eyes is myth, but nonetheless checks. Sure enough, he sees an image of the killer frozen in the victim's eye. No explanation is ever given.
  • Exaggerated in Original Sin — Uatu's eyes store and can transmit everything that he has ever observed with his nigh-omniscience. This becomes important after he is killed and the eyes are used to involuntarily force characters to learn each others' secrets, leading to a cascade of retconned revelations.
  • In The Sandman (1989), the Second Corinthian references the legend. He knows how to view the imagesby eating the eyes, using the mouths he has in place of eyes.
  • In Terror Inc., the eponymous Terror can access the visual memory of any person whose eyes he grafts to his own body using his broader ability to forcibly take An Arm and a Leg and exploit Organ Autonomy.
  • Trese: Harshly subverted in the very first case of the very first issue, in that the uncooperative interviewee is still alive when Trese harvests the eyeball. It's okay, their kind is really creepy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Anon (2018) involves a society where everyone is required by law 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 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 Alienist 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.
  • 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.
  • The Circle Opens: Used in the last book, Shatterglass. 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.
  • The Curse of the Blue Figurine: In the sequel 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.
  • 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.
  • The Dresden Files explicitly dismisses the retinal image theory as largely mythical, though it does feature other ways of Interrogating the Dead.
  • In Feet of Clay, the city watch are able to see the last thing the murder victim saw. Unfortunately for convenient cases, the person seen isn't the killer.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the novella Skulls by Tim Marquitz, the protagonist, by staring into the eye sockets of one of the titular skulls, sees what the deceased saw at the moment of his or her death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson mentions this. Holmes says that he conducted some experiments and can tell that it's complete rubbish.
  • 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 (2017), 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 story from Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction is 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 is that she couldn't stop staring at the guy because her transplanted eyes recognized him. This is 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 that this is rubbish, but it can happen under certain chemical conditions. Which happen to him.
  • In the Fringe episode "The Same Old Story", Walter Bishop does exactly this to help the FBI find the serial killer.
  • In the pilot episode of RoboCop: The Series, Robo uses this to discover that Cray Mallardo was the person killing vagrants. He has to do a lot of processing on the image to get something clear enough to identify what he's looking at.
  • 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).
  • Star Trek: Voyager:

  • Once in The Ricky Gervais Show, Risky and Steve convince 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 
  • In Los Angeles 2035, some mutants with 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.
  • One of the Giovanni powers in Vampire: The Masquerade allows 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.

    Video Games 
  • Guild Wars 2: One personal-story mission deals with an attempt to use this trope on an Eye of Zhaitan. However, what's pulled up isn't the last thing the Eye saw (since a vision of you killing the Eye would be less than helpful) but an earlier event seen by the Eye that hints at a way to weaken Zhaitan.
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • In 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.