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Flashback Stares

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This is when a character or characters look off to some far distant point or do an Aside Glance to instigate a Flashback or Imagine Spot. Expect the screen to do a wishy-washy thing that blurs the screen or a fade of some sort. If the stare goes on for too long you hope it's being used for comedic effect ala Inner Thoughts, Outsider Puzzlement. Something of a Discredited Trope these days: many comedies will have other characters confused at the actions, or trying to wake them from their spaced out state.

Compare Pensieve Flashback, in which the character is immersed in the scene he's remembering.


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  • In Highlander: The Search for Vengeance Colin gets one when this current love interest manages to match word for word what his past love interest said just before she died. It was a rather long flashback too and Dahlia was a bit worried.

    Films — Animated 
  • The second BIONICLE movie, Legends of Metru Nui, had Vakama's eyes go wide and stare off into space every time he had a vision.
  • Calhoun from Wreck-It Ralph falls into a series of flashbacks from her tragic backstory when Felix (unintentionally) matches her deceased fiancé's catchphrase "dynamite gal".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Happens in Airplane! where the main character stares straight at the camera to get flashbacks to The War, in some cases the viewer doesn't get to see the flashback and only hears the sound track of gun fire and crashing planes.
  • "The thousand-yard stare" is discussed in Full Metal Jacket.
  • In Meet the Parents, Kevin does one of these while remembering his time dating Pam, and Greg glances behind him to see what he's staring at.
  • In Walk Hard Right Dewey can be found staring at a wall in the dark just before he begins an act backstage. His best friend explains that he has to think back on his entire life before every show.
  • A rare example of it being played completely straight (and succeeding in being emotional powerful) happens in Gods and Monsters where James Whale suffers from a stroke that leads his memories of The Great War overwhelming him.
  • Mark (a zombie) from Warm Bodies triggers a memory while staring at a picture of a couple holding hands. This is important because before now zombies had almost no recollection of their past.

  • In Zelazny's novel Lord of Light, the extended flashback scene that comprises the main body of the novel is indicated by the sentence "Sam stared ahead, remembering."

    Live-Action TV 
  • The IT Crowd does this a couple of times for comedy purposes with Richmond looking into the camera and all the other characters gradually leaning into the shot to look at the same point, clearly not seeing anything.
    Roy: "What? What IS it??"
  • Played completely straight in an episode of True Blood where every time Sam has a flashback to his childhood he seems to stare off into space and stop whatever it was he was doing, and we cut back to people shouting "Sam! Sam!" in order to snap him out of it. It's very difficult not to laugh.
  • Friends:
    • There was an episode where Penn from Penn & Teller tried to to sell Joey encyclopedias based on the pitch "do your friends ever talk about something and you just nod along", cue the flashback stare. Penn got a little bit worried when Joey hadn't said anything for 2 minutes.
    • In another episode, Joey and Chandler look up and stare- you think they are about to begin reminiscing, and it turns out they are staring at something on the ceiling. Joey says, "What the hell is that?" to which Chandler replies, "That's disgusting!"
  • Lost goes into flashback this way often enough that Television Without Pity dubbed it "the thousand-yard stare of impending flashback."
  • While 30 Rock frequently uses a flashback cut as a comic non sequitur, the audience's familiarity of these was subverted in one episode.-
    Jack: You know [Tracy's] contract is up?
    Liz: Has it been that long?! Boy, we sure have done some crazy things with Tracy in the last 3 years.
    Jack: We sure have.
    Liz: (eyes wander) I'm thinking about some of them now.
    Jack: Me too.
  • Applied very often in Scrubs, usually when JD goes into any of his imagination sequences. When someone else does it, or he's seen from an outside perspective, he just stares off into the distance with a blank look until snapping back to reality with some odd non-sequitur.
  • Played for Drama in Season 4 of Stranger Things, in which characters 'cursed' by Vecna stare unresponsively into space while experiencing disturbing waking nightmares, before being telekinetically lifted into the air, horrifically mutilated, and killed.
  • Invoked hilariously by Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a fifties short about how to know when you're ready to get married. At one point, while the "marriage counselor over at the church" is talking, the female half of the couple he's advising stares into space for several seconds, apparently not listening. Mike and the robots fill the seconds with gunshot noises and an imitation of an officer bellowing, "Marines, we are leaving!", and when the woman shakes herself back into focus, Mike has her say, "Sorry, back in Danang there for a minute."
  • Kieren, in In the Flesh, instigates a flashback of him clawing out of his grave by staring at his headstone several years later.
  • Exagerated in Kenan & Kel, where the stare was actually NEEDED to trigger the flashback.
  • In the Extant episode A Pack of Cards Molly enters a flashback after staring at a police car. This triggers a memory of her accident 10 years ago involving Marcus and the death of her unborn child. Later in the same episode she does it again. This time however it's a forced dream state brought on by the child; creating a fantasy world after the crash where Marcus and the baby never died.
  • In the Shoestring episode "Room With A View," Eddie visits the building where he worked as a programmer before having a nervous breakdown. He stares at one of the computers for a long moment, with close-ups of both his face and the machine, before one of his former coworkers startles him out of it.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) episode Valley of Darkness features Colonel Tigh under pressure from all sides with nobody of any experience to turn to. He ends up having flashbacks to when he first meets Commander Adama. While in the final edit most of these are cut; extended scenes shows quite a few long ones with the Colonel staring into space, some of which do make it in the final cut but without the actual flashbacks.

    Video Games 

  • Shortpacked! parodies this when Robin, afraid of DRAMA goes around tackling anyone staring into the middle distance to stop them having angsty flashbacks.
  • Used in this strip of Exterminatus Now, it's a bit of shame that it got interrupted because we never did learn what happened to the last people they hired.

    Western Animation 
  • Happens during some of Ratchet's flashbacks in Transformers: Animated, possibly due to the fact that he's actually freezing up on the battlefield PTSD-style when it happens.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode, Moe turns his back on Barney to deliver one of these stares in the middle of a conversation. Barney, confused, asks, "Moe?"
    • In another episode, Homer yells at Bart for staring while he's having a The Wonder Years moment.
    • In another Marge does one of these, and comes out of it saying "And that's why I can't say 'no' to people." Homer points out that he has no idea what she was thinking about. "Why would you think I did?"
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • Parodied in "Phineas and Ferb's Birthday Clip-O-Rama"; Phineas starts reminiscing about previous escapades, stares off, it goes into the clip montage, then comes back to another person saying "Was I supposed to see something just then?" "No, it's a clip show thing".
    • Parodied again in "Doof Dynasty", where the audience doesn't even get to see the flashback; Perry just stares off into the distance and ripples.


Video Example(s):


The Warden

The Second Coming is at the mercy of a terrifying monster called the warden and is trapped at a dead end with nothing but a book, a candle, and a stick. Having no choice but to use whatever he could at his disposal, The Second Coming finds that the warden is not really a monster.

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