Hell, dude, you never seen Sin City? American Beauty? Sunset Boulevard?" note
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.
Narrating the events leading up to their death
- 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.
- Danganronpa 3 Side: Despair begins with Chisa Yukizome in a movie theater watching her death from the first episode of Side: Future and then telling the story of how her students at Hope's Peak Academy fell into despair.
- A few Sin City stories do this.
- Clémentine does this in Blue Is the Warmest Color through her Diary.
- In Injustice: Gods Among Us, The Green Arrow narrates his last moments as he's beaten to death.
- The prologue to the first annual of Marvel Team-Up which focused on Spider-Man and the X-Men is narrated by a doomed minor character recalling the circumstances up to his death. It plays with this by making it look like his death is referring to how the person he once was died like what happens with several other characters in the story after they are mutated, but later on it's shown he was in fact killed during the opening accident.
- 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.
- 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.
- Subverted in Fallen(1998): Denzel Washington's opening monologue, "I'm going to tell you about a time I almost died." seems defeat at the climax with the death of his character Det. John Hobbes, only to revel the voice over is Azazel in the body of a cat repeating the opening line.
- 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.
- Tangled subverts this. Flynn Rider opens the movie by saying "This is the story of how I died." And while he did get killed in the movie's climax, it didn't take.
- "D.O.A." subverts it. In this 1950 noir, the hero dies from a slow poison, but not before he finds his murderer and tells the story to the police.
- Shallow Grave is narrated by David, who is the only one of the three main characters to die in the film.
- Irrational Man is narrated by its two main characters, Abe and Jill, following the different points of view. Abe's narration continues up to the point where he intends to kill Jill; the attempt goes wrong, he dies instead, and his narration ceases.
- Halo: The Flood (the official novelization of Halo: Combat Evolved) 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.
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal is a gospel written by Biff after being raised from the dead 2000 years later.
- The final Animorphs novel should be a Rachel book, and starts as one...until that suicide mission she started turns out to really be a suicide mission. After that the narration switches between the other Animorphs. Due to the Ambiguous Ending, this trope may also apply for everyone but Cassie as well.
- As I Lay Dying is a bit of a Non-Indicative Title (if taken literally), because Addie only narrates one chapter, which is placed after she's dead and her family is on their trek to bury her. However, it goes in this section because she discusses things that happened when she was alive, specifically a strong hint that her favorite child was the result of adultery.
- Janet Philp's book Burke - Now and Then is written from the perspective of the skeleton of William Burke (of the real life murderous duo Burke and Hare) which hangs in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh University. He retells the story of his and William Hare's 1828 killing spree, musing on the wrong decisions he made that led him to be executed and dissected.
- 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 very first 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.
- 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.
- The first verse of "Youth of the Nation" by P.O.D. is told from the perspective of a student killed in a school shooting.
- Kylie Minogue's part of "where the Wild Roses Grow" describes the death of the titular Eliza Day in the first-person.
- The Lives of Harry Lime: Every episode began with the narration:
"That was the shot that killed Harry Lime. He died in a sewer beneath Vienna, as those of you know who saw the movie The Third Man. Yes, that was the end of Harry Lime ... but it was not the beginning. Harry Lime had many lives ... and I can recount all of them. How do I know? Very simple. Because my name is Harry Lime."
- Uriel Septim in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. He even lampshades his own death.
- Subverted in the opening narration of Discworld Noir. Turns out he was Not Quite Dead.
- Final Fantasy XIII: Vanille. Note that she was in fact put into crystal stasis, which is considered equivalent to death by most people in-game. Doesn't stop her from making an (albeit brief) appearance in the sequel.
"The thirteen days after we awoke were the beginning... of the end."
- Bioshock Infinite, if the loading screen quotes count as narration. Doesn't matter if it's the main game or either of the Burial at Sea episodes.
- 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.
Narrating the events following their death
- 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.
- The Human Comedy opens with Mr. Macaulay, patriarch of the Macaulay family, having been dead for two years. He appears as a floating head in the sky and introduces his hometown and the characters. He pops up throughout, giving more narration and making occasional unseen ghostly visits.
- 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.
- 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.
- Obi-Wan Kenobi's story in From a Certain Point of View details his death and subsequent merging with the Force from his point of view.
- 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!"
- MADTV parodied this too.
Nikki (voice-over): "Shortly after that, I killed myself [...] and news of my death travelled fast."
- Machinima The Strangerhood explicitly parodied this:
- 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 even weirder 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..."
- Some versions of Alone in the Dark (1992) include a walkthrough written as it was a guide written by Derceto owner after his suicide.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- In the one-shot story Toki Doki, the narrator is Poppo, the protagonist of the story. It begins with his describing his girlfriend Takagi, who was born on the same year and attended the same school, and her death at the age of 21, and much of the remainder is about Takagi's heart condition that causes her heart to stop functioning early into her life. It turns out that Poppo has the same heart condition as her, but because he is a natural thrill-seeker, his heart will stop functioning even sooner than her, and he dies a few pages before the end, at the age of 17. He continues to narrate about Takagi's subsequent high school graduation and her singer-songwriter career in the four years in between.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Pilot Episode of Dead Like Me has George narrating events in her life up to and including her own death, and continuing from there.
- The Tales from the Crypt episode "You, Murderer" opens with the protagonist dead in his car as a result of an accident, and he narrates the events leading up to his death. Except he dies halfway through the flashback by receiving blunt force drama from another character hitting him in the head with a statue instead and still continues to narrate the events leading up to the present as the ones who killed him attempt hide 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 "Melanie" 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 Like Dying Things Do the audience finds out near the end of the show that the narrator, Adam, has actually committed suicide and was dead the whole time.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Oracle Of Tao, Ambrosia narrates starting with a story from her parents, then continues after her child is born, up to her daughter's adulthood and her death, then talks about her afterlife. Apparently, she's addressing the player, not anyone in-game.
- In Jotun Thora tells of her life of glory as a Viking warrior, her ignoble death, and her triumph over the Jotun in Norse purgatory.
- The Ancestor in Darkest Dungeon provides the player with battle commentary and exposition on the areas and bosses, despite having been Driven to Suicide long before you arrived. This is possibly justified considering that it's actually the Heart of Darkness using the ghost of your Ancestor as a puppet throughout the game. Or is it?
- 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.