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Unreliable Voiceover

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So Joe Suspect is explaining to the cops where he was last night. As he speaks, we get a Flash Back showing us the events.

But wait a minute! What we're seeing on screen doesn't fit what the voice-over is saying. While Joe tells the cops he had to work late, we see him in a bar. And when he admits he went to see the murder victim, but they came to an amicable agreement, the flashback shows them screaming at each other, and then him storming out. The visuals are understood as depicting the truth, and not just a potentially inaccurate version of the events (in contrast to Self-Serving Memory, where the visuals depict a false version of the events).

Can be used as a way of helping the viewers solve the Whodunnit without being a genius detective (because they learn the Big Secret directly), as a way of showing what sort of character we're dealing with, or just to ramp up the irony level of a story. Sometimes the description is accurate, but not entirely honest; or the visuals might reveal additional information that changes the nature of the story.

It can also be used for humorous purposes, to show that the character is not as gifted as they claim they are — they relate the events in a way that makes them seem particularly clever or talented, while we see they are actually ridiculously incompetent. However, this can lead to continuity errors — if the writer forgets that the audience knows the truth but the listeners do not, the audience can be left wondering how somebody knows something they weren't told.

Сontrast Narrating the Obvious, where the voiceover is too reliable. Compare Contrast Montage. Related to "Rashomon"-Style, except that instead of someone else's version of events clashing, it's the cold, unvarnished truth. Unlike Unreliable Narrator, we're led to believe that the visuals tell us what really happened. Unless there's a Mind Screw going on.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • This is in one of the late first season episodes of Darker than Black. Mao (a Body Snatcher Contractor in a cat's body) is trapped with several series antagonists and is narrating the beginning of the episode. While he narrates in a calm voice, talking about being a Contractor and thus rational enough to overcome fear, you see the cat shaking in terror, and when Mao talks about making a clever, rational choice, he... meows. Apparently his brilliant idea was to pretend to be a normal cat and hope Amber had grabbed him out of Cuteness Proximity, and hadn't heard him talk.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, when Yoki encounters the Elrics again, he gives this whole account of how things have went downhill for him ever since he met them, and it's all presented in silent movie style. While he tells of being a good leader who was unjustifiably tricked, and tells of his investments failing, we see him abusing his power and his "investments" are more along the lines of him conning people and gambling away the rest of his money. The funniest part is his narration about "borrowing money" from a noble family — it's actually a scene of him burgling the Armstrong home, and in a Mythology Gag referencing a manga omake, he gets a piano dropped on him by the moe and harmless-looking Katherine Armstrong.
  • This is one of the major tricks of the anime adaptation of Haruhi Suzumiya, where Kyon's on-screen actions often contradict his narration. So, for example, in the first chronological episode, Kyon tells us he's not interested in Haruhi, after having just spent several scenes very obviously checking her out.
  • In one episode of Sailor Moon R, Rei has to organize her school's cultural festival all by herself, including writing and performing a song. She brushes off writing the song as no big deal since it all came naturally to her, but her flashbacks show her being visibly frustrated as she struggles to come up with the lyrics.
  • Slayers: This is played for laughs in the anime when Lina cheerfully recaps previous episodes — glossing over awkward moments that the video recap does show. The second episode got one where she's being Metaphorically True:
    Lina: In the end, peace was restored to the village... (transition from the scene of nuking a dragon to the crater where this village once stood)
    Lina: After bidding farewell to the grateful villagers... Gourry and I continue our journey... (villagers chasing them with pitchforks)
    Lina: Yeah, I know. But it's not a total lie, okay?
  • Ranma ½: Anytime Genma or Happosai talk about the past.
  • Beelzebub starts with one of these courtesy of our protagonists Oga: "Long long ago, in a certain place, there was a very handsome, cool, well-respected, entirely angelic young man..." When explaining the circumstances that led to him being declared surrogate dad to a demon for his friend, he talks about entirely innocent things while we see him beating on other delinquents and yakuza and making the former bow down to him while laughing manically.
  • In the finale, Your Lie in April features late Kaori stating in her goodbye letter that Watari will probably forget about her. As her voice says this, the viewer sees that Watari still keep a picture of himself and Kaori on his cell phone and seemingly affected by her death.

    Audio Plays 
  • This happens multiple times throughout Brad Neely's Wizard People, Dear Reader — an audio accompaniment to the first Harry Potter movie, which is intended to be run while the film itself is muted. These include such things as the eleven-year-old protagonists drinking cognac and floating jack-o'-lanterns falling on people's heads... But probably the most memorable example is that of "Harmony's" intense death and resurrection by Harry while Hermione is obviously perfectly fine on-screen.
    Just then, the giant dog awakes itself and is just much faster than last time. It's so fast, dear readers, that you guys can't even see that it just goes right ahead and takes a big chunk out of Harmony. He bites what is most of her head off. She is dead in an instant. Harry blacks out. Out of him come powers no-one even knew existed. Time is stuck on the cog of Harry's will. He turns the dog inside out and then dissolves it into a pudding. Harmony is in two pieces, but Harry, with eyeballs turned completely white, recapitulates her form and blows life into her.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Year One features a corrupt detective talking about how he was busting some drug-dealers when the seven-foot bat creature attacked him for no reason, but he managed to fight it off. The art shows Batman breaking in on the detective taking his cut from the criminals the detective alleges he was apprehending. Batman does not approve.
    • A similar sequence occurs in The Dark Knight Returns, when a businessman describes the harrowing ordeals he went through during Gotham's blackout. The panel-images make it clear that his own every-man-for-himself callousness caused much of the violence he's complaining about.
  • A really horrific example is in the first issue of Vertigo's House of Mystery series. The narration is a rather uneventful story about a girl who moves back to her hometown after her parents died, becomes a wife and mother, but doesn't love her children. None of this is actually untrue, but the art fills in minor gaps like the fact that the other residents of the city are all Big Creepy-Crawlies, and her children were loads of maggots that left a huge hole in her back that she still has.
    • Also used more humorously in the rather mundane tale a young man tells about his almost being late for work. And it IS him. He's so used to his world being overrun by supernatural creatures ranging from giant spiders to vampire cats (not a typo) that he doesn't even think the constant peril he has to deal with is worth mentioning.
  • Used in Cerebus the Aardvark to introduce Astoria and her relationship to Moon Roach. Oddly subverted when, much later, another character tells a version of the story which doesn't match the art or narration of the first one.
  • Played with in the Batman oneshot that introduced Harley Quinn. When Harley summarizes her time with the Joker, at first the art shows the Joker being a lot less enthusiastic about her than her account would have you think... but as the narration progresses, the images begin to match up with what she's saying.
  • Secret Invasion (2022) uses this in the first issue. Nick Fury tells Maria Hill how Mrs. Stuart convinced herself that her dead husband was actually an alien shapeshifting Skrull, and that her real husband must still be alive. He couldn't bring himself to tell her the truth, so ended up staying for dinner. At which point the flashback diverges - the narration talks about an uneventful meal, the comic itself shows him overpowered by Skrulls.
  • The Thunderbolts's first annual (1997) works like this in comic book form. Citizen V is telling the story of how the heroic Thunderbolts were formed to their newest member, Jolt. As the Bolts are actually villains in disguise (and Jolt is not in on the secret), his narration shows the cover story while the actual pictures and dialog reflects what really happened.
  • Cable & Deadpool: during a quiet moment in between story arcs, Cable and Deadpool swap stories of their respective childhoods. However, what we see happening in the flashbacks is subtly different from what they tell each other in narrative captions, and Cable and Deadpool know each other well enough not to take the stories at face value.
  • In Jack of Fables, Jack's highly unreliable Marty Stu narration captions are placed right on panels showing exactly what really happened, and just how grossly Jack is exaggerating.
  • 2000 AD:
    • One Future Shocks strip had a man in a bar telling his life story to a stranger. The teller told of how he was a loving husband and father whose family were abducted by a warlord, and so he took revenge by entering the warlord's services as a blacksmith and making shoddy weapons, then running off on the eve of a major battle. The panels show that he was actually a cruel miser whose wife ran away, taking her kids with her. He beat his son to death, and the weapons he made were of substandard quality due to incompetence rather than design. The strip ends with him lying in an alley in a pool of blood, the stranger standing over him with a knife.
    • The first strip in The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the Dead Left in His Wake) uses this is bit. The narrator says he heard that Ichabod's introduction to killing was when he killed 20 horsemen, but we see him killing one man in a duel. Later, the narrator relates a story about how Ichabod had a secret love who was able to calm his insane rage and dismisses it as nonsense, but the images show that that's exactly the case.
  • The Transformers (Marvel) UK: In one story, Octane tells Ratbat about how he bravely stood up to the vast Autobot onslaught only to be pushed back by overwhelming numbers. The images show him running like a coward from just two Autobots.
  • The Transformers: Timelines comic Wings of Honor's framing device is local Cool Old Guy Kup telling stories about his youth. Naturally, he's very willing to embellish events. For instance, he claims he was able to defeat the hypnotist Hellbat because he kept a clear head and had everything planned out from the start to make his escape. He actually fell under Hellbat's sway almost immediately, and escaped because a kaiju-sized member of the local wildlife emerged from the ground and tried to eat his captor.
  • Supreme Power has Emil Burbank discussing his past to a military contact while we see the truth, that reveals Burbank as a murderous sociopath.
  • 52 manages to sneak it in under the radar, only obvious to those who pay close attention. When The Question surprises Renee Montoya on Day Three of Week Two, she panics, grabs her gun and begins firing. However, he vanishes without a trace. The next morning Renee is trying to figure out what the hell happened, especially since "I know I hit him dead center," but he left without trouble. However, if you look back at the previous panel, there are two "blam" effects to indicate gunshots and two holes in his to his body. She might "know" she hit him dead center, but we can see that she just plain missed him completely.
  • Fell: Detective Richard Fell "cleverly negotiates with the king of Yaakistan."
  • The 2010 Iron Man annual features The Mandarin describing his life story to the director he's forcing to adapt it. The captions are what the Mandarin claims happened while the images are what really transpired and they paint the Mandarin in a considerably less flattering light.
    • At one point, the Mandarin looks over actors to play Tony Stark, running down ones who are total dead ringers as wrong but when he sees a short, unattractive overweight man, yells "that's him!"
  • An Iron Man story in Marvel Comics Presents had Tony speaking to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting about a problem he had recently. His speech makes it sound like a business situation, but we see in the story that he was actually fighting Zzzax.
  • Batman: Black and White: In "Greetings from... Gotham City", a small-town boy who recently moved to Gotham sends a postcard back home describing how he got to see Batman take down a gang of jewel robbers. The text of the postcard appears as narration over the visuals of the fight scene, and at first it seems like the narration is basically reliable, if a bit short on detail due to the space restrictions of the postcard. Then it turns out the postcard writer left out some fairly significant details, such as the fact that he was one of the jewel thieves, who was seen in the fight scene making several attempts to injure or kill Batman.
  • James Bond: The Body #1 features Bond explaining various injuries to a doctor examining him after a mission. He describes his ribs being broken when a bomb went off during a huge action setpiece with seven armed men and a helicopter, while we're shown that he actually took a tumble down a fire escape while wrestling with one knife-wielding assassin who was Camping a Crapper. The assassin's neck was broken in the fall; Bond also lies about taking him in alive.

    Comic Strips 
  • Tom the Dancing Bug does this in one Billy Dare strip. The narration obviously does not match what we see in each comic panel. At the end, Billy Dare murders the narrator.

    Films — Animated 
  • Kuzco in The Emperor's New Groove tends to wander obnoxiously off the rails while narrating, to the point that near the end of the second act the sadder-but-wiser Kuzco-on-screen finally tells Kuzco-as-narrator to shut up.
  • Played for Laughs in Meet the Robinsons. When Bowler Hat Guy is ranting to a captured Lewis about why he has a grudge against him, he says several things that flatly contradicts what is seen on the screen. For instance, he claims that everybody at school hated him after we see a couple of kids being friendly to him and inviting him to hang out, and that he and the evil robotic hat Doris retreated to their "villainous lair" to make their Evil Plan - while the actual footage shows them going to an adorable kiddy restaurant.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Peter B. Parker's narration of how he handled his divorce with Mary Jane doesn't exactly match up with what's shown on screen. He claims he took the divorce "like a champ", but the scene immediately cuts to him sitting in a Shower of Angst, and he also claims that he did push-ups and half-crunches to stay strong when he's gotten a noticeable gut from eating too much pizza to numb the pain.
  • Happens throughout Surf's Up, as Cody is being interviewed for a surfing documentary, including descriptions by him of how he was a natural surfer, only for the actual shots to show him constantly falling off his board. Slightly justified, as he wants to look his best on film.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One of the most striking uses of the unreliable voiceover is in Terence Malik's Badlands, where Holly, naive and infatuated with Kit, overlooks some kinda-sorta evil murderous duplicitous tendencies of his...
  • Beowulf (2007): Beowulf claims a bunch of sea monsters attacked him during the race with Breca. We do see him fighting said sea monsters, but when he claims another sea monster dragged him down under the water, it's actually a beautiful mermaid that he ends up "plunging his blade into."
  • Agent Smecker does this the other direction during the scene that leads up to the Il Duce shootout in The Boondock Saints- he's an investigator and not a suspect, and describes what he concludes happens as we watch what really happens such as the moment when he pegs Rocco as a "real sicko" who wanted his victim to suffer — and he's on the floor getting choked out by the "victim" and begging for his life. He also gets wrong how many guys are present during the Il Duce shootout based on the number of guns at the scene, which it turns out were all used by one guy.
  • Brokeback Mountain:
    • The film does this, but it isn't the narrator's fault. When Ennis finds out Jack died, he calls his widow to know what happened. She tells him Jack was fixing a flat tire when the hubcap blew off in his face and he choked to death on his own blood, but while she's talking, we see soundless clips of Jack beaten to death with a crowbar by a man the couple met at a party, whom Jack presumably came onto later. What really makes it enraging is how any blind cop could have seen through the hubcap story, unless the police deliberately looked the other way.
    • In the case of the short story the film was based on, the trope applies, as the majority of it was from Ennis' point of view. A recurring theme for Ennis is what his dad made him witness when he was young, and something in Lureen's voice makes him think "So it was the tire iron."
  • Cube 2: Hypercube: One of the characters said he was a management consultant, but his flashbacks showed he was actually a private detective. The other ones don't so much directly lie as leave out the fact that they're all connected to the hypercube's creators or know more than they let on. For instance, one of them is actually a freelance superhacker who designed the thing and another is an operative working for the organization behind it.
  • Darling: Diana's narration often consists of self-exculpatory excuses that are contradicted by the narration. When she insists that she never wanted to break up a family, the action shows her stalking Robert as he goes back home to his wife and kids. When she says that she always wanted Robert to spend time with his children, the action shows Diana in a snit when Robert returns from a visit to his children, asking "Where the hell have you been?"
  • In the 1978 adaptation of Death on the Nile, as Salome Otterbourne is saying "I was talking to one of the crew, who was showing me a most intriguing sight, a buffalo and a cow yoked together tilling the soil", a flashback is shown in which she is in fact secretly buying alcohol from said crew member.
  • In the movie Eat and Run, McSorely is constantly Narrating the Present. When he finds a locked door he needs to open in a hurry, he describes shooting it with his gun, the locks flying off. In reality his gun was empty and he had to unlock the door using a set of keys.
  • Sara tells Aiden in The Forest about her parents' death in a car accident right in front of their house while we see that the actual cause of death was murder/suicide.
  • The naive Forrest in Forrest Gump plays this trope straight. Played for humor (and sometimes for drama), you'll see Forrest describing the upstart Apple Computers as a fruit company; Charlie, the codename for the Vietcong, as some guy the Army was looking for; and in one scene, he describes Jenny's father as a "loving man, always kissing and touching his daughters." The line pretty much sums up the real truth of Jenny's situation.
  • A variation in Her Alibi, when Tom Selleck's character, a writer, voices over his ongoing spy novel inspired by the on-screen reality.
  • In the Vietnam War documentary In the Year of the Pig, we get to simultaneously hear reassurances that prisoners of war are treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and see prisoners of war get beaten up.
  • Julie & Julia: Julia Child narrates a letter as she's writing it to a friend, mentioning that her husband, Paul, comes home for lunch every day and then takes a nap before going back to work. What's being shown, however, is him getting re-dressed while she reclines against the headboard with a Modesty Bedsheet.
  • In the Mexican comedy movie Matando Cabos, the father of a girl narrates how he walked in on his daughter and her boyfriend holding hands and kissing (while we see them screwing like animals), asked the boyfriend to stop (gave him a swirly), saw the boyfriend get rude and belligerent (raise his hands in terror), and politely asked him to leave (beat him senseless and threw him out of the house).
  • In Mission: Impossible (1996), Ethan Hunt knows that Jim Phelps is a traitor, and pretends to believe the story, but is imagining the way it really happened.
  • In One True Thing, the main character, Ellen, is shown discussing her mother's death with a detective. Her voice-over narration seems at first to match up with what is shown on the screen, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that she is not giving the detective the full story, and has glossed over her family's problems.
  • A snarky variation in The Phenix City Story. The mob carries out extensive voter intimidation against people supporting Albert Patterson, which the narrator (Albert's son John) describes and follows up with:
    "And where were the police? (Cut to police officers playing cards) On duty. Keeping a sharp eye on things."
  • The Princess Bride: "Fezzik took great care in reviving Inigo." Said over a scene of Fezzik repeatedly dunking the drunken Inigo into buckets of water.
  • Don's narrative on how he became a Hollywood star in Singin' in the Rain. His words paint his journey as a smooth, refined and comfortable one. The series of flashbacks that accompanies them show that it was actually an arduous and often undignified struggle to the top.
    "Dignity, always dignity!"
  • The obscure comedy Sorority Boys used this when one of the characters is describing how he discovered a plot-important hidden camera, leading to a VCR in a lockbox. He fudges the details of the discovery to cover his invasion of his roommate's privacy as if everything was already in the open, while it shows him actually stumbling drunkenly into the hidden camera, yanking on cables, and finally shooting open the lockbox with a revolver.
  • In Superbad, this is used when one of the lead characters describes their previous evening to their love interest. While they describe going to an elegant club, the audience sees them trying to gain admission to a seedy strip club. Similarly, their account of celebrating with a drink is matched by them vomiting violently from cheap booze.
  • The Usual Suspects primarily uses Unreliable Narrator, but the flashbacks are slightly closer to reality than the narration. Eg, his story involves a man named "Kobayashi", but the flashbacks show an obviously non-Japanese man in that role.
  • Walker, details the 1856 conquest of Nicaragua by an American soldier sponsored by a cadre of industrialists (most prominent of whom is Cornelius Vanderbilt), and the protagonist's narrations—which sound a lot like quotes from an official log or report—are blatantly contradicted by the action of the scenes they introduce.
  • In The Young Mr Pitt, the 1802 peace treaty between Britain and France is portrayed as little more than an opportunity for Napoleon to build up his military for an invasion of Britain. The Head-in-the-Sand Management makes an optimistic speech about Europe moving towards peace, which is accompanied by a montage that portrays the French doing the exact opposite of what he says they're probably doing about now. The film having come out in 1942, this scene is not really about Napoleonic France.

  • George MacDonald Fraser would seem to have borrowed the above technique in the Flashman book Flashman's Lady. The novel contains extracts from the diary of Flashman's wife, Elspeth, a Brainless Beauty who he suspects is a serial adulteress throughout the series. These extracts, which are written in a melodromatic "female novelist" style (think a bad version of Jane Eyre) are edited by Elspeth's sister who doesn't think Elspeth is quite as innocent as she presents herself.
  • While not visually depicted, William Makepeace Thackeray's novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon contrasts the charming Villain Protagonist's high opinion of himself with the sardonic commentary of the "editor".
    • Stanley Kubrick considered doing his film adaptation this way, but eventually decided to play it straight with an Omniscient Narrator, as he felt this trope would be too comical.
    • Or is Kubrick's narrator actually prejudiced against the lead character? Several times the Narrator explains Lyndon's behavior in a manner which makes no sense other than to cast his actions in a bad light whereas what we're seeing on screen might be viewed as positive or even noble - his refusal to spy on the Irish ambassador for the Prussians, for example. Similarly, the Narrator claims that Lyndon only married for money, despite our seeing plenty of visual evidence of a loving relationship.
  • Played for Laughs in Tricky Business, where the news station is trying to make out the storm hitting Miami as the Big One, but fail miserably, like when the reporter is telling the camera that people should stay out of the water as two dude jog up behind her, wave at the camera, and then go for a swim. The storm did cause a few deaths, however... but they were all from the news station.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Spike's flashbacks and narration in a season five episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are wildly different. Also any flashback narrated by Andrew is a chance for him to exercise his cloudcuckoolander tendencies to the fullest.
  • Cheers: "Rebound, part 2" has Diane recounting to the Cheers gang how she met Frasier while at the Goldenbrook "Health Spa" over a game of croquet, and how the affair was a pleasant game of wits. We see what actually happened; Diane got into a fight with another inmate, an elderly lady, who she accused of cheating, which soon leads to Diane trying to bash the woman's head in, which Frasier tried to break up, only for Diane to attack him for his troubles.
  • Innocent little Bert tells his karate teammates he was "buying...milk" at the mini-mart in the Cobra Kai season 1 finale "Mercy". The camera shows him slapping the latest issue of Big & Bootylicious on the counter (featuring the "42 Phattest Cabooses").
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Runaway Bride": When Donna describes how she and her fiancé met and fell in love, she says that she accepted his proposal after considerable nagging. The flashback footage shows it was actually the other way around: she proposed and nagged him until he accepted.
    • Used extensively in "The Unicorn and the Wasp", when the suspects are giving their alibis. A viewer can spot that the culprit is the one person who isn't shown doing something shady in flashback.
  • Trivial and mildly amusing instance in FlashForward (2009): Wedeck (the FBI boss) claims his vision of the future had him in a meeting (at 10pm?), while the visual was an overhead shot of him sitting in a restroom stall, pants down, reading the newspaper (apparently the sports section, from later dialogue). He later confessed the real story to Benford, adding that he'd emerged from his blackout to find another agent drowning in the urinal and in need of resuscitation (which Wedeck found embarrassing to admit having done).
  • Forever: When Adam tells Henry "what really happened" to Abigail, his voiceover says Abigail feared he meant Henry harm, but glosses over why, which we see was Adam threatening to torture not only Abigail herself, but the innocent girl she had taken home with her to protect her from an abusive boyfriend. Adam also tells Henry, "I know you must think me a monster, but I tried to save her," while the flashback shows Adam revived Abigail with CPR, but not out of any care for her life, his only concern being finding out about the other immortal Abigail had clearly met before (i.e. Henry).
  • How I Met Your Mother uses this with a twist: in some cases, the voiceover is unreliable. However, so are the images shown, even if we know the image not to be true. For instance, when Ted recalls a night in college when he smoked a joint, he called it "eating a sandwich", and we see him, Marshall and Lily sharing a very large sandwich (and acting high).
    • Sometimes played straight though, such as when he claims he and Victoria spent their last day together going all over the city and going to fabulous places, but we see that they actually spent the whole day having sex.
  • Jonathan Creek uses a variation during The Summation, which Jonathan is explicitly advancing as a hypothetical version of events. It usually turns out to be correct in Broad Strokes, but some details can be off. The laughably implausible "dramatic reconstruction" of the case in an episode of Eyes and Ears may also fall under this one.
  • The Last Detective uses this on occasion, as suspects will give accounts of happenings to Dangerous and co. In one episode, dealing with a murder at a college reunion, one character describes the interaction between the chief suspect and the eventual victim as heated but not really violent, but the audience sees a very vindictive interaction on the brink of coming to blows.
  • In a variation, unreliable subtitles are used in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The aunt of two young girls found alone in their apartment comes into the interrogation room and asks the girls what happened in Chinese. The subtitles reflect what the girls actually said but the aunt lies to the detectives. Fortunately, Dr. Huang was there to call her out on it.
  • In the series finale of Nip/Tuck, Matt convinces Christian to let him take back his daughter by saying he and his fiancée (who Matt dumped at the altar) talked and are getting back together. The audience sees the truth, which is the girl berating Matt to get out of her life and literally spitting on him.
  • Used for comedic effect in the TV series Police Squad!, where the show would open with a Quinn Martin Police Procedural style title card: "Tonight's Episode", followed by the title, which always completely different from the one given by the narrator.
  • In the third season Sherlock episode "The Sign of Three", Sherlock's best man speech is full of flashbacks. One involves how John first asked him to be his best man. After John finally told him bluntly that he wanted Sherlock to be his best man, Sherlock explained in his speech that he told John how honored he was, etc. Cut to the flashback where Sherlock just stands there staring at the same spot for several minutes, while John waits patiently. Sherlock then continues that it was only later he realized that he said none of that out loud.
  • A favorite comic device on Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson's narration frequently contradicts events on screen, usually to deny responsibility for what he did or to claim responsibility for what he didn't do.
  • True Detective There are a significant number of seemingly minor contradictions early on between what is said and what is shown as Hart and Cohle recap the events of 1995 in 2012. This comes to a head in episode 4 in which there is a significant diversion to the point of outright lies.
  • Willow: Boorman tells Scorpia about escaping the mines, with his dialogue contradicting most of what really happened as seen in his recollections.

     Puppet Shows 
  • This is the central joke of Travelling Matt's postcards in Fraggle Rock. There's actually three levels to them: What's actually happening; what Matt thinks is happening, which generally involves a profound misunderstanding; and what Matt is prepared to tell Gobo is happening, which glosses over or denies any point where he was forced to admit things have got wrong.

  • In On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Daisy Gamble makes her past life in eighteenth-century England sound so very refined. When she says that her in-laws "ate as if food was a sin," for instance, what the audience sees is them rushing to the table and pigging out.

    Video Games 
  • Might and Magic 7: the game's intro shows remains of a goblin detachment reporting to their supreme commander Archibald Ironfist about their skirmish with an elven war party. We see how the encounter actually went, with the goblin leader providing the voicover. He blatantly lies in order to cast himself and other goblins in a heroic light. Archibald isn't fooled, though, and can't even suppress his laughter at times.
  • World of Warcraft: The Afterlifes: Revendreth animatic has four examples in Sire Denathrius' narration:
    Denathrius: I have decided to implement a strategy of conservation and rationing (of anima). It should keep the anima flowing to those most in need. (picture shows a group of decadent men of wealth and taste drinking their fill of anima)
    Denathrius: In this manner, we'll keep our people strong and our land healthy. (picture shows a poor venthyr sharing his cup of anima with a starving family)
    Denathrius: (we'll punish them) with fairness and mercy, of course. After all, I am nothing if not... compassionate. (same poor but kind venthyr from before has been forced into the light as punishment for his transgression and is slowly disintegrating)
    Denathrius: Remain devout and resolute and know that I will lead us all into a brighter future. (close-up of the hapless venthyr's agonized face as he is dying from the light)
  • Played for Horror in Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location. There are many beats where you ostensibly need to rely on on the automated HandUnit guide to give you instructions on how to deal with the animatronics, but you'll quickly realize that it's not good at its job or keeping track of the things that are supposed to be in its system. One example is where it'll ask you to shine a light on Circus Baby's stage, but it will "helpfully" announce that she's still there even though she very clearly isn't anymore.

  • El Goonish Shive:
  • Latchkey Kingdom: In the Tourist arc, Svana explains to Bridget how she "chanced" upon her ██████████ before losing it to dungeon rats, but the images reveal she was actually stalking her and she actively sought the item as soon as she learned it was dropped.
  • This strip of The Order of the Stick has Hilgya's description of her Jerkass husband contradicted by the pictures of him being pretty much the nicest guy in the universe.
  • In The Wotch, Jason recounts his reaction to the Mythos virus turning him into a satyr girl.
  • Slightly Damned: When Kazai tells Kieri about how he was cursed by Broxis,note  he tells her that after he punched Broxis for being a "demon sympathizer" the guardian was impressed with his conviction and challenged him to a duel and only won the epic, hours long battle by landing a lucky hit. However the flashback shows us the that Broxis was furious and it was Kazai who challenged him to which Broxis begrudgingly accepted and he immediately won the fight with a single swipe of his tail. Kieri seems sceptical so it's likely Kazai has a tendency to exaggerate or fabricate.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In the epilogue for "Mohkadun", Maloufo recounts the story of how he and his people wandered in the desert, and some of them disappeared into the desert or killed themselves. The flashback panels show that those people had been trying to summon the Destroyer in their desperation, and he had killed them and lied about it.

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic starts his review of Ferngully 2 by fondly recounting that The Nostalgia Chick volunteered to help him review the first movie, while the video shows her repeatedly smashing his head into his desk during their fight over it.
  • Ultra Fast Pony: In "For Glorious Mother Equestria", the Lemony Narrator tries to spin the events of the episode as political propaganda, so most of his descriptions are directly contradicted by what happens on-screen. No one is fooled.
    Narrator: But wait! The evil dragon has lured ponies into his lair. What evil plans does he have for them?
    Spike the dragon: I'm glad I'm able to spend my birthday with all of my friends! I'm so happy and full of love!

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventure Time episode "Joshua and Margaret Investigations" has Jake telling a story about the day he was born. This starts a Whole Episode Flashback. At the end of the flashback, Jake's parents say that they won't ever tell Jake how he was born. And indeed, when the show returns to the present, Jake says that his parents never told him - which suggests he wasn't actually talking about the contents of the flashback.
  • Batman: The Animated Series episode "P.O.V." plays out this way. It starts with Officers Willkes and Renee Montoya driving to meet Detective Harvey Bullock for a planned sting against a local crime lord. When they arrive at the location, however, Bullock is unconscious outside and the building is on fire. With most members of the gang escaping, along with the two million dollars that the police department had planted as part of the sting, Internal Affairs believes that the three cops were either grossly incompetent or in cahoots with the criminals. The three officers then each explain what they did during the lead-up to and aftermath of the botched sting. Officer Willkes is honest, but because he did not get a very good look at the action and never had seen Batman before due to being new to the force, he ended up misunderstanding many of the feats he saw Batman perform, ascribing him superhuman powers. Detective Bullock is perfectly aware of what happened, but deliberately alters his rendition and blames Batman to cover up his own mistakes. Of the three, only Renee Montoya gives an honest retelling of the night as to the best of her ability (with a few mistakes, such as thinking that Batman had been trapped under falling debris). During each of their stories, flashbacks show what really happened, along with where the narration differs from the actual events.
  • The Boondocks: While reminiscing of his childhood, Uncle Ruckus says that what he always remembers is his father's "unwarranted hatred of the white man". The accompanying flashback shows Mister Ruckus watching as two klansmen burn a cross in his front yard, followed by him muttering about those "Goddamn crackers". "White people can't get a hint for nothing", Mister Ruckus concludes as he carries two previously prepared buckets of water to put out the fire, hinting it's not the first time this happens.
  • In the Bump in the Night episode "Made in Japan II", Squishington reads an email from Little Robot informing him of how life is for her now that she's been returned to the toy factory in Osaka that she came from. Little Robot's email claims that the factory makes the rest of her kind well, that the children love them and that they are very profitable for the company. What we see are animations of a Turbo Totrenoid having a design flaw pointed out, children crying after seeing one of the toy robots transform into its larger state and a line graph indicating that profits are going down.
  • Season 2 of Family Guy had Adam West tell the story of Miles Musket, the settler who allegedly founded Quahog with the help of a magic talking clam. West states that Musket was thrown overboard for "speaking his mind", while the flashback shows that Musket was an incredibly grating blabbermouth who the other settlers threw overboard just to preserve their own sanity.
  • In the Gargoyles episode "Vendettas", Vinnie tells his gun the stories of his three previous encounters with the gargoyles. He frequently reiterates that he was unfazed, valiant, and did everything he could to prevent the disasters that occurred, while the flashbacks shown suggest otherwise.
  • Glenn Martin, DDS: When telling her backstory, Wendy states that she was told that her mother gave her up for adoption. While this is said, the truth (unbeknownst to Wendy herself) is shown onscreen; the North Korean government forcibly took Wendy away from her birth mother (who was protesting against the government), who was blind bagged and presumably killed.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Lucky tells Hank and co. about how his grandfather found "the perfect walnut stump". He says that his grandfather was a pastor found the stump while on a church picnic and "went on to be with the Lord" before he could recover it, but the flashbacks show that his grandfather was actually a criminal who stumbled across the stump while escaping from Working on the Chain Gang and was executed in the electric chair. Unlike many examples, the implication is that Lucky isn't consciously lying, but that this is the version of the story he was told himself.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes has "Seasons Change", as Rad, Enid, and K.O. explain what they did during the Time Skip;
    • Rad claims he went on an epic quest to improve himself, but we see that he just went on a cruise with his parents. He tried to get a tan, but mistook a bottle of food dye for suntan lotion.
    • Enid talks about taking a course in genjutsu at the community college, but as we see, she ended up walking into a class on mimes while Distracted by the Sexy. She spent the entire semester learning mime tricks while insisting that they were highly advanced jutsus.
    • K.O. is being genuinely honest in his claims that he did stuff with his mom, but completely misses that Mr. Gar was with them the whole time. Seeing K.O.'s thought balloon, Rad and Enid try to help K.O. understand the implications of their boss suddenly being part of K.O.'s family life. It isn't until he sees them kiss that K.O. realizes that his mom and Mr. Gar are now dating.
  • Samurai Jack uses this in "Jack and the Gangsters"; in this episode, Jack briefly joins forces with the titular gangsters, who decide to test him by having him deliver a bomb to an animal-loving old man who hasn't been paying his protection money. Afterwards, Jack describes (with some careful word choice to ensure that his story is Metaphorically True) how he set up the hit and blew up the old man's house, while the visuals show him actually warning the old man and helping him and his animals evacuate before the house blows up.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "The Hankering", Mr. Krabs claims he has taste for chum because he got separated from his navy buddies and had returned to find all their food and supplies stolen. The flashback that he narrates says otherwise; it was because he had slept the entire time while the crew ate everything, and by the time he finally woke up, all that was left was chum.
  • Steven Universe:
    • In "Log Date 7 15 2", Steven gets a hold of Peridot's tape recorder and listens to it. Each log entry is accompanied by a corresponding flashback; in entries detailing events Steven was present for, it's clear that Peridot's very high opinion of herself is tainting the storytelling:
      • She says that she'd decided to call Steven by his name instead of "The Steven"; in reality, Steven asked her to do so, and she declined (in a somewhat rude manner, which Steven rebuked her for).
      • When Steven shows her a teen romance soap opera, she tells her log that humans waste a lot of their time with "meaningless distractions"... when she actually developed an obsession with the show, and spent three days analyzing the relationships between characters based on the one episode she had on hand.
    • Inverted in "Buddy's Book"; the narration is considered accurate, but the events described are depicted with an Imagine Spot, since Steven and Connie have nothing else to work with. When Garnet and Pearl appear in the story, they look the same way they do in the present; Connie points out the Fridge Logic, and the scene is altered to put them in period-appropriate clothing. The duo also imagine Buddy as their friend Jamie, but at the episode's end, they notice a portrait of the man and realize they were way off (however, they agree that they like their version better).
  • Superjail! has a bizarre example, where Ash says he's gotten a fear of all movies because his father left him waiting at a movie theater, neglecting to mention how his father's negligence set the room he was waiting in on fire.
  • Transformers:
    • In The Transformers episode "Madman's Paradise", the Red Wizard of Menonia (who is later revealed to be a Quintesson known as Mara-Al-Utha) claims to be the best student of the Gilded One and that he was forced to take control of the kingdom in the Gilded One's absence. The flashback clearly shows him flunking the Gilded One's lessons in magic and trapping the Gilded One in a cave so he can take over the kingdom.
    • In Beast Machines, Waspinator explains how he left the Earth for Cybertron, tearing himself away from his prehistoric worshippers. The video footage shows the contrary.
    • Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015): Starscream recounts how he "bravely faced" the Predacons chasing him, while we see him running for his life and accidentally tripping over some weapons.
  • The Monarch of The Venture Brothers once had to narrate his first use of his super villain persona because it turned out his tribunal didn't have "a magic window to the past" and didn't have videos of everything. The Monarch says he was defeated only because Venture hired a squad of ex-Navy SEAL ninja gorilla witches and had a tank, while he was really taken out quite brutally by his one female guard with minor help from his lame robot.
    • Before that, when on trial, he lied about his reaction to a tell-all book about him also containing various things about Dr. Girlfriend, claiming he reacted calmly, forgave the henchman that wrote it, and amicably broke up with Dr. Girlfriend. He really was in inconsolable rage, killed the one blamed for writing the book in an incredibly over the top manner ("Lower the giant hair dryer!"), and kicked Dr. Girlfriend out loudly right before crying into his pillow.
  • Inverted and Played for Laughs in Futurama episode Mobius Dick, when Professor Farnsworth has a flashback to an earlier adventure. Zoidberg is shown with a full head of hair when he first appears, to the surprise of the listeners — until the Professor replies "I never said he had hair! You are the ones who decided to imagine him that way!"


Video Example(s):


The Red Wizard

Listen and learn all about how the heroic and awesome Red Wizard ruled the kingdom peacefully after his master's mysterious disappearance. But watch the video and get a different story...

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Example of:

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