Flashbacks Chapter One Draft continued part 5

The Limey Wilson on plane screenshot


Flashbacks exploring their use in The Limey (1999)

Flashbacks and The Limey (1999) Wilson in car scene
The Limey (1999) Wilson in Los Angeles

What this means is that through flashbacks the spectator can experience the past and memories of a character even if they have forgotten them, as in the case studies taken from Still Alice (2014) and The Notebook (2004). However, Caruth the literary theorist argues, for instance, that “[w]hat returns in the flashback is not simply an overwhelming experience that has been obstructed by a later repression or amnesia, but an event that is itself constituted, in part, by its lack of integration into consciousness.” (Radstone, 2007 :9). While these case studies may not be considered directly drawn from trauma, I would argue that the effects are similar, that the loss of memory and identity must be traumatic.

The Limey movie poster smallIn the case study of the film The Limey (1999) the narrative has multiple examples of using flashbacks. Through these flashbacks and the creative use of the editing process appears to make it seem as if the film is always looking backwards as the Director intended, the fragmented editing process represents the fragmentation of the main protagonist’s, Wilson’s memory. In an interview for Rolling Stone magazine the director Soderbergh states that “[g]iven its premise, it seemed there was some possibility to recraft it into a memory piece”. (Fear, 2019) There are flashbacks within flashbacks and flashbacks looking back to a past that Wilson could not have participated. For example, the flashback to a past with appears to be a young Wilson and Jenny, this what we would call a meta-flashback with footage sourced from another film, by the Director Ken Loach, Poor Cow (1967). This meta-flashback integrates so well into The Limey’s linear timeline so that the spectator doesn’t

Flashback to Poor Cow 1967 Dir. Ken Loach
Poor Cow (1967) Dir. Ken Loach

need to imagine a younger Wilson or Jenny they can relate directly through to the characters past through this flashback. The fragmentation of Wilsons memory represented in a montage of flashbacks as Turim argues “…the “flashback” is outside of a narrative frame though it bears within it its own narrative elements and a notion of being of the past, a past not regained, but reframed in montage with other found footage in rapid fragmentation. (Turim, 2014: 275). I have identified (see Oldboy 2003) that flashbacks can be triggered by a personal experience, an image, sound, a smell from the senses, that can be used to trigger these memories of past events. While in some films these triggers are not always evident however the spectator can infer that they are there, in this case they are experienced by Wilson, for example the contents of a letter triggering flashback memories, a visual montage of his fragmented past with his daughter, Jenny, while Wilson was in and out of prison. In addition, Wilson also experiences a flashforward, a prolepsis, triggered visually by a solitary photograph of Wilson’s daughter, Jenny, during his wandering around the protagonist Valentines home.

The Limey shooting Valentine in flashbacks
Wilson imagines various scenarios of him killing Valentine

The flashforwards appear as alternative futures and all are violent. In this scene Wilson visualises the alternative outcomes/possibilities of killing Valentine, futures that do not come to fruition as he is stopped before execution. As I have argued previously not all flashbacks are character memory derived, Robert Sinnerbrink a philosopher and film theorist argues that the theories of Hugo Münsterberg a pioneer of applied psychology and the strength of the relationship between memory and flashbacks in film. He states “[w]hile it is certainly true that flashbacks are often connected with a particular character, it is not clear that we should simply assume that these “belong” to the character in question or, more bizarrely, that they are an “objectification” of his or her mental processes (most flashbacks are about rather than of a character).” (Colman, 2012: 24). This seems to appropriately explain some of the editing decisions made in The Limey (1999) with the defragmentation of the film sequences and montage of the flashbacks. The use of montage the joining of sequences in non linear order and out of sequence shots, these sequence of flashbacks which are of events that Wilson could and could not have been present, the mixture of those derived and not derived from his memories and therefore external or telling flashbacks. Bordwell argues “[r]evelation flashbacks and reminder flashbacks can blend to create the replay flashback. Here we revisit incidents we have already seen or heard (so it’s a reminder), but we also learn about aspects of the action that weren’t previously shown (so it’s a revelation too)”. (Bordwell, 2017: 77).

Wilsons fragmented memory represented through the use on montage, the fragmented editing process is intended to confuse the spectator and represent the fragmented state of Wilsons memory. However, using reminder flashbacks and returning to a scene or a shot reminds the spectator of key elements of the narrative, for example the shots of Wilson seated on the plane is revisited several times, asking the spectator to decide if Wilson is arriving or departing or possibly just a shot of Wilson recalling a memory? As I mentioned in my opening statement and it is worth mentioning again the interview between Geoff Boucher editor of the online magazine Hollywood Deadline in an interview with the director, where Soderbergh is reported to have said that “[w]e created or tried to create, meaning and emotion through repetition and juxtaposition, which again, is something that’s unique to movies. The ability to mould something and then change the meaning or alter the meaning just by reordering and repeating things, that’s unique in film.” (Boucher, 2019).


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