In medias res
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The terms in medias res and ab ovo (literally "from the egg") both come from the Roman poet Horace's Ars Poetica ("Art of Poetry", or "The Poetic Arts"), lines 147–148, where he describes his ideal for an epic poet:
- "Nor does he begin the Trojan War from the double egg,
but always he hurries to the action, and snatches the listener into the middle of things" The "double egg" is a reference to the origin of the Trojan War with the mythical birth of Helen and Clytemnestra from an egg laid by their mother, Leda, after she was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan.
This narrative method has proven very popular throughout the ages, including frequent use in Modernist literature, e.g. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier. The technique can also be seen in cinema, including Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Taylor Hackford's Devil's Advocate, George Lucas' original Star Wars film, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, and the Korean film Oldboy.
Though not strictly in medias res, the film Memento is a very good example of storytelling through flashbacks – while the main part of the film plays in reverse chronology, the backstory is explained via a separate series of flashbacks running in the correct order, with the two narratives converging at the end of the film. The start of the film is, therefore, both the end of one sequence of events and the start of the other, with the literal middle of the timeline falling at the end of the film.
In television, the modern TV show Lost starts medias in res explicitly where the show starts with several characters crash-landing through the island. Over the course of several seasons of the show, we learn about the characters through flashbacks. A sitcom which uses the device is How I Met Your Mother on CBS.
Many non-fiction articles from Reader's Digest use this technique of storytelling.