In medias res  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
In medias res, also medias in res (Latin for "into the middle of things") is a literary and artistic technique where the narrative starts in the middle of the story instead of from its beginning (ab ovo or ab initio). The characters, setting, and conflict are often introduced through a series of flashbacks or through characters relating past events to each other. Classical works such as Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid begin in the middle of the story. Dante's Divine Comedy also begins in medias res.

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.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter begins in medias res. Hester Prynne has already committed the act of adultery and has already given birth to her child, Pearl.

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.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "In medias res" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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