There's nothing quite like the opening scene of a movie that starts right in the middle. So much excitement and intrigue is built in that very moment, and we can't wait to see how we got there. In this blog, Anna Kemp from Scenes to An End talks about the best films that use this narrative device.
So many great films start in the midst of the action, or mix up the order of the narrative, throwing you right in the deep end and immersed in the drama. Here are some examples of films and scenes that do just that:
We start with a car crash, with a bloodied John Wick rolling onto the street. He plays a video of a woman as he crumples to the ground. We know that what has gone down will lead to this. We are thrown into the chronological beginning, and are constantly guessing how every twist, turn and gruesome fight scene will lead to that moment. John Wick revolutionised the Action genre, taking away the common tropes and leaving us breathless.
In a completely different genre, the Notebook puts us at the very end of the life lived by one of our protagonists. An elderly lady being read a story by another elderly man. The beauty of the Notebook is that the fact that this scene is a chronological end to the story being told is an almost heart wrenching twist, adding an extra gut-punch right at the end.
One of the most iconic opening scenes, we see a group of young(ish) men, driving down a road. Its relatively low stakes, until we hear a thumping noise. Perhaps they are being chased? Perhaps they are potential victims? They stop the car, open the boot and discover a man tied and bloodied. They proceed to stab him into final silence. We know now, these are not necessarily the good guys, and all we want to know is how they got to this point.
Deadpool sits, listening to DMX, crudely doodling him shooting a man called francis. He speaks to camera – breaking the forth wall. Then proceeds to murder a bunch of unsuspecting suits in a moving car. This is in the middle of the action, the after of a superhero origin story. Then it flings us back to the beginning.
The Greatest Showman
Another change in Genre, to the musical following PT Barnum. We start at the height of Barnum's success, with Hugh Jackman leading us into a triumphant opening number of "Greatest Showman", with Elephants, acrobatics, fire breathing, with PT Barnum in the centre of it all, to an adoring crowd. The scene fades, to a young Barnum looking at his reflection in a top hat store. This is his dream, and we know it will be realized. My favourite part about this transition is that this scene is both chronologically at the end and the beginning, with it narratively being a dream as well as a tool to tell us what to expect.
Premium Rush has one of the shortest examples, with us seeing Joseph Gordon Levit fly through the air, legs and bike akimbo. We snap back thirty seconds, to have instant explanation and exposition as to the universe of this dangerous profession.
(See our trailer for something similar!)
Saving Private Ryan
Although every second of Saving Private Ryan is a masterpiece, and most would cite the bloodied battle as the start, the beginning scene of Saving Private Ryan is subdued and draws you into its quiet.
An elderly gentleman with his family walks through a cemetery in complete silence. He trugdes through a graveyard, headstone after headstone, until arriving at his destination.
He breaks down, and the only line uttered in this scene is "Dad!" By a member of his family.
Stephen Spielberg manages to set the tone and the scale of his film from the outset. We, the audience know, that this is the destination. Every scene from that moment onwards is tinted with the perspective of what is determined to come.
And finally, have a look at the two favourite films of a couple of our cast members:
Pulp Fiction – John Gallagher's Movie of Choice
"It was my first Tarantino movie and I was instantly hooked. It was the definition of cool, everything about it was cocaine to the senses. Every scene is memorable due to the interesting characters, repeatable dialogue, and weaving storylines. The viewer dances through the story of each protagonist, on the back of a groovy soundtrack, a physcadelic journey of drugs, guns, and redemption. It deserves a second viewing to really nail down the time line. "
Fight Club – Ste Brown's Favourite
"Norton. Pitt. Bonham Carter. To this day is unlike any other film I've ever seen. A great exploration of the human mind. Deep, depraved and brutally honest. The first scene was one of the big inspirations for our format. It starts right in the middle of the action – high intensity, intrigue and expectation. You're in. You're invested. And you want to know how the hell they got there… Taking inspiration from the above, we present Scenes to an End: an improvised movie that throws you right into the middle of the action! The only difference is that, because it's improvised, we're also wondering how the hell we got there!"
And here's Ste Brown and Sam Hall from the troupe discussing the show:
Scenes To An End will be appearing in the improv Double Bill is on Friday 24 May at 8pm. Doors and bar open from 7.15pm. Tickets are £7 and can be bought HERE.