Film Theory: Symmetry (Beginning and Ending Are the Same Scene)

Symmetry (Beginning and Ending Are the Same Scene)

A script can have an interesting setting and captivating characters, but if the narrative is not interesting, the filmmakers risk losing the viewers’ attention.

Most screenwriters see their primary goal as grabbing the viewers’ attention from the start. One effective mode is to begin the story at the ending–or end it at the beginning.

The “inverted narrative” triggers curiosity, making viewers curious about how it all happened to get to that point.
Some movies excel in their reverse chronology story.

Amadeus (1984)

Release Date Sep 19, 1984
Director Milos Forman
Cast Elizabeth Berridge, Tom Hulce, Roy Dotrice, Simon Callow, Christine Ebersole, F. Murray Abraham
Rating R
In Vienna, during the late 18th century, Antonio Salieri enjoyed great esteem as the court composer for Emperor Joseph II. Until one day, a flamboyant young man shows at the royal palace, displaying a musical talent Salieri could only dream of having. His name: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri fosters a deep admiration for Mozart, but also holds a grudge for becoming overshadowed by his genius.
Amadeus begins with the old Salieri living in a psychiatric hospital, attempting suicide. While having his wounds treated at the medical wing, he is overcome by guilt for being responsible for Mozart’s untimely death.
The film’s events are narrated, and conclude with Salieri leaving the medical wing, driven mad by the love-hate relation towards his lifelong rival.
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Forrest Gump

Release Date July 6, 1994

Director Robert Zemeckis

Cast Rebecca Williams, Sally Field, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Tom Hanks

Rating PG-13

Forrest Gump introduces a man from Greenbow, Alabama with certain learning disabilities. As he tries to figure out the world with his simplistic vision, Forrest takes part in some of America’s decisive moments, going through hell to be with his lifelong friend and love interest, Jenny.

Forrest Gump begins with an iconic frame. Forrest, in his suit and buttoned-up checkered shirt, sits at a bus stop. As strangers come by, he recounts his life tales, from childhood to Vietnam, steamboat captain to random-running activism.
In the end, just seeing him there, with his interwoven legs, is memorable and touching.

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

Release Date: Sep 10, 1994

Director Quentin Tarantino

Cast Tim Roth, Bruce Willis, Amanda Plummer, Samuel L. Jackson, Eric Stoltz, John Travolta

Rating R

Using a non-linear narrative to tell a story, Pulp Fiction presents intertwined stories depicting some unusual dire straits of crime life. Some include retrieving a suitcase from burger-loving crooks, taking a wife’s boss to dinner, and saving a friend whose wedding is in peril after an associate’s head got accidentally blown up.

In the beginning, a loving couple of robbers decide to do a job at the coffee shop they are having breakfast. By the end, audiences find that two of the diner’s clients are two thugs having a bad day.

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Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Release Date: July 7, 1998

Director Steven Spielberg

Cast Adam Goldberg, Edward Burns, Vin Diesel, Tom Sizemore, Tom Hanks, Barry Pepper

Rating R

The horrors of World War II have been portrayed in numerous films over the years, but Saving Private Ryan is definitely among the best and most shocking.

After the Allied invasion of the Normandy coast, the fateful D-Day, Cpt. John Miller is assigned to find Pvt. James Ryan, who had his three brothers killed in action. As Ryan’s whereabouts are a complete mystery, Miller and his subordinates start to question the ethics of risking their lives for one man.

Saving Private Ryan is remembered for the long sequence (23 miniates), depicting the Normandy invasion with gruesome  details.

However, the tale really begins with a senior gentleman walking across an Allied combatants’ cemetery.

In the ending, viewers are back at the same scene, as the elderly man is revealed to be Ryan. He sobs in gratitude for his fallen comrades, leading to the conclusion that, in a war, saving life, even one, is a noble and dignified goal.

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Fight Club (1999)

Release Date 1999-10-15

Director David Fincher

Cast Edward Norton, Zach Grenier, Richmond Arquette, Brad Pitt, Meat Loaf, Helena Bonham Carter

Rating R

The drama fuses nihilistic philosophies, personality disorders, and underground boxing clubs as therapy sessions.

A white-collar bloke suffers with his incurable insomnia. One day, he “meets” eccentric and cool soap salesperson Tyler Durden. Together, they start a movement that offers their followers an alternative to their mediocre existence, freeing them from the shackles of society.

As the public travels inside The Narrator and Tyler’s gun barrel, they are left in the dark, as the first “can’t think of anything to say.”

At the end, The Narrator/Tyler “still can’t think of anything” to say to The Narrator/Tyler, there is nothing left to do but watch the world’s financial system crumbles.

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Memento (2000)

Release Date 2001-05-25

Director Christopher Nolan

Cast Russ Fega, Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jorja Fox, Joe Pantoliano, Stephen Tobolowsky, Mark Boone Junior

Rating R

Memento is one of the first films based on non-linear narratives.

The movie follows Leonard Shelby, a man who suffers short-term memory losses ever since he got clubbed in the head by the men who raped and murdered his wife.

Switching between black-and-white chronological sequences and reverse color sequences, the movie gradually unveils Leonard’s story.

In Memento, the beginning and the end meet, as the two sequences are moving towards each other.

The beginning shows Leonard taking a Polaroid picture of a dead man.

As the story closes, viewers are aware that he killed the wrong guy. To cope with the grief of his deed, Leonard chooses to chase one ghost at a time, his only motivation to live.

Stream it on Prime Video

City of God (2002)

Fernando Meirelles City of God is set in the 1960s, the City of God community was one of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favelas.

Overlooked by the authorities, the community sees crime rising, with ruthless drug trafficker Zé Pequeno (or “Li’l Zé”) running the bingo. When rival gangs challenge Pequeno’s control, the favela suffers with growing violence, while its inhabitants try to carry on with their daily lives.

Chicken Chase

City of God’s opening scene is the iconic “chicken chase.”

Buscapé (or “Rocket”, the movie’s narrator) is ordered to pick up the bird, the boy is caught in the middle of a Mexican stand-off between Pequeno’s and his rival’s gang, pointing guns at one another.

As he questions “how did I end up here?” the camera performs a spin and the movie goes back in time to show how it happened.

By the end, audiences are thrown back to the same scene, now aware of all the hardships Buscapé (and the chicken) had to endure to be there.

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The Butterfly Effect (2004)

The Butterfly Effect

Release Date 2004-01-22

Director J. Mackye Gruber, Eric Bress

Cast William Lee Scott, Ashton Kutcher, Elden Henson, John Patrick Amedori, Melora Walters, Amy Smart

Rating R

Genres Sci-Fi, Thriller

“A butterfly flapping wings in one corner of the world can form a tornado in the other.” That is the general idea of the butterfly effect that gives name to the film. The story follows Evan Treborn, a college student with a history of mysterious blackouts occurred in his youth and adolescence. As he reads his old diaries, he manages to go back to crucial moments of his past. However, for every wrong he attempts to mend in the past, a twisted turn of events leads to even worse outcomes in the present/future.

The Butterfly Effect starts with Evan as a patient in a mental hospital writing a letter, promising “that was going to be his last attempt of making things right”. As the story goes, the public is taken by the same moment in the end. But now convinced, like Evan, that there is no way to stop the tornado. If the butterfly flaps its wings, there might be consequences.

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Inception (2010)

Release Date 2010-07-15

Director Christopher Nolan

Cast Ken Watanabe, Elliot Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

Rating PG-13

Genres Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Action, Adventure

The film that cemented Christopher Nolan as one of the most creative minds in Hollywood, Inception is still the subject of theories about its meaning and, especially, its conclusion.

It introduces Cobb, a con man able to access people’s minds via their dreams, stealing whatever valuable information he might possess. As Cobb dives deep into dream worlds, he starts to lose his perception of what is real.

The movie’s opening scene sees Cobb found on the shore of an island. Brought inside, he is questioned by a man who asks if Cobb is there to kill him. The viewers learn that the man is Saito, and watch the events that lead them there.

Inception concludes by going back to the same scene. But now, having a picture of what has happened, just imagining what Saito has been through (and for how long) is thrilling.

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The Two Popes (2019)

Release Date 2019-11-27

Director Fernando Meirelles

Cast Federico Torre, Thomas D Williams, Sidney Cole, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujin, Jonathan Pryce

Rating PG-13

Even though it is a fictional account, The Two Popes is based on the real-life events surrounding the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, something that had not happened for centuries. Benedict attends a meeting at the request of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, and the two clash over their fundamentally opposed views on many things. As the two grow closer, Benedict has a change of heart, and is convinced that God sent Bergoglio there for a reason: he should be the new Pope.

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Price’s performances make The Two Popes substantial.

The beginning and ending scenes are good examples. Initially, we hear Pope Francis’ voice trying to book a flight to Argentina on the phone, only to be discredited by the attendant.

The ending scene shows Francis asking the Wi-Fi password to a young Swiss Guard trooper standing outside the papal apartments, since the only way to do this booking is online.

Stream it on Netflix

The Accident (1967)

There is symmetry in sound: the film begins and ends with the echo of a crash.

The last scene ties together the feature’s plot and theme.

Citizen Kane (1941)

The “No Trespassing” sign appears in the beginning and end of the film.

The image only manages to increase the level of ambiguity: The sign reminds us that the meaning of Rosebud solves everything, and nothing.

I Confess (1951)

The film begins and ends with the killer’s confession.

The first scene time it is told in the dark, curtained confession booth (the only light comes from appointed shaft).

The last confession is told in broad daylight, at the ballroom stage of the hotel.

Stage Fright (1950)

The credits roll against a theatrical safety curtain, and in the end, the safety curtain fall upon Jonathan.

In both cases, Eve is the one who moves the action forward.

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