"And then, I died..."
—Serge, Radical Dreamers
Occasionally, in watching a show or film that features a narration in voice over, you find that the narration is not because the writers got too lazy to show what's happening, but because they want to present you with the odd phenomenon of a deceased character telling you the story. There's no explanation given for why or how this character can tell the story in question, or whom he's telling it to; we don't see him (assuming it's him) as a ghost, or as a character writing or speaking his last words. He's just a very talkative voice that happens to belong to a character who doesn't survive the movie.
Narrating the events leading up to their death
Anime and Manga
- Grave of the Fireflies. "September 21st, 1945... That was the night I died."
- Samurai Jack: X-9 in the Tale of X-9 Film-noir episode.
- At the beginning of Bokurano one of the characters is monologuing, presumably having seen the events of the series already. The character is Waku, who died in the second episode.
- A few Sin City stories do this.
- The narrator of the film American Beauty, who comes right out and tells us that we're going to see him die at some point.
- Sunset Boulevard actually starts with William Holden's death; he tells us his story in Flash Back.
- In Bruges, possibly. It's intentionally not left very clear whether the main character lives or dies, last we see him his is in critical condition begging in narration to live, while everything goes black...
- Interesting variation in the film Casino. Joe Pesci's character narrates much of the film - not aware that his character is going to get whacked - and the second his character does, the narration gags violently and ends - leaving the audience wondering just who the hell he was talking to.
- Also subverted: The main character is shown dying in a car bomb at the start of the film, but it is later discovered that he escaped with his life.
- Another interesting variation in the movie Fallen; the narrator isn't dead, but he is Not Himself.
- Also from Brazil, the movie Redentor - though you don't know the protagonist is dead in the first scene, only when the narrative eventually reaches that scene. Considering his ghost emerges from his body shortly later, it avoids the "no explanation given" part.
- Both Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson's characters from The Bucket List.
- Danny Devito's character from L.A. Confidential.
- Double Indemnity is narrated from Walter Huff/Neff's Apocalyptic Log.
- Tie-in novel Halo: The Flood features this, mainly as a way for the reader to get information about a battle that no one actually survived.
- The whole point, played for laughs, of Shel Silverstein's poem "True Story."
- In Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant series, which is presented as being the title character's memoirs edited for publication by his daughter, the final chapter of the last book rather unexpectedly ends with his death, which he narrates in detail. This is followed by an afterword by the daughter, which is mostly a Where Are They Now? Epilogue but also explains that he did write most of the memoir while he was alive, leaving it off just before he embarked on the journey on which he died, and that after she began editing the manuscript, she found the final chapter on her desk one morning, rather spookily written in her own handwriting...
- The Brazilian novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (also known in English as Epitaph of a Small Winner) by Machado de Assis, which the protagonist opens by dedicating "to the first worm who eats my corpse". (and in the trend set by Pride and Prejudice And Zombies, received the version Undead Memoirs of Brás Cubas)
- In The Book Of Skulls by Robert Silverberg, two of the four narrators are dead by the end of the story, yet they still narrate the events leading up to their death, leaving the reader wondering who it is to whom they were actually talking.* A Russian book "We were executed in 1942" is narrated from the point of Soviet soldiers who were executed in 1942.
- In Nick Perumov's books, most of the narrating charachters die later in the book.
- Subverted in the Doctor Who 2-part season finale "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday": Rose Tyler begins each part saying "This is the story of how I died"...only it turns out she was merely trapped in a parallel universe while being declared dead in her own. Since she is separated from the Doctor forever though, this could have more than one meaning...
- Played straight in the final episode of Doctor Who Confidential, in a section called "River Song's Story" - River Song sums up the events of her life in the order she experiences them, as opposed to the order the viewers saw them, up to and including her death. Justified in that her consciousness was subsequently saved in a computer, and it's that version of her narrating the story, post-"Forest of the Dead". We see her telling the end of the story at the end of that episode.
- Subverted in an episode of the sitcom Wings. An episode opens with Joe face down in a pool in a shot intentionally reminiscent of the opening of Sunset Boulevard, with a voiceover from Joe telling us that he's going to show us how he got there. At the end of the episode (Part I of a two-parter where Joe leaves Sandpiper Air and Brian, Lowell and Helen have to figure out how to track him down and convince him to come back) it's revealed that he was face down in the pool because he was setting a new breath-holding record at a wild party.
- Sore Thumbs lampshades it in one story arc, which has a narrator who tells us up front that he's dead and talking to us from Heaven. We never found out which character he was, and everybody who wasn't a main character wound up dead.
- The American Dad episode "Star Trek" (nothing to do with the show, for once) starts in the Noir style with Steve lying facedown in a pool of cherry jello. Steve narrates how he became an accomplished children's book writer by writing a book making fun of Roger. He gets everything he wants, including a giant mansion and a pool of jello. There's also a movie that is going to be filmed based on his book. Then it turns out that the person in the pool was actually an actor who was supposed to be playing Steve in the movie accidentally killed by Roger (he wanted to kill Steve). The episode ends with Stan helping Steve dump the body in a lake. Steve admits this was "kind of a screw to the audience" and apologizes for it.
Narrating the events following their death
- Simon, the Sacrificial Lamb in Gear, gets a brief monologue after he dies. Interestingly, the comic shows far more of his personality here than it did when he was alive.
- In The Grey Zone the girl who survived the gas chamber and was executed narrates the results of the Auschwitz uprising.
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the ending monologue is given by Spock after his death. Of course, what the audience doesn't know is that he's Only Mostly Dead.
- In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Galapagos, the entire story is narrated a million years after the fact by the ghost of someone who died back in 1986.
- Rachel in the final Animorphs book, which was a little weird because the books had previously emphasized the Direct Line to the Author trope, and there wasn't an explanation for how she could continue to record her thoughts as she died on an enemy spaceship.
- Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones, who also does a little narration before her death.
- In Douglas Coupland's novel Girlfriend In A Coma, Jared - who died of cancer while still in his teens - is the narrator for most of the book, although Richard narrates most of the first part.
- Mary-Alice Young, the narrator of Desperate Housewives, died in the opening of the pilot episode.
- The Strangerhood explicitly parodied this:
Wade: But didn't you, like, die and stuff in the last episode?
- The song "Passage" by Vienna Teng is told from the point of view of a young woman killed in a car accident as she describes moments from the lives of her loved ones as they move on.
- Martin Septim in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Made more weird by the fact that he turned into a dragon.
- In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Honest Hearts, Jed Masterson also does the closing narration, even though he died at the very start of the tale.
- This can also happen with various major characters in the main game and all DLC. If they die, of course.
- Stinkmeaner from The Boondocks narrates several times throughout "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy", even interrupting Huey at one point.
Narrating the events both before and after their death
Anime and Manga
- In Death Note, L does this in the opening to the second Re-Light Special: "L's Successors".
- Played with in the same special with Watari. He shows up during these segments, but he merely acts as an announcer/human title card. He does not talk about his own death or any other events of the film.
- Well, you can say that in a way, Kirie Goshima of Uzumaki isn't really dead...
- In Windaria, the story begins at Alan's funeral and is told by him after his soul has left his body.
- Ed in one of the "Plot-Hole" featurettes on the Shaun of the Dead DVD. He gives voice-over narration about how he died and turned into a zombie, but he speaks articulately. He doesn't grunt incomprehensibly like his zombie form does at the end of the actual movie.
- In The Bucket List, the opening narration makes it look like Carter outlives Edward. It's actually the other way around.
- In the Russian film Zvezda (The Star), the captain who sent titular scout unit to their deaths narrates the result of their sacrifice at the end of the film. Then he mentions that he also died later in the war.
- The main action of the much-maligned public information film Apaches is intercut with scenes of preparation for a tea party, commented on by the film’s young narrator, Danny. At the end, the party is revealed to be Danny’s funeral wake. "I wish I was there... honest."
- Bibi Chen in Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. She mostly narrates the events after her death, but also flashbacks to her childhood and events some time before her death. She doesn't get around to narrating her own death until the very end of the book, because she herself has no idea how she died.
- The Dresden Files is always narrated from the first person, so in Ghost Story which takes place after Harry's death in Changes, Harry Dresden narrates it while dead as a ghost. He's revived.
- In a Poem Within A Book example, "The Legion's Pride", recited by a soldier in A Study In Sorcery, is couched as a posthumous declaration by another Anglo-French soldier, who'd died during a peacekeeping mission to avert conflict between rival German baronies.
- In an oddly justified example, the story of The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian is told by "the recording angel," a being required to observe and record in exact detail The End of the World as We Know It and the life of a woman (our protagonist) who will play a key role in it, from her birth to her death. Said recording angel just happens to be what is left of the main protagonist's older brother, who committed suicide as a teenager, several years before the events of the book. In the midst of the story, he occasionally cuts back to a childhood memory of himself and the protagonist, although he never refers to the brother in the first person in these scenes.
- The prologue of the first book of the Magnus Chase series "The Sword of Summer" has Magnus explain to the readers that they are going to read how Magnus died in agony.(which happens in the second chapter if this troper remembers correctly) the rest of the book and the sequel books involve him going on adventures through the nine realms and battling various Monsters, going up against various gods, competeing in war games in Vahalla and preventing Ragnarok.
- The episode "Random Shoes" from Torchwood does exactly this, with the events after Eugene's death being narrated by Eugene as they are figured out in the present. Massively confusing, but very interesting.
- The murder victims in every episode of The Forgotten.
- Augustus Hill in Oz does his odd narrations throughout the series. He's killed in the Season 5 finale.
- The Investigation Discovery series "Stolen Voices, Buried Secrets" uses this as its basic premise: each episode has the victim of a Real Life crime narrating the circumstances surrounding their murder.
- The Barenaked Ladies song "Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel". Just think about that title for a minute.
- The song Long Black Veil, originally by Lefty Frizzell, has the singer telling how he came to be hanged, and why a woman secretly mourns for him.
- The first-person character in the song "The Thing" by Phil Harris describes the events of his life after he discovers the never-identified object on a beach one day, and what happens after he dies and tries to enter Heaven with the Thing still in his possession.
- In Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, Musa's roommate Abdallah died in a ferry accident during his pilgrimage to Mecca, and narrates during scene transitions.
- In Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, the rescued Empress of Time is the narrator and dies at the end of the tutorial section of the game. Given her mystical nature as the incarnation of Time, it is at least partially justified.
- In Age of Empires II's Joan of Arc campaign, the main narrator is a French nobleman. In the last mission, where he can be controlled as a hero unit, he states the possibility that he could die in the battle, and if he is killed, he says "It is here... that my tale shall end." After the player wins the mission, he continues narrating regardless of whether he survives or dies, and refers to Joan's being canonized as a saint, which happened in 1920, long after he died.
- "My name is Doctor Edward Roivas. I am a clinical psychologist. I am also dead."
- In Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations, the narrator is Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Third Hokage, who died fairly early on in the series. He talks about his own funeral too.
- In Tangled, Flynn Rider starts out narrating the film with "This is the story of how I died." He did. But he got better.