Screenwriter Christopher McBride in 2012 unexpectedly announced himself with the quasi-documentary conspiracy thriller-investigation “Conspiracy”, in which he proved the existence of a mysterious powerful organization that rules the world.
Seven years later, he directed the fantasy thriller Flashback, which explores the influence of the past on the present. The problem is that the past can be fictional, and the present turns out to be too real.
As in the case of “Donnie Darko” ( Donnie Darko ). it is quite difficult for an unprepared person to understand what actually happened in the film, and what is only in the head (memories and fantasies) of the protagonist. If you have already watched the movie, but still have a lot of questions, read the detailed description, analysis and explanation of the plot and ending. Beware, there are spoilers in the text!
What movie Flashback about
The fantastic thriller Flashback begins with the fact that we are shown the everyday life of a completely successful and accomplished young man, Fred Fitzell. He will soon marry his beloved girl, and with her he will move to a new beautiful and modern apartment. In addition, Frederick gets an analyst position in a large company. It would seem that life is a success and a cloudless future awaits the protagonist.
There is only one problem that does not allow Fred to live in peace. The protagonist’s mother is rapidly losing her memory due to an unnamed disease that affects the nervous system and neural connections of the brain. She hardly recognizes her son and the doctors see no prerequisites for improving the situation with her health. Fred directly asks how long his mother has left to live and if there is a chance to cure her, but the doctor only shrugged. And he claims that human memory is probably stored somewhere inside the brain, which scientists have not yet explored so far.
But the situation changes dramatically after one day Fred decides to bypass the traffic jam and cut the road to work through a detour. The protagonist realizes that he is breaking the rules, but he is in too much of a hurry. And then, deviating from the laid course, Frederick suddenly derails his life. A chance encounter with a disfigured drifter muttering nonsense makes him think of Cindy Williams.
Cindy is a girl that Fred knew a long time ago when he was in his senior year. Fred barely remembers that Cindy was his classmate in high school. But he doesn’t remember what happened to her. She seems to have disappeared and never completed her studies. And then the main character is looking for his old school album and notices that Cindy’s photo is painted over in black. Looks like someone didn’t want him to remember her.
Fred becomes possessed and forgets about his current life in an attempt to regain his memory. He is looking for old “friends” and remembers a mysterious substance – the drug of Mercury, which few people know about. The drug of unknown origin had a rather strange effect on the psyche and even in the most resistant people caused a loss of orientation in space and time.
Gradually, Fred not only restores the chain of events that led to truly catastrophic consequences due to the use of Mercury (especially in its pure form), but also systematically destroys his life, sliding to the bottom. He learns more and more about his relationship with Cindy. He remembers how his mother – Mrs. Fitzell – gradually lost her memory and mind. And also the main character finds out what Mercury is. And no, it’s actually not a drug, but an experimental drug designed to modify the human body.
Gradually, finding out the truth about Cindy, Merck and his place in history, Frederick Fitzell increasingly begins to doubt the reality of his current – prosperous – life and ceases to pay attention to others. As a result, the search for truth ends for Fred with an almost divine revelation. But at the same time, he loses his family – the woman he loves leaves him, he is fired from work due to systematic absenteeism and psychosis, and his mother dies.
And then, when he does find Cindy, it turns out that in fact it was not so. Fred learns that time is non-linear and people can exist in parallel in multiple realities generated by every second choices. And be aware of everything that happens at the same time, as if stratifying into all possible lives.
In what order do the events in Flashback actually take place? What is real and what is not?
It is worth assuming that the main reality in The Choice of Frederick Fitzell (Flashback) consists of exactly the events that the director and screenwriter Christopher McBride shows at the very beginning of the film. It is the “successful” version of Fred that should be considered as the main one – therefore, the course of events is determined by his actions.
On the threshold of his thirtieth birthday, Fred Fitzell begins to doubt the correctness of his choices in the past. Yes, it seems that everything in his life is good. But the main character, it seems, is bored to live in such a simple and predictable way. In addition, Fred’s morale is noticeably shaken by his mother’s illness, which cannot be cured. And gradually, the illness of a loved one and a loved one breaks the calm and understandable reality of the protagonist.
Deviations from the main storyline begin only in those moments when Fred remembers his youth – school student years. And also when Merck takes. The first flashback visits the protagonist after he breaks traffic rules to get to work in time. Fred deviates from a pre-planned route, meets an ugly tramp, and memories cover him. And a little later he comes to his senses stunned and shocked.
The second flashback covers Fred at night – when he can’t sleep in bed with his fiancee Karen. It may seem that this episode is not so important. But what it really illustrates is the simple idea that Frederic becomes obsessed with finding the truth that is stored deep in his subconscious. And that’s when he fanatically begins to resurrect repressed traumatic memories from his teenage past.
But the main proof that the “successful Fred” version is the main one is almost at the very end. At the end of The Choice of Frederick Fitzell, we are shown the protagonist having a nervous breakdown during a presentation for which he was not prepared. And let everything go wrong and he is fired (in one version of events), then he teleports to a relatively safe point that preceded the disaster. The meeting has not yet begun, although Fred’s boss – Evelyn – looks sternly and displeasedly at him, now an unreliable employee. It turns out that individual scenes in the film are not reality and not possible variants of events, but simply conjectures of the protagonist. Fred is just fantasizing about what might have happened if he had done this and not otherwise.
Although it is possible that the true meaning of what is shown in the other. Fred Fitzell may be one of the rare lucky ones to get Mercury right and take control of their lives. More precisely, all variations of their lives. And in this case, the essence is this: Frederick could simply learn to rewind his individual time forward or backward – in order to correct individual reality.
In addition, it is important to take into account the fact that Fred’s past is also plastic and can change over the course of the story. We were shown several times in the film that the main character does not just remember new details of the past – he can also correct it. And this detail gives the freedom to interpret what is shown as you like. For example, Fred-from-the-past may be the only real main character – and then his successful present is just one of the options. It is possible that Fred can change his memories on the spur of the moment – depending on how he feels here and now. But even such a theory has the right to life: the main character moves freely in the branching chronological flow of his life and changes any details in an arbitrary order.
What is the “Aggressive Life Form” that is affecting Frederick Fitzell’s life, really?
The most interesting thing about Frederick Fitzell’s search for the truth is the moment when he reminisces about taking pure Mercury. And he learned not only the truth about the origin of the drug (which, as it turned out in the film, was never a drug), but also about the wrong side of reality. The meaning of the plot of “Flashback” is as follows: everything that happens in a person’s life – both good and bad – is controlled by some kind of aggressive life form.
What is an “aggressive life form” (aka “invasive” or “parasitic”)? The Scarred Man describes her thus:
You are not free to choose the system of perception of reality. This system was given initially. Numbers, our language, color. form is a misinterpretation of the information around you. The interpretation has been imposed on you by the life form. She’s trying to control your mind. The substance you have taken temporarily neutralizes the influence of the invasive life form. This form of life makes you perceive information as it is inherent in itself – linearly. Accept choice as an inevitable outcome. She inspires you with this outcome – thereby dictating a decision and depriving you of any choice. In order to achieve her goal, she makes you believe in one of the greatest illusions – time.
When Fred Fitzell discovers Cindy, who has always and in all realities and times been waiting for him in the same place, he is transported to the past. Recovers after taking Mercury – among the future Scar-Man and his followers. And then, in a timeless monologue, the author of the film, Christopher McBride, unexpectedly hints to us that the plot of the Flashback may be based on an alien invasion of unknown creatures that have enslaved humanity.
The Scarred Man claims that people have been forced into the illusion of time and the fear of making the wrong choice. Although, following the logic of the film, a person is a multidimensional being, living simultaneously not only in the past, present and future, but also in all possible versions of reality. It is no secret that any choices and actions change the individual chronological flows of people – lives, destinies. But if you believe the idea at the heart of McBride’s cinema, initially people could exist everywhere and at once, in all variations of their lives. It turns out that a person was originally immortal and almost omnipotent, but then someone or something (aliens or the devil – it doesn’t matter) drove / drove people into a clear and planned system of predetermined events.
It is possible that Christopher McBride built the plot of “Flashback” on the basis of a simulation (virtual or mental – it does not matter). You can fantasize about the topic as much as you like, but it’s easier to start from the images, metaphors and facts shown in the film.
In the second half, we are repeatedly made to understand that one of the most important factors in Fred Fitzell’s life is the unresolved conflict with his terminally ill mother. In addition, during periods of emotional and mental instability, the protagonist is haunted by a frightening vision of a blurry mouth. You can decide that this is an ordinary hallucination. Well, or to assume that this universe is trying to swallow a young timeless rebel. The wide-open mouth haunts Fred during conflicts with the boss, conversations with the teacher, and also during the flight from the police. It is reasonable to assume that vision provokes stress.
But actually Chris McBride gives us a clear answer. The mouth is an old childhood memory of Fred, who saw and remembered the scream of a frightened mother in infancy. At the very end of the film, we are shown that Frederic, lost and degraded from his years of travel with Cindy and Mercury, visits his mother in the hospital shortly before his death. And Mrs. Fitzell tries to say something, but she can barely move her mouth. And then the main character realizes that the hallucination of a giant mouth chasing him through the years and space is the cry of his mother, which he heard in early childhood.
When Fred was very young, he, like all children, was looking for adventure and explored the world around him with curiosity. And as a result, something bad happened to him. The mother was frightened, screamed, and thus inflicted even deeper psychological trauma on the baby. And this event, perhaps, drove him into the very framework that the Scarred Man spoke about: the mother’s fear forever weaned Fred from taking risks, and as a result, he began to live a simple and comfortable life, could not realize his dreams and was forever mired in routine.
And the meaning of the plot is precisely in that very conflict: between an interesting and eventful life and a comfortable, but everyday and measured existence. In short, the conflict of young rebels and ordinary middle-aged inhabitants.
So specifically for Frederick Fitzell, the very sinister invasive life form that prevents you from going in the desired direction was the childhood memory of the mother. And a minor event that forever weaned him from taking risks.
What was actually shown at the end of the film “Flashback” and how to understand the ending? What really happened in Flashback?
At the end of The Choice of Frederick Fitzell, we are shown that the main character has decided to completely leave his prosperous, but such an illusory life. After a conflict in the meeting room, Fred moves to his desk, but after teleporting, he runs away from the meeting. He returns to the same abandoned building and learns that Cindy Williams has been waiting for him all these years in the very place where he first tasted the real Mercury.
Some time passes – we don’t know exactly how long. Maybe days, weeks or years. Fred and Cindy live in the slums – they use Mercury and travel to different times and realities … But in fact, like ordinary drug addicts, they just kill themselves and waste time senselessly. But they mistakenly imagine themselves as fighters against the system. And in fact, they do not fight the illusion, but sink deeper and deeper into it.
In one of the realities, Fred is a famous artist who lives with Cindy in a beautiful house. In another version of his life, he travels with his girlfriend through the desert. Then he again falls into the past – and remembers how, as a child, he broke a porcelain figurine, which meant a lot to his mother. Then he goes to the hospital and is again covered by childhood trauma.
Fred is about to leave, but his mother’s voice stops him – she calls him by name. It turns out that despite her illness, Mrs. Fitzell remembers and recognizes her son. And this shocks Fred. And then, in cutting shots, he realizes that in fact the mother did not scream at him as a child – she was just afraid that something terrible and irreparable could happen to the child. And then Frederick not only accepts his past, but also gets rid of the burden that has weighed on him all the past years. Now the main character remembers the best moments of his life.
The climax is the moment of truth. Frederic understands that although Mercury gives him access to endless options for the past, present and future, knowledge does not make him happy. And Fred decides to stop – you can even decide that the film all this time was a metaphorical and capacious statement about the dangers of drugs. For the most part, it is – if we discard reflections on fate and freedom of choice.
Fred decides to stop any communication with Cindy – the main character is rapidly growing up, takes responsibility for his actions and chooses a calm and comfortable predictable life instead of rebellion and anarchy. He permanently closes the door to alternative lives for himself and stops taking Merck. He puts his current reality in order: he returns to work and to the bride again.
In addition, he finds a way to completely break the destructive and oppressive relationship with Cindy – Fred simply rewrites his past. The scene repeats again, but it changes: if in the first version, Fred and Cindy just exchanged glances at school, then in the second version they ran away from class together. In the third iteration of events, Fred remains in place, they exchange smiles with Cindy, then the girl leaves forever. Including from his life.
It is not completely clear what is happening to Frederick – whether he is actually changing his past or simply erasing or modifying memories of past events. But the bottom line is that he constantly makes a choice, and does not run away from circumstances.
The final scene of the ending does put an end to the story. Frederick’s mother dies quietly in her sleep while he visits her. And Fred himself recalls how, as a child, he tried to crawl out of the safe children’s room and waited for the moment when Mrs. Fitzell lost her vigilance. At the very end, the main character also corrects this event or memory – he does not go into the darkness in search of adventure, but returns back to his mother. Thus, he erases past traumatic experiences from reality and chooses a quiet life with his wife Karen. And becomes a father.
It turns out that the whole movie Flashback was one big metaphor for growing up. And a story about the importance of choice. And also about the fact that the opportunities that were lost and remained in the past could not necessarily be better than the option that exists here and now.