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Spoiler filter - novels/scripts where the protagonist was in a coma/dead
January 18, 2013 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Spoiler filter - novels/scripts where the protagonist was in a coma/dead (etc) the whole time?

This ask is obviously SPOILER HEAVY for any and all novels, films, tv shows etc the whole way through - fair warning!

I'm looking for any works of long-form fiction where the protagonist or majority of the action action turned out to be within a coma or some kind of "personal internal world" around or post-death.

I know this is a relatively common trope and I'm hoping to subvert that slightly in something I'm currently producing, but to do so I need to be sure I'm not retreading the exact same ground as other works.

A prominent example from recent years would be LOST, an earlier one would be Jacob's Ladder. But what else?
posted by tzb to Society & Culture (46 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Iain Banks' The Bridge, I dare say.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:37 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.
posted by kimdog at 12:40 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Sixth Sense
posted by scody at 12:41 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


One subversion - "He was alive the whole time" - is The Eye, by Vladimir Nabokov.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:42 PM on January 18, 2013


TV Tropes has you covered.
posted by jbickers at 12:44 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Passage by Connie Willis (not the whole time, though).
posted by Kriesa at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


As usual, TVTropes provides: Dead All Along.
posted by maqsarian at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The excellent UK TV series Life On Mars and its follow up, Ashes To Ashes.
posted by fearnothing at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dennis Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The classic source for this is An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
posted by googly at 12:46 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and a somewhat trash teen novel that I read and reread in middle school, Remember Me by Christopher Pike.
posted by Kriesa at 12:48 PM on January 18, 2013


Maybe I'm confused - how does LOST pertain to your question?
posted by peep at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2013


I think it's a fever or something rather than a coma, but Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh might fit the bill.
posted by col_pogo at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2013


Ubik. Probably the best one.
posted by rr at 12:55 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Would Reversal of Fortune count? It's narrated by the comatose Sunny Von Bulow.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:57 PM on January 18, 2013


Maybe I'm confused - how does LOST pertain to your question?

There was a flash-sideways alternate continuity in the final season of LOST which was presented as though it were a parallel universe; it turned out to be the afterlives of all the characters, after they had lived their lives as presented in the main storyline. So they weren't dead for the entire show, but they were dead for a big part of the last season.

Another example might be Brazil, in which the main character spends the film's final act in a torture-induced dream state, but we don't find this out until the very end.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:58 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


peep - the flash-sideways reality was all precursor to them entering the afterlife, as in a kind of purgatory. They were dead, there, the whole time.

Edit - FAMOUS MONSTER beat me to it!
posted by tzb at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2013


Source Code.
posted by JDC8 at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gene Wolfe's Peace.
posted by dfan at 1:09 PM on January 18, 2013


The Third Policeman (which might explain why LOST made mention of it, and is responsible for a large chunk of its recent sales).
posted by scruss at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2013


Ah, I see. I thinking strictly of dead the WHOLE time, and thought, "wait . . ."
posted by peep at 1:17 PM on January 18, 2013


Going Bovine
posted by lampoil at 1:45 PM on January 18, 2013


I believe Vanilla Sky follows this (it's been a while since I've seen it) and the TV Tropes page doesn't list it.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 1:46 PM on January 18, 2013


I believe Vanilla Sky follows this (it's been a while since I've seen it) and the TV Tropes page doesn't list it.

Yes, and it is a (bloated) remake of the phenomenal Spanish film Open Your Eyes.
posted by eugenen at 1:48 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is only movie in which I literally gasped and covered my mouth with my hands, an experience that will be denied to you if you read on for my spoiler:


The Others. A war widow lives with her photophobic children in a spooky mansion she believes is haunted. At the end, we learn she and her children died before the start of the movie, and the "ghost" is a medium who's been trying to exorcise the house.
posted by hhc5 at 1:48 PM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Quasi-jinx: Both Open Your Eyes and The Others were written and directed by the same guy, Alejandro Amenabar.
posted by eugenen at 1:51 PM on January 18, 2013


BBC Radio 4 did a (very dark) sitcom a couple of years ago starring Neil Pearson, called Vent, in which the main character was in a coma following a car accident.
posted by meronym at 1:57 PM on January 18, 2013


One of my favorite albums - The Human Equation - is the story of a man in a coma.

I recommend listening to it with the lyrics in front of you, so you can tell who is singing each line.
posted by areodjarekput at 1:58 PM on January 18, 2013


I honestly can't believe that no one has mentioned Girlfriend in a Coma. I mean, it's right there in the title!
posted by smoke at 2:04 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's a fever or something rather than a coma, but Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh might fit the bill.

No, definitely a coma.
posted by afx237vi at 2:10 PM on January 18, 2013


Alex Garland's The Coma
posted by mannequito at 2:15 PM on January 18, 2013


Carnival of Souls
posted by timsneezed at 2:40 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


"The Cell," a Jennifer Lopez movie directed by Tarsem [Singh], about a researcher who enters the mind of a captured but comatose killer in order to locate his captive victims. As usual with Tarsem movies, the movie is a series of astonishing visuals sewn together by a thready plot. Doesn't mean it's not worth seeing.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:05 PM on January 18, 2013


I'm pretty sure that the protagonist of Gene Wolfes' The Knight/The Wizard has died before the start of the novel.
Large chunks of The Separation by Christopher Priest fit as well.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:08 PM on January 18, 2013


Short-lived 1999 series "Harsh Realm," created by Chris Carter after he was thoroughly rolling in X-Files/Millennium dough, featured D.B. Sweeney as a soldier drafted to enter "Harsh Realm," a military-funded virtual reality scenario (mind -> computer game) which had somehow been taken over from the inside, leaving hundreds of military personnel trapped in the game, while in the real world they were effectively comatose and being medically supported. As with all such virtual realities, if you die in the game, you die in the real world. So the protagonist is locked into an induced coma in the first episode, and thereafter all characters are also effectively comatose.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:08 PM on January 18, 2013


Oh, the main character in Gene Wolfe's Book of the Short Sun is dead as well.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:11 PM on January 18, 2013


This idea is also toyed with in "Inception."
posted by Sunburnt at 4:13 PM on January 18, 2013


Quantum Leap might almost count?
posted by attercoppe at 5:34 PM on January 18, 2013


There's a short story by Stephen King called "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French" that fits this category. It's in his anthology Everything's Eventual.
posted by southern_sky at 6:00 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


One lesser known example was the Canadian children's series the Odyssey, which filmed in the 90s. A notable difference here is that it wasn't a twist. We see hero Jay fall into a coma in the first episode. Afterwards, he descends into "Downworld," which is the realm of his subconscious, a world where no one is over 16 years old. In the absence of adults, the kids--some of which are avatars of people from Jay's real life--form complex clubs. It's a dystopian police state which is ruled by Jay's vanished father, and is closer to magical realism than most other children's works. We also see parallel storylines about Jay's mom and friends coping with his coma and trying to draw him out of it. Eventually, Jay wakes up, but the Downworld still exists for him as a way to work through his trauma.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:14 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not immediately clear within the text of the movie just because it's so completely weird, but David Lynch's Lost Highway follows this plot structure.
posted by KatlaDragon at 4:11 AM on January 19, 2013


The great Sunset Boulevard is narrated by the already-dead Joe Gillis (William Holden).
posted by jrchaplin at 6:43 AM on January 19, 2013


Jacob's Ladder
posted by Gungho at 11:30 AM on January 19, 2013


The obvious classic example is The Wizard of Oz -- the 1939 movie version, not the books. The entire Technicolor over-the-rainbow part turns out to be just a pink-pages coma fantasy.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:12 PM on January 19, 2013


(TVTropes: All Just A Dream)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:16 PM on January 19, 2013


Pincher Martin. Sort of.
posted by Grangousier at 2:04 PM on January 21, 2013


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