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October 27, 2008 12:10 PM   Subscribe

What are some vivid examples of nostalgia in film and literature?

Specifically, I'm looking for descriptions or depictions of someone nostalgically remembering their past. This could be a fictional character, a real person in a biography or memoir, or the narrator of a poem.

I've used the phrase "nostalgically remembering" at the risk of sounding redundant, in order to clarify that I'm not after films and books that are just "nostalgic" in the sense that they're about happy childhoods. What I need are depictions of the process of remembering itself. (So, for example, the fact that "The Remains of the Day" is a period piece doesn't suffice to make it nostalgic in my sense...contrast this with "Wild Strawberries," which also depicts a longing for the fin-de-siecle, but is about the protagonist longing for it.)

The more acute the longing, the better!
posted by Beardman to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Casablanca contains a lot of what you seem to be looking for.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust, fits this well.
posted by amicamentis at 12:26 PM on October 27, 2008

posted by pkphy39 at 12:28 PM on October 27, 2008

Off the top of my head:

Brideshead Revisited
House Of D
Simon Birch
(the book it was based on was MUCH, much better, though)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:41 PM on October 27, 2008

Never Let Me Go, by the same author as Remains of the Day.

Basically it's about a rather lonely young woman looking back on her time at boarding school and remembering her childhood friends. There's quite a lot about the process of remembering and how her memories sustain her.

In one passage she's talking about her schooldays to somebody who had a terrible childhood and she realises they're trying to co-opt her memories to deal with their own traumatic past. They listen to her stories so they can insert themselves and pretend they had a childhood as idyllic as hers.

There's much more to it, which I can't go into without spoiling the story, but suffice to say it's a heart-breaking and beautiful book about how memories form and change and play tricks on us. The story's a bit like that itself. Even the title has a double meaning.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:45 PM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
posted by susanvance at 12:54 PM on October 27, 2008

Summer Interlude is about a ballerina recalling moments she spent during a summer in her youth. A brilliant film.
posted by fire&wings at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2008

How about The Wonder Years.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:16 PM on October 27, 2008

'A Soldier of the Great War' - Mark Helprin.

'Love in the Time of Cholera' - Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Actually a lot of his works are pretty nostalgic.

Seconding 'Never Let Me Go'. Just a fine book all the way around.

Stand By Me.

Fried Green Tomatoes. The book is better but the film is excellent. Very well done.

A bit more esoteric would be the short story 'The Spider Glass" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro in which a two millenia old vampire hears a tale of his own impact on mortal life years before. I think it may have won a Sci-Fi or Fantasy award.
posted by elendil71 at 1:16 PM on October 27, 2008

Cinema Paradiso
posted by jammy at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2008

Citizen Kane FTW.
posted by neuron at 3:19 PM on October 27, 2008

A selection of good films that have nostalgia as a key component:

Wild Strawberries

Millennium Actress


That Championship Season

And of course, Nostalghia
posted by mr.grum at 3:20 PM on October 27, 2008

Sorry, the Wild Strawberries link was obviously redundant...

btw, while not a film about nostalgic remembrance, Passage to Marseilles, made by the same people who made Casablanca minus Ingrid, has an awesome flashback within a flashback within a flashback within a flashback structure. Remembering about remembering about, well, you get the idea...
posted by mr.grum at 3:29 PM on October 27, 2008

Drat, I also wanted to mention the marvelous A Sunday in the Country, a film in a similar vein to Wild Strawberries
posted by mr.grum at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2008

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
posted by acro at 4:02 PM on October 27, 2008

You absolutely must read Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.
posted by carsonb at 5:30 PM on October 27, 2008

From Amazon's review:
A sixty-ish Milanese antiquarian bookseller nicknamed Yambo suffers a stroke and loses his memory of everything but the words he has read: poems, scenes from novels, miscellaneous quotations. His wife Paola fills in the bare essentials of his family history, but in order to trigger original memories, Yambo retreats alone to his ancestral home at Solara, a large country house with an improbably intact collection of family papers, books, gramophone records, and photographs. The house is a museum of Yambo's childhood, conventiently empty of people, except of course for one old family servant with a long memory--an apt metaphor for the mind. Yambo submerges himself in these artifacts, rereading almost everything he read as a school boy, blazing a meandering, sometimes misguided, often enchanting trail of words. Flares of recognition do come, like "mysterious flames," but these only signal that Yambo remembers something; they do not return that memory to him. It is like being handed a wrapped package, the contents of which he can only guess.
posted by carsonb at 5:31 PM on October 27, 2008

Fellini's Amarcord.
posted by gteffertz at 6:04 PM on October 27, 2008

How about Nostalghia?
posted by Wolof at 6:23 PM on October 27, 2008

Absolutely, Brideshead Revisited. But just to be clear, since EmpressCallipygos wasn't, that's the book, not the movie. At most, if you must have your nostalgia visual, the mini-series. But do not watch the movie.

Also, due to the structure of the book, the nostalgia gets even worse the second time through. Read twice. (at least)
posted by felix grundy at 6:34 PM on October 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everybody--there are plenty in here I hadn't heard of. Please keep 'em coming!
posted by Beardman at 6:56 PM on October 27, 2008

Definitely seconding Cinema Paradiso. Radio Days maybe?
posted by Mael Oui at 8:28 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Totally tongue in cheek of course but I believe Charlton Heston in Wayne's World is fits the bill.
posted by TwoWordReview at 9:16 PM on October 27, 2008

After thinking about this some more, I remembered a few other films that might be of some use to you.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Beautifully illustrates a man who is unaware that he is living in the past. It shows his confusions and desires very well, particularly in contrast to a comrade who lacks his illusions.

Strange Days A futuristic tale where memories can be physically recorded and transferred and replayed. Quite interesting at times.

Solaris (also the book by Stanislaw Lem, or, if nothing else, the Soderbergh remake) A brilliant film "about" memory and its effect shown in a science fiction framework that helps visualize the concepts.

Vertigo The great Hitchcock film about desiring the past. Or even more to the point;
Sans Soleil The Chris Marker film that references Vertigo amongst other things in its examination of memory.

The Singing Detective Is another interesting visualization of memory told in an offbeat form.

Of Time and the City Is a more personal take on the subject by Terrence Davies whose Distant Voices, Still Lives is, along with the earlier mentioned Limelight, the very embodiment of filmed nostalgia.

Brand Upon the Brain
Is Guy Maddin's highly stylized take on his childhood, filled with fascinating images definitely more of a symbolic psychological take than a literal look back.

All That Jazz, Lola Montes, Household Saints, Sophie's Choice and Persepolis all are told in flashback and have some interesting and important moments of visualizing the intensity of memory and the pain or longing it can create, but otherwise may not be entirely what you're looking for.

Broken Flowers and High Fidelity share the theme of actively trying to track down the past, using memory as the impetus to discovering or understanding the present, thus in some ways acting out literally what the mind seeks in looking towards the past.

The Story of Adele H.
While not about nostalgia exactly, is shows a woman who clings so tightly to a particular space in time that she becomes unhinged in her obsession. Suggesting a correlation to the idea of nostalgia but played out in a different context.

And lastly, Mulholland Drive, Zigeunerweisen
, Spider and A Tale of Two Sisters Films that seem to be attempting to visualize the strange mix of dreams or nightmares and their intersection with memories and fantasies. Definitely not nostalgia per se, but powerful. "Horror" movies often have more latitude in showing ways of thinking than more respectable film genres do. So these might be helpful if you're looking for creative forms of expressing relationships to the past.

Also, many documentaries deal with the notion of memory and how it effects the present. It is often implicit in the undertaking. Errol Morris and Claude Lanzman amongst others, deal with this subject in their films. Again, this isn't nostalgia, but the ways the past and present intermingle in the mind and how that shapes views of reality.

I hope this helps, I couldn't tell exactly what take you wanted on the subject so I was a little broad on the parameters. Many of the films I've mentioned aren't about looking back fondly at the past, but all are about the strong pull the past has on a person and have interesting ways of showing or talking about that connection.
posted by mr.grum at 3:04 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oddly, the climactic scene in Pixar's Ratatouille (when Anton tries the final dish) has one of the most touching depictions of nostalgia I've seen in recent years.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 5:46 AM on October 28, 2008

sarahsynonymous, you beat me to it! That scene makes me tear up *every* time.
posted by Ms. Informed at 2:00 PM on October 28, 2008

Ulysses, certainly. In particular, I'm thinking of that poignant moment in "Lestrygonians" when Bloom is eating his sandwich, looking out the window ("Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck.") and thinking of making love to Molly at Howth Head. And then there's Molly's recollection of the same at the end of the book in "Penelope."

Also, seconding half of the books and films mentioned already, particularly Eternal Sunshine..., Millennium Actress, Solaris, and Amarcord, just because I like them so much.
posted by cobra libre at 3:50 PM on October 28, 2008

I'm surprised that you single out Remains of the Day as something period but not nostalgic.


For me that entire book is about memory, and the opportunities that Stevens had but didn't take. His journey around the countryside is definitely somewhat period, but the subtext all the time is the poor man trying to make peace with his memories. If you can't feel the man longing with every fibre of his repressed body to be taken back to when Miss Kenton worked with him, then you might have missed one of the central themes of the book. Don't watch the stupid film.

Never Let Me Go is incredible as well. In fact, since we're on a bit of a Kazuo Ishiguro bender, I'd reccommend Artist of the Floating World too - it's about postwar japan and an artist trying to make sense of the whole wartime period, his being co-opted into the propaganda machine, and all the implications for himself and his nation. A really good novel.

In other words, Ishiguro for all your memory needs!
posted by Cantdosleepy at 9:52 AM on October 29, 2008

Response by poster: Ack, Cantdosleepy, you caught me out. I only watched the stupid film, and in fact chose it at random as an example of an unambiguous period piece (as opposed to a Merchant/Ivory film which is based on a non-period book). I should have remembered that emphasis on memory.
posted by Beardman at 11:13 AM on October 29, 2008

No worries, Beardman. I've seen plenty of adaptations and been taken to task for pretending to understand the original. The OP is a great AskMeta question. Nostalgia can be one of the most powerful emotions. I'm emerging from a relationship at the moment and the memories of what I should have done are killing me.

Ishiguro really is an extraordinary novelist, though, one of the best of the new(ish?) crop. Read Never Let Me Go (it's the shortest of the above) and if you like it, Remains will absorb you utterly. Happy reading!

Viel Gluck!
posted by Cantdosleepy at 5:16 PM on October 29, 2008

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