Movies/Television: Stories with a recurring person/object in background?
October 3, 2013 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for movies (or related) that contain an unusual twist: At the end, it is revealed that unbeknownst to everyone there was a person or object repeatedly appearing in the background.

Any format -- movies, television episodes, or any video material.

Perhaps someone was following a character throughout the film. Or maybe a car was always visible in the background. But towards the end, the pattern is revealed by a series of flashbacks or stills where the recurring person/object is now noticeable to the viewer.

The closest example I can think of is the Devil's Haircut video by Beck.

It needs to have been a deliberate storytelling decision, and not an accidental goof or mistake (boom mic visible, etc.).

Anyone have any ideas? Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
posted by 99percentfake to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Like Tyler Durden in Fight Club?
posted by artychoke at 5:16 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I liked Community's episode "The Psychology of Letting Go", where Abed is absent from all of the story action, but is seen repeatedly in the background interacting with a pregnant woman on campus, eventually delivering the baby in the background scene. He returns at the end of the episode and is asked what he's been up to all day.

And of course, does the big reveal in The Usual Suspects count ?
posted by Kakkerlak at 5:17 PM on October 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

Bad Wolf in Doctor Who?
posted by SJustS at 5:19 PM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

The Observers in Fringe They started as mysterious people in the background.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:20 PM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

In Babylon 5, we see rangers in the background in crowd scenes for several episodes before we find out that they exist. Similarly, in Fringe, we see "observers" in the background before we know about them.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:20 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's known as "Chekhov's Gun", or "Chekhov's Gunman" (if it's a person).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:26 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's the Number 9 Man in Futurama - he appeared in the background of something like 12 episodes before becoming part of the plot. I don't think they had the montage reveal, though.
posted by Paragon at 5:34 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The end of the 6th Sense maybe? When it flashes back o people not talking to him and whatnot.
posted by brainmouse at 5:37 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not a movie/video, but the G-Man shows up occasionally in the background of the Half Life video game series.
posted by cnc at 5:39 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

In The Spanish Prisoner, the Japanese tourists who [spoiler]. There's even a joke in the script about how nobody notices Japanese tourists.
posted by goatdog at 5:59 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

That happens in The Rules of Attraction, with the character "Food Service Girl."
posted by désoeuvrée at 6:01 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

And The Draughtsman's Contract might fit--at the end the main character realizes that he has been the victim of a frameup in which he's unknowingly painting clues that implicate him into the paintings he's been hired to make. (It sounds terribly convoluted, and it is.) In this case the "recurring person/object in the background" is evidence that he's a murderer.
posted by goatdog at 6:02 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

A video, not a movie: selective attention test.
posted by hooray at 6:14 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also done on Community: after Beetlejuice was said on the show 3 times...I am on my phone so I can't check easily, but I think you can find video of this online if you look.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:46 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

There's supposedly a Superman in every episode of Seinfeld.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:49 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's not a flashback pointing this out, but upon rewatching the film the killer in Copycat appears in the background in two early scenes before being officially introduced (and when I realized this, I thought it was cool).
posted by pitrified at 6:49 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's the Cowboy in Mulholland Drive. It's been a few years since I last watched it, but at one point he says something like "You may see me two or three more times..." and you have to watch for him, at one point he shows up in the background at a cocktail party, later he walks into a room and wakes up one of the main characters, etc. (But I guess that's the opposite of finding out at the end.)
posted by mannequito at 6:56 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The color red in The Sixth Sense. Anything more would need a spoiler alert.
posted by tamitang at 6:57 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

The number three in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Cause and Effect. The Enterprise is stuck in a temporal causality loop and in attempt to send a message to themselves Data introduces many instances of the number three (the number of rank pips on Commander Riker's uniform) to indicate Riker's idea to decompress the main shuttlebay was the correct course of action.
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:43 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

"A big dub-uya!"

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Has a short sequence near the end where they try to figure out where the treasure is buried.
posted by hot_monster at 7:44 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking Parts by Atom Egoyan.
posted by ovvl at 7:54 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the TV show Supernatural, one of the main characters has this necklace that he always wears, but you don't find out until season 5 that it's actually some sort of talisman that will burn hot in the presence of God (at least it's supposed to).
posted by katyggls at 11:36 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Pizza Planet truck.
posted by jbickers at 5:42 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The play of the Woman in Black has something like this. Link is to the Wikipedia article with extensive spoilers.
posted by Acheman at 6:11 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The ninth episode of Gravity Falls was a time travel episode where the characters go back through time, through previous episodes. Description I found here:

Are you prepared for this insane attention to detail? So, during the tag over the credits, the time traveler Blendin Blandin is sent to clean up items that Dipper and Mabel dropped while running through the background of the show’s previous episodes. If one were to go back and watch the episodes he interferes with, one would see that he was actually in the background of the episode. That means that every single piece of “Time Traveler’s Pig” had been in place from the very beginning. That’s a level that few adult shows go to, and absolutely no kid shows do.
posted by Gortuk at 7:38 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

One episode of How I Met Your Mother had a countdown that led up to a big plot point. The numbers were worked into the story pretty seamlessly until you noticed them.
posted by soelo at 8:21 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

In The Draughtsman's Contract, the numbers 1 through 100 appear in the background, in sequence.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Chekhov's Gun is close to what you're thinking of, but that doesn't necessarily have to be a recurring element, and can be overtly featured. I detest the movie but the first thing I thought of when I saw the question was Ocean's 12. The black backpack is fairly subtly focused on during several transitional moments before it is revealed in the finale that it has contained the Fabergé egg all along.

To a lesser extent, the pine tree air freshener in Ocean's 11 would apply.
posted by the_querulous_night at 10:30 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is seldom important in the plot, but in the TV show Psych there's (almost) always a pineapple somewhere.
posted by jepler at 1:28 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oops... my mistake. Drowning by Numbers had the numbers appearing in sequence, not The Draughtman's Contract.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:34 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for these answers. I am marking this question resolved. I appreciate all the feedback.
posted by 99percentfake at 7:51 AM on October 6, 2013

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