Among the many storytelling techniques which made Lost what it was were the non-linear approaches. In a major twist, flashbacks became flash-forwards, flash-forwards became flash-sideways (or, as it transpired, flash-intotimelessafterlife), and much of season 5 involved brain-frazzling time travel.
If that captured your imagination, there are many other examples of non-chronological film and television shows you should try out. (Probably best give Flashforward a miss for the moment as seeing both Penny and Charlie talk about the event which upset linear time might be too baffling.)
There will be few GeeksAreSexy readers who’ve never seen Pulp Fiction, but for a much earlier example of scenes appearing out of order, you might want to try the 1956 Stanley Kubrick film noir movie The Killing. Ironically, despite mirroring the non-linear approach of Pulp Fiction, you’ll probably find yourself reminded much more of Reservoir Dogs in the storyline of the aftermath of a heist which doesn’t go smoothly.
One of the benefits of this unconventional approach is that viewers can see the same scene more than once, viewing it in a different context as they come at it with more information. One example of this is Elephant, a 2003 film about a high school shooting spree. It’s an excellent way of establishing that every character involved has their own story, their own personality and their own life.
In some cases, the approach is integral to the plot, such as Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. It’s based around a company offering a service to remove specific memories, usually of a previous lover to help ease the pain of break-up. Without giving too much away for those of you unlucky enough not to have watched it yet, the non-linear approach means you get to see the same couple falling in love twice, the second time in a more poignant context.
And when it comes to the combination of memory as a plotline and an effect on the chronology of a movie, there’s nothing to beat Christopher Nolan’s Memento. It’s commonly described as being in reverse chronological order, though in fact it alternates between two different “storyline”, one in the correct order and one with the scenes reversed, with the relationship between the two sets of scenes becoming clearer as the movie progresses.
There are two reasons why this works better than any other movie. One is that the movie doesn’t rely on it: watching it in the correct chronological order (an option available on some DVD editions) reveals a movie that, while not as striking, is still perfectly passable. The other is that it allows the viewer to mirror the experience of the central character, who suffers from a condition which leaves him unable to form new memories. Both he and the viewer have to cope with the way that whenever we learn a new fact, we have no “past” experience to put it into context, meaning normal methods of processing information are out the window.