10 Great Stories Told Within Movies

5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m taking certain liberties in what I’m defining as a told story within the film, but I really wanted to get an interesting list for this. The nature of Hunter S. Thompson’s style of writing – his Gonzo Journalism – is that the journalist themselves are a part of the story, a story published without editing and written in the moment. Ironically, the book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was edited five times by Thompson, and also had the majority of it written in California after the fact. However in the movie, the story, we see Thompson’s Raoul Duke actually piecing together the book on his shitty little typewriter from time to time during the film.

So, in a way, the narration of this is a reverse, because we are watching the story as it is becoming one, that means that the voiceover heard is the story being told, but to a work of fiction as opposed to from one. It’s a film about a man writing a book that the film is based on. And if you think that isn’t confusing enough, get ready for number four…

4. Adaptation

This is going to be tough, so I’m going to start with the basic plot, which is about a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who has a twin brother, an aspiring mindless action screenwriter named Donald. Charlie is hired to write an adaptation of a book called “The Orchid Thief” and suffers from writer’s block in the process – so what does he do? He writes a screenplay about a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who has a twin brother, an aspiring mindless action screenwriter named Donald. Charlie is hired to write an adaptation of a book called “The Orchid Thief” and suffers from writer’s block in the process – so what does he do? He writes a screenplay about a…

Get it? It’s a freaking metaplot or something, there’s even a point in the film where he is dictating about him dictating about him dictating the plot on a tape recorder. The point is that the actual writer of this film, Charlie Kaufman, really did get writer’s block trying to adapt this book. Aside from his twin, who doesn’t really exist, this story is a true telling of how the film got written. We’re watching the fictional movie that came from the characters in the same fictional movie. Ow.

It’s get’s better – as the biggest complaint about this film was that for some reason the third act goes completely ape shit, turning into this badly written action story involving drugs and alligators. It makes no sense until you look at the actual writing credits for this film, which credit both the real Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald – the terrible action suspense screenwriter. Yeah – guess who wrote the third act.

3. The Usual Suspects

Considering that an early release of the DVD of this film actually spoiled the ending in the freaking main menu, I am guessing this is supposed to be one of those movies where everyone knows how it ends and all that. Probably – but in case you’re the one person reading this who doesn’t know it rest assured that I ain’t no rat.

Pretty much all of the story is told by one individual in a single interrogation between an FBI agent and the only uninjured survivor of a huge boat explosion that resulted in a drug deal gone horrible wrong. The survivor, Roger “Verbal” Kint – played flawlessly by Kevin Spacey – goes on to tell the agent a story of five men entangled with a criminal legend by the name of Keyser Soze. Soze is notorious to the point of lore, demonized by story after story of his ruthlessness.

It’s really Kevin Spacey’s performance throughout that carries the weight of the kind of evil they are dealing with, as he tells the story of Soze going so far as killing his own family so that they don’t serve as bargaining chips for his enemies. Rock hard that guy.

Obviously – if you’ve seen this film you know exactly what makes this story particularly memorable.

2. Doctor Zhivago

If you ever feel like watching an epic war and love story with Alec Guinness in it that doesn’t involve giant laser-shooting mechanical orbs, then this is the one for you. This is one of those movies that you could never get away with today – over three hours long and it isn’t about magic orc-smelling swords or whatever that jewelry film was about. No, Zhivago is an epic that is actually surrounding a love story between two people. Sure, there’s also war and shit, but the whole point of the movie is telling the story about how one man and one woman came to be, and what resulted from it. Specifically, a daughter.

That’s what the telling of the story is about, for it opens with Guinness, who is the half brother of the titular doctor (played by Omar Sharif), finding a young lady who he believes to be his niece. He sits her down and begins to explain the story of her father’s life to her, and how he became a great poet and lover to her mother Lara, the subject of his most revered poetry. What follows can only be described as an epic tale that spans two wars, one revolution, and a whole lot of weird love triangles. From it all, supposedly this girl who sits listening to the story unfold.

The matter of whether this girl is Zhivago’s daughter is left somewhat ambiguous – well…technically. If you watch the film, you’ll understand.

1. The Princess Bride

This is kind of a given. I say that about all my number ones, but it’s because it’s usually true. The Princess Bride has pretty much everything a person needs, a love story, pirate sword fights, giant rats, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal – it’s so perfect, you know? And the whole thing, the framework, is told as a story from a grandfather to his grandson. A bedtime story – ah jeez, that’s cute.

What makes that particularly clever is that The Princess Bride is actually a book in real life – so this film adaptation simply is the act of someone reading that book, and a boy’s imagination of what’s happening. It took a fantasy book and somehow grounded it in the real world simply by recognizing the book as itself. Obviously what makes the whole telling great are the moments where the grandfather – played by Peter Falk – does his best to skip over some of the mushier scenes, or halts the story to assure the boy during the more scary scenes. It’s wonderful pacing in that it’s quite abrupt, and almost a nice reminder throughout that, while we know it’s supposed to be a story, we can’t help but to get emotionally involved in the characters. Hell – we’re watching a movie of a guy telling a story to someone and it’s still nerve racking to watch Westley fight off Rodents Of Unusual Size or climb the Cliffs of Insanity. It’s just a great story made even greater by how it was told.

David is a video editor, writer, and movie fanatic. After graduating from Full Sail University he now spends his days in Western Massachusetts working as a freelance article and sketch writer, as well as a comedy workshop moderator for Cracked.com. (Click Here to View David's work on Cracked.com) He enjoys over-analyzing movies, punk rock, and referring to himself in the third person.

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