On Friday, the much-anticipated Super 8 hits theaters and, well honestly, we’re still not quite sure what it’s about (this is a J.J. Abrams film, after all). But what we do know is that in the film, some kids make a movie that tells a story within the frame of the film’s overarching story. That got us thinking, “what other stories use this type of narrative device? And more importantly, what are some of our favorites? Read on for a brief rundown of our favorite stories within stories.
Okay, this film may not have a “story within a story” specifically, but it plays with the idea well enough to be considered. From the brilliant mind of Charlie Kaufman, it follows a protagonist named “Charlie Kaufman” as he attempts to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief. Before he knows it, the story within the book becomes real — kind of — and he’s lost in a world where he can’t even really tell what exactly he’s adapting.
One of Mel Brooks‘ greatest achievements (and that’s saying something, considering he’s Mel Brooks) plays around with the story-within-a-story concept. In the third act, the climatic fight spills onto an adjacent movie set, and then another, and then finally, the street — reminding all of those concerned mothers everywhere that this is comedy, not racism.
Any movie with a song called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” at its forefront is one that deserves some recognition. Steve Coogan‘s Hamlet 2 may not be as subtle with its “story within a story,” but it’s still awesome because, well, it kind of makes you want to party with Jesus, and who the heck wouldn’t want to party with Jesus?
True, Men In Black doesn’t necessarily scream “awesome storytelling” but it’s still a fun, entertaining ride that’s led by two charming men in Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. But where’s the story within a story? At the end of the film, the camera pulls back, back and back some more until it’s revealed that the galaxies we all live in (which held the story we just watched) are just an alien’s marbles; a small part of a much larger game of life.
Oh, hey, another Charlie Kaufman film, but that’s not too surprising considering he’s pretty much the king of meta. In Synecdoche, New York — in the same vein as Adaptation — an artist gets lost in his own world. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theater director who surprisingly lands the MacArthur Fellowship, giving him all the financial means to pursue his art the way he’s always wanted – resulting in a play within a play within a play within a play within a–well, you get it.
Christopher Guest — the king of mockumentaries — might have his best one in Waiting for Guffman. Granted, the film does play with a lot of inside jokes that only those weird theater kids from college might get, but it also does a pretty great job at making fun of all those weird theater kids from college. Centering on a community theater in small town Missouri, Guest plays Corky St. Clair — an “artiste” — as he puts together a musical for the community called Red, White and Blaine, a musical that may not be quite as good as he thinks.
The vastly underrated comedy Galaxy Quest does a wonderful job playing with the concept of a story within a story. The film centers on the cast of a cult television show similar to Star Trek as they’re abducted by real aliens in order to fight some other ET’s. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman manage to mock themselves, their fictional doppelgangers and save the world all at the same time.
Shutter Island is no Mean Streets or Raging Bull, but it’s still a Martin Scorsese film led by Leonardo DiCaprio so it’s probably better than most. Following a US Marshal named Teddy Daniels as he investigates the weird happenings of an island used to house the criminally insane just off the shore in Boston Harbor, Things get weirder and weird, until it’s finally revealed that (SPOILER) the events happening are all just in his head (END SPOILER).