In media res which means “into the middle of things” is a term which is used to describe a literary work or a movie which begins “in the middle of its storyline” or in the ending rather at the start of the story. The various elements of the story relating to the past are revealed by way of conversations or flashbacks. Movies, in particular, which use in media res frequently, use flashbacks to relate the various events of the action. Interestingly, more recently, in medias res is being commonly used in video games which let the players plunge quickly into the real game play rather than sitting through long expository scenes.
In medias res is a Latin phrase having the meaning “in the middle of things”. When a narrative begins in medias res, it means that the narrative doesn’t start in the beginning but at a crucial point in the middle of an action. The term was first used by Horace, the famous Roman poet and critic in his work-Poetic Arts (Ars poetica 13 BC) who taught budding epic poets to go right into the heart of a story rather than begin at the beginning.
In Medias Res is a recommended literary technique that uses the practice of beginning the narrative of any fictional writing or epic by going straight to the middle of a crucial situation. The related previous events are developed in the later part of the narrative usually by flashbacks. The in medias res technique is used effectively in narrative literature of different genres such as novels, plays or epic poetry, to plunge directly into the narrative. Apart from the epic poetry Iliad and Odyssey using the in medias res style, the other popular works which make use of this technique include the Mahabharatha from m India, The Lusiads from Portugal and Nibelungenlied from Germany among others.
Homer made use of the narrative technique, in medias res, in his works, Iliad and Odyssey. The Iliad begins dramatically with the crucial action scene of the battle between Agamemnon and Achilles in the Trojan War. The Latin critic Horace applauded the beginning in Iliad as gripping and exciting rather than beginning the narrative with a description of Achilles’ birth. Later, Shakespearean plays have effectively made use of in medias res, as in Hamlet which begins after the death of his father.
The major advantage of using the artistic narrative technique of in media res in movies is that the film starts with a dramatic and engaging action rather than a slow exposoition of the characters and their conflicts. A number of popular movies have used the technique of in medias res to catch the interest of the audience. The Godfather and Raging Bull are classic examples of films popularizing the use of in medias res. The movie Star Wars: A New Hope is the first movie of a series that wonderfully narrates the story in medias res.