The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
In medias res
In medias res: Latin for “into the midst of things,” the literary technique of beginning a narrative in the middle of the action. Crucial events that occurred before the point at which the narrative starts are related at a later time, generally through one or more flashbacks. Beginning in medias res is a convention associated primarily with the epic, but the technique has also been used in other types of literary works to “hook” the reader or audience.
EXAMPLES: Homer’s Greek epics The Iliad (c. 850 B.C.) and The Odyssey (c. 850 B.C.) both begin in medias res, as does John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost (1667), which opens with Satan and the other fallen angels in hell, following the civil war between Satan’s forces and those of God, which is not described until Book 6.
The film noir The Usual Suspects (1995) opens with a man being shot twice in the head and an act of arson, then cuts to the interrogation of Verbal Kint, the rather ironically named unreliable narrator, before flashing back periodically to the events that led up to the crimes. The Mission Impossible movies (1996— ), featuring agent Ethan Hunt, often begin in medias res. For instance, Mission Impossible III (2006) opens with Hunt and his fiancée in captivity before flashing back five days to the inception of Hunt’s latest impossible mission.