Christopher MacBride has created a complicated yet intriguing web in his mind-bending fantasy drama, Flashback (previously titled The Education of Frederick Fitzell).
After his mother is diagnosed with Aphasia, a 30 years old Fredrick “Fred” Fitzell tries to cope with the tragedy by revisiting the past. He has recently shifted to a new house with his longtime girlfriend, Karen. The couple is figuring out a new future. Still, Fred gets trapped in an inevitable past that shakes his sanity. While unpacking, he finds an old school magazine that reminds him of a long-forgotten girl he once loved. Obsessively, he starts tracking his old classmate, Cindy Williams, which interlaces his past, present, and future.
Who was Cindy Williams?
Cindy Williams was Fred’s classmate in college. He was in love with her or fascinated by her, as he never really confessed his feelings directly. Cindy and Fred used to consume recreational drugs called Mercury in the film (similar to ecstasy or DMT).
According to his old professor in school, Cindy never showed up on the final exam day and mysteriously disappeared. She never showed up after that and didn’t graduate either. The professor remarked that she might have ended up dead due to drug addiction, but still, Fred is obsessed with finding her in the present.
Fred never talked to Cindy outside the influence of Mercury. He even underlined the same through his dialogues on the terrace scene. The conversation further established Cindy’s inclination towards recreational drugs. She wanted to explore the world and be more conscious of her environment (which was one of the effects of the drug. According to her, the humans are trapped in prison, craving for their worldly ambitions, unable to realize that they are victims of their greed—a philosophical free thinker character, in simple words.
How did Cindy affect Fred?
Fred was close to being 30, a transitional age for most humans. The bridge between the two digits made him scrutinize his life decisions. A retrospective look at the past was one of his instruments. He was going through an existential crisis, unable to decide whether he was looking for a stable job at a corporate and a family life with Karen, or he was looking for something else.
A revisit to Cindy was an escape to fuel his denial. He was in denial of reality because he wasn’t happy with his life decisions. Cindy’s philosophy made him realize that jobs, cars, etc., are just labeled around us. In the bigger picture, it doesn’t mean anything. Fred was an incredibly talented painter. Therefore, he was also in doubt whether he should continue with PPT meetings or go out as an artist. Honestly, he was in a fix, and recreational drugs created different narratives out of his confusion.
What was Mercury?
Most recreational drugs are an outlet — an escape from reality. The word recreational itself gives out that a consumer creates his reality after the drug consumption. In Flashback, Mercury was the drug.
According to a few flashes and voices, the drug temporarily counteracts the influence of the invasive life-form trying to force us to perceive information linearly. To perceive choices as having inescapable outcomes. The outcome it has dictated to us, thereby controlling all our options and thereby eliminating them.
In a very simplistic way, it means that this drug gives us the power to travel multiverse or parallel timezones, where one can consciously trace the cause-effect of each choice he will make. Each option will lead to a different timeline and, thus, a multiverse narrative.
Dissecting the Multiverse Timelines
In Flashback, the story explores three time zones of Fred’s Life. His college life (past, his corporate life (present), and his artist life (future). In realistic cases, the past is inevitable, and the future is not. But in Flashback, it was a Nolanesque past that is heavily altered as per Fred’s imagination.
In the 2009 film, Mr. Nobody, the protagonist, Jared Leto, on death bed, revisits his past and thinks about the lives he might have led. A similar case is seen in Fred’s case, which creates different lives for himself, depending on his past choices. For example, if he hadn’t given his final exams like Cindy and would have gone with her, they both would have ended up on the streets (as seen in one of the cases when Fred takes out a rag from the bin). The walls of his stale apartment were marked with sketches, which was a symbolization that Fred had turned into a failed artist.
But he gave his finals, met Karen, and finally got a job in the corporate (the present he is living).
Another timeline was where we saw Fred in his beach house with Cindy. He was a professional painter, and Cindy was sunbathing near the balcony. (this one was Fred’s idea of artistic life).
The fourth timeline was an extension of his past. His childhood when he was a baby. This one was crucial because it was the root of all problems and underlined the central conflict – Fred’s mother.
‘Flashback’ Ending Explained
In his last visit to the hospital, Fred noticed a familiar tongue gesture on his bed-ridden mother’s face. At this moment, he spelled out a word looking at his mother, “It’s you.” Let’s dissect that.
So, Fred did not have schizophrenia, but the recreational drug made him invent conversation with Cindy. It was why he spelled out words to Cindy, “It’s like you only exist when I’m on this drug.” So was she for real?
Cindy was real, but Fred’s interaction with her was not. Her personality, as to Fred, was a clone version of his mother. Fred showed signs of Oedipal complex (also known as the Oedipus complex, based on a famous Greek Play of the same name).
When Fred got the news of his mother’s ailment, it rekindled his feelings for her. In social norms, infatuation for your mother is unethical, but it’s highly natural. Mother is the first woman in our life. Many famous characters like Hamlet have shown an inclination towards their mother. When Fred took Mercury, it enhanced his feelings for his mother. But to keep the relationship out of ethical scrutiny, he used Cindy’s face instead. Cindy on the terrace used the word “labeling things,” which hinted that the world looks at relationships with narrow understanding. A person could fantasize about his mother, sister, or someone close, and it is utterly ordinary. We don’t have to call them creepy (as much as I perceived for Sigmund Freud).
So again, Fred was in love with his mother. He was going through an existential crisis, and Cindy was real, but Fred’s interaction with Cindy wasn’t real. The film’s last frame and the Flashback symbolize Fred’s affection for his mother.
In the end, Fred stayed with his present timeline where he worked in corporate and had started a new life with Karen (who was seen pregnant during the Christmas time). With all that fuzz, his life came back to the point from where he started a retrospective visit to the past. Nothing changed, yet everything did. He let go of the mirage image of Cindy and weaved his future with Karen. He accepted that his mother, his longtime love, was finally going to be dead, and it’s okay. Death is an inevitable part of life. The ending became Fred’s moment to move on.
Gosh, that’s too much complexity for a film. I hope my words simplified the film and made sense to you. If not, please be kind. I did my best to decode Flashback. However, if you have any suggestions or comments, do let us know in the section below. I would love to discuss further.
Flashback (previously titled The Education of Frederick Fitzell) is a 2021 Mystery Drama Film written and directed by Christopher MacBride.