There are very, (VERY VERY VERY) few perfect THiNC. movies out there. Lots of really pretty good ones. And there are quite a few great ones. But the sheer lack of perfection in this space is daunting. But today? Right now? Today, we are bringing you one of the best THiNC. movie recommendations. (Thanks Chris for the tip.) But stop, what makes a perfect THiNC. movie? Low budget brilliance helps. Glorious screenplay crafting. Atmosphere that carries the mood of the gravity well. Amazing editing. Great acting. You know, all of it. It requires all of it to land a perfect THiNC. movie recommendation – and that is what we have here today in Flashback. The perfect movie for your weekend.
If you haven’t seen this movie yet – please don’t go any further. Trust me on this one, because I’m about to uncork this thing, and it’s going to get really, really messy here. And all the fix’ns are about to hit the table. And this one is going to be a really fantastically messy write up. And I’m so looking forward to doing the autopsy here. Because this thing could spray in about a billion directions at once. In fact… it literally does spray in a billion directions at once.
OK – so, here’s the plan. I’m going to give you a link where you can go and watch this brilliant 5-star THiNC. movie. You are going to click it… and pay your $5 paltry sum… and watch. I’ll be sitting here… in this other tab, just awaiting your return. Hell, if I could watch it with you I would. (Speaking of which, we should totally do a Patreon watch party for this movie!!!) Then you will return back here, read my theories about how this movie works, and we will then engage in lively banter in the comments section wherein you will call me inhospitable and horrific names and we will get to the bottom of this movie’s inner workings together. BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS TO!!!
Alright. So here we go. From here on out. Spoilers. And you don’t want to spoil this one. Trust me.
The Education of Fredrick Fitzell Walkthrough
We kick off the movie at the beginning – and the end. It may just be we never leave this room? But we’ll get to that later. We don’t know it at the beginning, but we watch as Fredrick Fitzell is crawling his way around the room. And it’s here that he will learn a very significant lesson. But for now, he is here with his mother, who loves him very much. Forward to the next scene, we see Fred looking in on his mother who is not doing well. Maybe she has Alzheimer’s? Something not good… as she can’t remember her son.
Fred (played by Dylan O’Brien, Love and Monsters, and another 400 YA movies) is married to Karen (played by Hannah Gross – Joker much?). They have a vanilla life, in a vanilla suburb. And Fred is now a Data Analytics guru for a company. But earlier on in his life, he had aspirations of becoming an artist. And we watch as Fred wanders through his life wondering what is really missing… because something is definitely missing. And during one of these random wanderings he finds himself staring at the photo of Cindy and realizing he had no idea what happened to her… like at all. But it’s also clear he’s hiding his past from Karen. Something weird happened in high school. And he’s even hiding his drawings from his wife as well? Something really significant happened back in the day.
Then, a few days later, Fred finds himself visiting his old school. Why? We have no idea, but it becomes clear that he is actually looking for Cindy. Why? Great question. Because, it would appear that as Fred continues talking to old classmates, she hasn’t been seen by anyone since some point prior to graduation. Fred can’t figure it out. Where could she have gone? And you know what? His memory is extraordinarily hazy on the entire period of his senior year of school. Why? What happened?
Flashing backwards (heheh) to his time in school, we watch as Fred is in the “right” place at the right time to keep Sebastian from getting busted with drugs on him – which gets Fred invited into his crew of Mercury fanatics. Which, is when Fred formally meets Cindy. They all take “Merc” together – or cut Merc anyway… not the perfect Mercury anyway. And after a while, Fred begins to wonder if maybe Cindy never really existed after all. “I just realized that I’ve never had a conversation with you without being on Merc. It’s like you only exist when I’m on this drug.”
Flashback Theory #1 – Cindy is just a secondary byproduct of Mercury. She doesn’t exist at all.
No. That’s not what is happening. But I literally put those words down in my notes as I was watching the movie. Don’t worry, I’ll thrown out a dozen or so more misfires before we start to even get close to what is happening in this movie. And even after all that, we’ll be hard-pressed to pin this one down.
Fred reconnects with two of his old friends, and they start hanging out again after 13 years of not talking to each other. Sebastian and Andre. He begins bugging the two guys to see what they know about Cindy, where she is now, or why she might have disappeared all those years ago. Then Fred remembers a night he shared with Cindy, on a city rooftop, as he listened to her wax eloquent about life the universe and everything.
“I don’t want to be like all of them. Locked in a prison they don’t know that they are in. I mean, look at them, running around pretending they know exactly who they are, they don’t have a clue. None of it matters, all they are doing is giving things labels, inaccurate labels to things that are infinite and unknowable. This is your “job,” “house.” Even “label makers.” Look around at meaningless labels, and look around and say this is our reality. That prison.” “How do we break free?” “We have to remember the power we have, the power of choice. The power of every second, the power of now.”
But everything changes the day that Sebastian lands his first delivery of uncut Merc. And we begin to see to parallel timelines running simultaneously. Fred’s new job, and his boss riding him about presenting Q2 results for the board, that and his memories of tripping Merc with his friends back in the day. Sebastian rings Fred up, “I remember.” When Sebastian and Andre pick Fred up they take him to a building. Now the building is derelict, and filled with homeless people. But back in the day, there was a party there, and they went there to try uncut Merc together. In the future, when they arrive at the room where they first tried it, Fred goes in, but Sebastian and Andre wait outside. They can’t do it. And that is when we flashback to that night, where we see a group of metal heads genuflecting in the direction of a kid espousing pseudo-science “enlightened” insights. Then, in the future, Fred sees the same metal heads, what are you guys doing here? We never left.
Flashback Theory #2 “reality” for Fred is a fiction… and he’s still back there at the party tripping Merc.
“It’s not a matter of one point existing and the other not – both points exist simultaneously.” Cindy let’s him know that this particular existence is only one set of her choices. That she exists in all of them simultaneously. “I’m more free than you could ever imagine. I can see the skylines of a thousand cities. I’ve looked into the eyes of a hundred grandkids. And I’ve loved them all… they look like you.” Woah! Wait, what? This is some serious Grade A Mercury going on in here. I mean, even in philosophy class we didn’t dream up crazy [email protected]#$ like this. Then he wakes, late to his Q2 presentation meeting. But on his way out the door, he sees his sketches of Cindy arrayed on the floor and Karen’s key to the house on the table.
It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between future and past. As Fred is running out the door to school, his mother stops him and says, “What, you aren’t going to say anything about yesterday? You have finals today, do you know how important that is to your whole life? I don’t even know who you are anymore.” Flash forward to her Alzheimer’s. Now Fred is at his desk, ready to take his first final, and his teacher is saying that anyone not at their desk in 10 seconds will not graduate… and Cindy’s desk is empty. Cut to Fred scrambling to pull notes together and prep for his Q2 report that is in minutes.
The Prophet – two versions of himself speaking this simultaneously – “Color, Language, Control, Shape, Misinterpretation… The system you are using to interpret reality is not one of your choosing. Numbers, language, colors, shape, all a misinterpretation of the information around you. A misinterpretation imposed on you by an invasive life form that is trying to control your consciousness, the substance of you ingested temporarily counteracts the influence of the invasive lifeforms that is trying to force you to perceive information in the same manner as itself, in a linear fashion. To perceive choices as having linear and inescapable outcomes dictated to you and thereby controlling all of your choices, and in effect eliminating them. It achieves this goal by influencing you to perceive the most elaborate of all these interpretations… time.”
(I think the person I call “The Prophet” in my notes is officially titled as The Scarred Man… but I totally prefer my name for him.) And with that snap of wisdom, Fred flips out simultaneously in both his final as well as his Q2 report. Then he snaps back to the Merc night – fever dream – comes to, and he sees Cindy there. “I thought you needed me to save you…” And in the now of the building, Cindy is there with him… and the two kiss. Flip back to school, and he sees her in the hallway, he walks to her now… and they leave together.
Mindjob jump to a villa at the beach where Fred is painting and Cindy, who is now pregnant, is resting after reading out on the balcony. Fred shows her the painting, which is of the desert, and the next thing we know, they are there, hitching a ride. Next? Jump to the building again. Cut to Fred waking from his drug-induced coma. When he goes out to get more Mercury, he finds a necklace in the trash with a \V symbol on it. WHICH, if you were paying attention, was on Cindy’s back earlier on in the movie. But when he goes to give it to her, he drops it and it breaks. “Don’t worry I’ll find it again.” Bouncing back to present, we watch as Fred visits his mother again, but this time, Fred flashes back to his childhood, and these alien tremors seem to be coming from her. And it’s obvious that Fred’s mother is actually being controlled by these alien forces. “IT’S YOU!!!” Fred yells.
Flashback Theory #3 – if you look at the quotes from the Prophet… or the Scarred Man, it is quite plausible that what is happening here is that humans naturally have the ability to see omni-directionally in time, but these aliens are forcing a unidirectional view onto them. And Fred is being chased down by people in his life that are actually aliens. (Yeah, kinda messed up. But the movie is literally saying this as the most obvious interpretation.)
Look though – inside the chaos of Fred’s memories – there are details there that are important. Remember back to the beginning of the movie. We see Fred, his mother, and he is crawling around free and clear on his own. He finds a way to sneak out of the room with his mother and almost takes a header down the stairs. Right? And at the last second he is saved by his mother. The movie starts here… then goes back to it with various lenses overlaid. And after Fred tells Cindy that he can’t follow her anymore, she let’s him know that she already knows. Which explains the later divergence. And we watch as Fred scribbles out Cindy’s face in the yearbook, and we watch as Fred meets Karen at school after that. Fred doubles down, straightens out his life, kills the Q2 presentation.
Flashback Theory #4 – Everything is contained within Fred’s mother’s room. The movie actually never leaves. And everything we see is just piles of possibilities that his mother saved for him by not letting him fall down the stairs.
Flashback Movie Explained
Look, you have options here. And for some of you, that will really freak you out. But, take a deep breath, and we can figure this out together.
The Flashback Literal Theory – this is the simplest theory to understand. Fred falls in with a bad crowd in high school. His mother is disappointed. Fred does a lot of drugs, trips really hard, and has visions of all kinds of craziness. He eventually decides this is a horrific life choice, and bails on the drug scene. He chooses to clean up his life, and marries Karen. Fred’s mother falls sick. And Fred and Karen are expecting a child as he shapes up his life into a corporate repurposing and he lets go all of the craziness of his past.
Literal Flashback Theory Flaws – This is an almost perfect theory. It explains so much in and of itself. But the one detail that really can’t be explained is how, while in high school did Fred know so much about Karen (who he hadn’t met yet), his future job and boss, and his future? This one dangling thread is so pervasive, and so important that I’m going to go out on a limb and say, yeah, while I like the literal theory, it just can’t be true. It’s too clean. Too succinct. And way too convenient for such a complicated movie.
The Flashback Alien Theory – another theory that is espoused by the Prophet is that alien’s have come and are controlling the way we see time and space. They have locked our minds into a linearly myopic view. “A misinterpretation imposed on you by an invasive life form that is trying to control your consciousness.” (You know how hard it was for me to get this quote captured? hahahah. The editing of that sequence is so crazy cool, but did not lend it self to capturing.) If this theory is correct, then the only time that Fred is seeing clearly is when Mercury has set his mind free. All the rest is alien control. If that’s the case, then we watch as Fred willingly decides to turn his back on this truth, and he then willingly chooses to be blinded by the aliens, and consumed by that darkness and a life of linearity.
Alien Flashback Theory Flaws – Not to play the stereotype but… don’t most drug trips espouse some god encounter, or alien manifestation of some sort or other? It’s almost trite at this point it’s so common a refrain. So it could just be that the Prophet and all his ramblings were the prattlings of a madman high on Mercury. End of story.
The Flashback Alzheimer’s Theory – Or maybe, what if everything is coming from the mother’s vantage? The movie is self-contained within Fred’s mother’s hospice bed. Think about it. The movie starts with the mother, and ends with the mother. Everything in the middle could very well just be Mrs. Fitzell coming unglued. Think about this for a second… the movie’s original, or original title was: “The Education of Fredrick Fitzell.” She could be thinking about all of the various things that Fred learned. Starting with the stairs… he learned that they were dangerous. Later he learned that drugs were dangerous. And hopefully he would go on and learn that being a productive member of society is the right move to make. But all of it trapped in the haze of a mind impeded by Alzheimer’s. Thus the aliens. Thus the numerous timelines. Thus the fever dream quality to it.
Alzheimer’s Flashback Theory Flaws – If you look at this theory literally, it’s impossible to disprove really. A brain being torn apart cell by cell could cause anything to happen. Aliens. Drugs. Corporate life. Timeline jumping. A brain broken by disease could make all the rest of it make sense. Doesn’t mean that that is what happened, but I can’t really deconstruct this theory.
THiNC. Interpretation of Flashback – A lot of people who watched this movie (you are probably one of them), you were probably staring at the screen, wondering what the hell just happened to the last 100 minutes of your life. That’s fair. But I think there is a pretty simple explanation that wraps up all of these other theories into a single view and explains everything in one fell swoop. (WHAT? WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST START THERE MAN?)
So, we know that Fred is 13-years into his life with Karen. We know that his corporate career is ascending. They are on the cusp of having a child, but Fred’s mother is dying. She has Alzheimer’s, and is obviously slipping away from him. It is this encounter that is shaking Fred to his foundation, and it is this event that is causing him to question the entirety of his life. It’s this moment that flips him all the way back to his first memories as a child. It is this event that forces him to evaluate all the various things that have taught him deep and profound truths. His near miss at the stairs. But also, the death of a close friend who tripped out on Mercury and died. Cindy.
Think about it. His high school teacher mentions that a number of students succumbed to the drug. We are not given any examples of kids who died, maybe Cindy is one of them. Also, think about how Sebastian and Andre react when he says, what happened to Cindy? They don’t want to go back to those memories either. All four of them went to that building, they took the drug, and they all had horrifying trips… near death experiences on this uncut Mercury. But Cindy didn’t make it out alive. Fred, nearly dying himself, slips out of the drug’s grasp, and never looks back. He gets berated by his mother for his horrible life choices. He decides to change his ways, and to go take his finals, do the absolute best that he can. And then he marries Karen… becomes a data analyst. And the two of them have a child. But along the way, Fed is wracked with guilt and he investigates Cindy’s disappearance, only to realize that she died that night.
Personally? I want the alien theory to be true. I want the aliens to be constricting our minds into a single, linear vantage. I want to run with the idea that we naturally have the ability to run multiple timelines simultaneously. But come on. That is bunk. And the Alzheimer’s theory? It’s good… but the movie’s title isn’t The Education of Mrs. Fitzell. It’s the Education of Fredrick Fitzell. So we are literally watching as Fred makes mistakes, learns from his mistakes, makes more terrible mistakes, and is riddled with the guilt of these mistakes. Right? He is tearing down his baggage. He is grappling with the sting of death, crippling guilt, and ultimately his mourning of his first significant love. He was there when she died. He was ultimately (if partially) to blame for it. And we are watching as he tries to cope and figure out this mess of emotions oozing out of every one one of his pores.