Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Characters who returned to very different worlds

Illustration for article titled Characters who returned to very different worlds

It’s an age-old story: A character returns—from jail, or a coma, or something else—to a society that has changed massively, while they haven’t. In SundanceTV’s Rectify—which returns for a second season on June 19—the main character is jailed for 19 years, only to return to his hometown with his guilt or innocence still a matter of debate. In this post, sponsored by Rectify, we examine some similar stories.


Thomas Riker, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Coming out of isolation is especially tough when nobody even realized you were gone. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Second Chances,” first officer William Riker beams down to a stormy planet to find that a transporter accident created a clone of him when he visited the world eight years earlier—and that clone has been stuck there for almost a decade. Because Will Riker safely beamed up, nobody from Starfleet had ever bothered to look for the duplicate, who decides to go by his middle name, Thomas.

Jim, 28 Days Later
What a difference a month makes. When Jim, a bicycle courier played by Cillian Murphy, wakes up from a 28-day coma, the world is in total chaos. It’s overrun by zombies that can literally run, and he must adjust not only to the idea that he’s been out for a month, but that the world around him now wants to kill him at every turn.


Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer, Saturday Night Live
The type of Saturday Night Live character whose entire premise is summed up in a three-line theme song—“He used to be a caveman / But now he’s a lawyer”—Phil Hartman’s Keyrock, a.k.a. Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, spent eons in chilly suspension. Then he was thawed, went to law school, and became TV sketch comedy’s most effective legal counsel. And the key to that success was all the progress he missed while in the ice: A competent and savvy attorney, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer’s ace in the hole is the “primitive mind” that makes him sympathetic to jurors, who are powerless in the face of a man who thinks a fax machine is powered by “little demons.” Just imagine how many cases he’d win if he could pontificate on how the Internet works.


“Prehistoric Ice Man,” South Park
An animated cousin to Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer, the character at the center of South Park’s second-season finale hails from the faraway, pre-South Park time of 1996. Discovered by Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny in 1999, Larry (or Gorac or Steve, as they boys might prefer) is treated like a prehistoric relic, his subzero isolation giving way to a new sort of captivity: A mid-’90s habitat in which Larry’s soul patch and Eddie Bauer wardrobe can feel at home among a Forrest Gump poster and an infinite loop of Ace Of Base singles. Returning to his former home, Larry finds a wife who’s moved on and a TV that shows Marilyn Manson videos, which proves too much for his fragile psyche to take. Wishing to return to the simpler time of Clinton-versus-Dole, Larry eventually seeks to re-freeze himself—before encountering an enraged Steve Irwin caricature, whose a bit of a ’90s time capsule himself.

Brooks Hatlen, The Shawshank Redemption
In this recent classic, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman find their way out of Shawshank Prison in different ways—one more legal than the other. But at least they’ve got a plan. Their friend, a friendly librarian played by James Whitmore, isn’t prepared for menial jobs and the lack of structure that comes with being a free man, and he ends up hanging himself.


Oh Dae-su, Oldboy
Loosely based on the Japanese manga of the same name, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy tells a Count Of Monte Cristo-esque tale of revenge—with several shocking, ready for the midnight-movie-circuit twists. Some of the most visceral stuff arises when Oh Dae-su returns to the private prison where he was held for 15 years, a sequence that Park directs with all the pent-up verve and fury of a man who doesn’t know why he’s lost a decade-and-a-half of life. That explanation packs a deeper, more disturbing punch than a yellow-handled claw hammer; still, it doesn’t sap any power from the sequence in which a newly freed Dae-su walks into a restaurant and gulps down a live octopus. After 15 years of the same prison dumplings—en route to a gauntlet of psychic torture a hundred times worse—it’s the perfect meal.

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