On the last “Mind Tricks” discussion, we talked about false memories, where a characters' true nature is hidden from them because of memory loss or artificial memories.
The Phantom Life is similar, certainly in the two examples that I thought of initially…but the stories play out
in a different, specific way.
A character finds themselves in a new environment and lives out a good chunk of a lifetime. Like, decades. Or at least, an impactful time if it's shorter in duration. It has a massive effect on them. They accept their reality finally…
…and then are “released” into their actual life to deal with the aftermath of the experience.
So…I don't know if “Phantom Life” is the right term for this. It's a way for a character to experience a long passage of time but still be able to return to an ongoing series.
Some top examples…
“The Inner Light” from Star Trek the Next Generation. Picard is transported to a more primitive planet where everyone calls him by a different name. He has no idea how he got there but the technology does not exist for him to communicate with his home or leave the planet.
He lives out his entire life there, gradually accepting the woman who believes he's her husband, and having children…and grandchildren! He grows old, and at the end of his life, learns that he's been living in a projection of a long-gone civilization. This was their effort to be remembered in the future: launching a probe into space that would be found in the future and allow someone to know these people and how they lived.
In the end, Picard is home again, decades later from his point of view, but a half hour in real time.
In a haunting final scene, Picard feels incredibly alone and isolated from his actual life, missing the family and friends he's lost.
On Deep Space Nine, in “Hard Time”, Chief O'Brien is punished for an accidental crime by an alien race. The punishment is living the experience of twenty years in prison. As an old man, he's “released” and comes to. Only a few hours have passed in reality.
Returning to his regular life, O'Brien is very rusty at his job, uncomfortable with his family and people in general because of a remembered trauma, and, well, suffering PTSD.
Most of the story is O'Brien dealing with his trauma and trying to reintegrate into his normal life with great difficulty.
In The X-Men comics at one point, one of Marvel's earliest couples, Scott Summers and Jean Grey, have an adventure spanning decades, allowing them to have the experience of older, wiser characters but still be in their adult prime physically (superhero comics find various ways to achieve this kind of thing).
In one of the heart-warming Futurama endings - actually this might have been the last series ending for the show. Fry and Leela are left as the only “unfrozen” people on the planet (or in the universe maybe; I don't quite remember the details. But everyone else is frozen-in-time).
They live an entire lifetime together, alone, traveling the Earth and in love. In their old age, the Professor shows up and says he's figured out how to transport them back to the moment before the Earth was frozen and live out their lives again, with no memory of their lives on the time-frozen Earth.
Actually, Futurama is coming back once again(!) so we'll have a chance for another beautiful sendoff at some point.
This kind of Phantom Life story allows characters to have experiences stretching across years and deal with those consequences, while still preserving their “normal” ages and the flow-of-events.
I know of at least one extraordinary story about this happening in real life, narrated by Lazy Masquerade.
It's the third story, starting at about 14:40 minutes:
See you next time!
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Banes at 12:00AM, June 9, 2022
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