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According to some folklore, the last thing a person sees before death remains stored in their eyes and can be recovered with the appropriate use of Applied Phlebotinum. Often used to help catch their killer.
Subtrope of Interrogating the Dead.
Anime & Manga
- Used in an episode of the Astro Boy anime (both the 1960s and 1980s series). The victim in this case is a robot, which makes the whole thing somewhat more plausible, but the folklore about being able to do it with humans is explicitly referred to.
- There was a story in the Black Jack manga about a girl who receives an eye transplant from a murder victim who seems to be seeing visions of the last thing the eye's original owner saw. When Black Jack consults a specialist about whether it's possible for an eye to store an image that way, the man bursts out laughing and says that it happens in science fiction all the time, but This Is Reality. (Though naturally he's wrong about that.)
- Used to absolutely chilling effect in the appropriately-titled "Mermaid's Gaze" story of Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid Saga.
- Zigzagged in Berserk. While he did not die, Guts's right eye was blinded when it got clawed out by a demon, during the horrific ordeal of being forced to witness the vicious and brutal rape of his lover Casca at the hands of his now demonic best friend Griffith during the Eclipse. Being the last vision that his right eye would see and the primary motivation of his revenge, Guts recalls on this event in order to remind himself of how much he hates the man who took everything from him.
- A one-shot device in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Sympathy for the Devil" plays out the "eyes of the victim" trick, although the victim in this case is only brain-dead.
- In The Brave and the Bold #188-189, during a teamup between Batman and Rose and Thorn, Batman comments that seeing the image of a killer in a dead man's eyes is myth, but nonetheless checks. Sure enough, he sees an image of the killer frozen in the victim's eye. No explanation is ever given.
- In The Sandman, the Second Corinthian references the legend. He knows how to view the images -- by eating the eyes.
- Trese. Harshly subverted in the very first case of the very first issue, in that the uncooperative interviewee was still alive when Trese harvested the eyeball. It's okay, their kind are really creepy.
Films -- Live-Action
- One of the gadgets in Wild Wild West is a device that projects the last thing the dead person saw by mounting the head on a projector. The belief is called "Retinal Terminus Theory".
Jim West: That. Is a man's. Heaaaaaaaaaad.
- Used in the 1936 film The Invisible Ray.
- The Soviet Sherlock Holmes series mention it. Holmes says he conducted some experiments, and can tell it's complete rubbish.
- In Barb Wire, one of the pieces of Applied Phlebotinum used by the bad guys is a device that enables them to see the last few minutes of a dead guy's vision. Stupidly, they try to use this on a blind guy and are surprised when it shows them nothing.
- Hoping to identify the killer, the police in Four Flies on Grey Velvet take a picture from a victim's retina. What she saw was four flies.
- In the Discworld novel Feet of Clay, the city watch are able to to see the eyes that were the last thing the murder victim saw. Unfortunately for convenient cases, that person wasn't the killer.
- In the Lord Darcy story "The Eyes Have It", the limits and flaws of this technique form the core of the story.
- In Artemis Fowl #2, there's the retimager, which reads the imprints left on the eyeball of whatever that person has seen. In this case, it's used as an interrogation tool on living people.
- The Dresden Files explicitly dismisses the retinal image theory as largely mythical, though it does feature other ways of Interrogating the Dead.
- In The Demolished Man, the police announce they're going to use this technique to discover the murderer. Their actual motive is to flush out the scientist who was the murderer's Unwitting Pawn.
- In the novella Skulls by Tim Marquitz, the protagonist, by staring into the eyesockets of one of the titular skulls, sees what the deceased saw at the moment of his or her death.
- The novel The Alienist by Caleb Carr plays this straight, as it's set in the late 19th century. In fact, taking shots of the eyes of a victim is considered more scientific than fingerprinting. It doesn't work.
- Referenced in the Hawk & Fisher novel The God Killer, although averted in this particular investigation because the victim's head was missing.
- At the climax of Rudyard Kipling's horror story At the End of the Passage, a friend of the dead man tries this. What he sees in the dead man's eyes is so horrifying that he destroys the film before his companions (and us, alas) can see it.
- In the Post Script Season of Babylon 5, the frequencies of energy weapons used in a series of mystery attacks are discovered burned into victims' retinas.
- In an episode of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?, one story was about a woman who couldn't stop looking at this one guy in a bar. He abducted the woman, demanding to know if she was a cop. The man was eventually arrested and the woman was saved. She later learns that the woman he murdered was the same woman whose transplanted corneas she received. (The implication here was that she couldn't stop staring at the guy because her transplanted eyes recognized him.)
- In the second episode of Fringe, Walter Bishop does exactly that to help FBI find serial killer.
- Once on The Ricky Gervais Show, Risky and Steve convinced Karl that scientists had discovered that crabs dream and devised a way to extract the pictures that were somehow recorded on the insides of their eyes.
- One of the Giovanni powers in Vampire: The Masquerade allowed a vampire to do this.
- Corax, wereravens in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, can see the last moments before a person's death by eating their eyeballs. Specifically, they can see it from either a negative (violence, gore, pain) or positive (whodunit, what was happening around them, etc.) perspective depending on WHICH eye they eat. The negative perspective is stated to be generally more stressful, traumatic, and confusing for the Wereraven, but players are advised that favoring only one perspective can/should/will lead to undesirable long-term side effects for their character.
- In Los Angeles 2035, some Mutants withe the right Psy + mutation can look a dead in the eyes and watch the lasts moments of his life. It is noted that post-mortem eye mutilation gets more and more common since the Police started employing mutants.
- In the Visual Novel Jisei, the protagonist has a similar power, in which he can feel a dead person's emotions at the time that he or she died. However, he cannot see the person's last moments, and in the event of a murder, he is unable to physically see who committed the crime.