There's something special about learning the history of literary devices that have been used throughout the ages. They're so fun to adapt into film and TV, and it feels like they hold the secrets of storytellers who existed long ago.

Anastrophe is a rhetorical device as old as the art of storytelling itself. It can lend a unique and memorable touch to dialogue and voiceover.

In this article, we will explore the definition of anastrophe and delve into some compelling examples from the world of film.

Let's dive in.

Anastrophe Definition

Toula, played by Nia Vardalos, wearing her wedding dress in 'My Big Fat Greek WEdding'

'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'

Credit: IFC Films

Anastrophe, derived from the Greek word "anastrephein," meaning "to turn back," refers to the inversion of the typical word order in a sentence.

It is a literary device in which words are put out of order. The best example of this is how Yoda talks, in lines like, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

How Does Anastrophe Work? 

If you want to get into the grammatical nitty gritty, anastrophe is formed in a very specific way, where instead of following the customary subject-verb-object structure, it rearranges words to emphasize certain elements or to create a specific rhythm, tone, or emphasis in the sentence.

The reason you do this is to draw attention to a particular word or idea, highlight the emotional state of a character, or reinforce a theme.

Examples of Anastrophe in Film and TV

The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, doing a card trick in 'The Dark Knight'

'The Dark Knight’

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

In film and TV, anastrophe is used to make dialogue more memorable, to convey a character's unique voice, or to create a poetic or lyrical quality in the script.

In these visual storytelling mediums, anastrophe is used to achieve various effects and enhance the overall impact of the narrative.

The only way to actually grasp this is to look at some examples.

  1. Character Distinction: Screenwriters often use anastrophe to give unique voices to their characters. By having certain characters speak with unconventional word order or sentence structure, writers can make them more distinctive and memorable. This is especially common in dialogue-heavy genres like comedy and drama.
    • Example: In the TV series Sherlock, the character Sherlock Holmes often employs anastrophe in his rapid and brilliant deductions. For instance, "The game is afoot" instead of "The game is on."
  2. Emphasis and Drama: Anastrophe can be a powerful tool for creating emphasis and drama in both dialogue and narration. By placing key words or phrases at the beginning or end of a sentence, filmmakers can draw attention to important plot points or emotional moments.
    • Example: In the film The Dark Knight, the Joker says, "Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos." The inversion of "chaos" to the end of the sentence emphasizes its significance.
  3. Poetry and Lyrical Quality: Filmmakers sometimes use anastrophe to infuse poetic and lyrical qualities into their work. This is particularly common in films that aim to evoke strong emotions or explore thematic depth.
    • Example: In the French movie Amélie, the narrator says, "Amélie has a strange feeling of absolute harmony. It's a perfect moment. A soft light, a scent in the air, the quiet murmur of the city." The inversion of "A soft light" and "A scent in the air" creates a lyrical, almost dreamlike quality.
  4. Historical and Period Settings: When a film or TV series is set in a historical or period context, anastrophe can be used to mimic the speech patterns of that era. This helps immerse the audience in the time and place depicted on screen.
    • Example: In the series The Crown, characters often speak in a more formal and structured manner, using anastrophe to reflect the language of their respective eras.
  5. Character State of Mind: Filmmakers may use anastrophe to reflect a character's state of mind, especially in moments of stress, confusion, or heightened emotion. The non-standard word order can convey disorientation or intensity.
    • Example: In Memento, the main character suffers from short-term memory loss. The use of anastrophe in certain scenes mirrors his fragmented perception of reality.

Incorporating anastrophe into film and TV scripts can add depth, character development, and emotional resonance to the storytelling. It allows filmmakers to play with language and structure in creative ways, contributing to the overall impact and uniqueness of their work.

Why Do Writers Use Anastrophe?

Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce, reading a piece of paper and his arm in 'Memento'


Credit: Newmark Films

So you know I'm a writer, and I'm always looking for the angle of what can help me in my screenplays.

Anastrophe allows writers to create impact, emphasize specific elements, and convey various nuances in their writing.

  1. Emphasis and Highlighting: Anastrophe allows writers to emphasize particular words, phrases, or ideas by placing them at the beginning or end of a sentence. This rearrangement draws attention to the emphasized elements, making them more prominent and memorable. It can be especially effective when writers want to underscore a central theme or message.
    • Example: Yoda's voice saying, "Great is the power of the Force in you."
  2. Characterization: Writers use anastrophe to give characters distinct voices and speech patterns. This can help readers or viewers identify and remember characters more easily. By having characters speak with unique sentence structures, writers can convey personality traits, backgrounds, or dialects effectively.
    • Example: Spider-Man's Uncle Ben saying, "With great power comes great responsibility."
  3. Rhetorical Effect: In persuasive writing or speeches, anastrophe can be used for rhetorical effect. By rearranging words to create a specific order of ideas, writers can make arguments more persuasive and convincing.
    1. Example: JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Anastrophe is a versatile rhetorical device that filmmakers can employ to enhance the impact, depth, and memorability of their films.

By rearranging words and playing with sentence structure, filmmakers can create dialogue that resonates with audiences, defines characters, and reinforces the central themes of their stories.

Let me know if you've played with this in your writing in the comments.