Deus ex Momentum

I’m a huge fan of Tv Tropes. Ever since I first started reading it a couple of years ago (while trying to figure out what the hell a Deus ex Machina was), I’ve had fun identifying the various tropes in every movie I watch and every book I read. Instead of making stories more predictable, this has improved my appreciation for fiction. It’s probably the only site I waste more time on than Facebook or this one.

One project I’ve been toying with in my head is identifying my own trope from my absolute favorite type of movie/literary moment. What is that moment? I love that part of the story, found right at the climax, when the hero has has gone through endless trials, is fighting the Big Bad or the Dragon, and it suddenly becomes obvious that he’s not only going to win, he can’t lose. Bonus points are if the hero always had the power or device or hidden capability to win but it wasn’t obvious until the exact time it was needed most.

The protagonist is probably having a Crowning Moment of Awesome while the antagonist experiences Oh, Crap!

This isn’t simply the point that the hero fights the baddie and wins. There has to be a mix of these elements:

1. At the climax of the story

2. The good guy(s) vs the bad guy(s) in a FINAL showdown. No quarter asked or given.

3. The hero discovers the villain’s weakness/unleashes the great power he’s had for awhile/realizes his destiny/remembers where he left his gun/etc and suddenly realizes that he’s going to beat the bad guy stupid.

4. The villain realizes that he’s totally screwed and his panic or despair is evident (Oh, Crap!)

5. It adds more tension and ultimate satisfaction if it happens shortly after it appears that all was lost.

A good example would be this scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

See what I’m talking about? It’s right there from 0:38 to until about 1:30 when Voldemort dies. You see the “Oh Crap” on his face immediately after the last horcrux is destroyed while Harry smiles a bit and administers the killing stroke as Voldemort helplessly watches the Elder Wand peter out against the wizard who had become its true master in the preceding film.

In Return of the King (gee, am I giving away how much of a royal dork I am or what?) you have a similar one during a battle between Aragorn’s Red Shirt Army and Mordor at the Black Gate:

But the Nazgul turned and fled, and vanished into Mordor’s shadows, hearing a sudden terrible call out of the Dark Tower; and even at that moment all the hosts of Mordor trembled, doubt clutched their hearts, their laughter failed, their hands shook and their limbs were loosed. The Power that drove them on and filled them with hate and fury was wavering, its will was removed from them; and now looking in the eyes of their enemies they saw a deadly light and were afraid.

Then all the Captains of the West cried aloud, for their hearts were filled with a new hope in the midst of darkness. Out from the beleaguered hills knights of Gondor, Riders of Rohan, Dunedain of the North, close-serried companies, drove against their wavering foes, piercing the press with the thrust of bitter spears. But Gandalf lifted up his arms and called once more in a clear voice:

‘Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom.’

Or this:

What I’m blegging for here is some help with a bit of writer’s block:

1. Is there already a trope that covers this that I just haven’t seen yet?

2. Can anyone give me a good name for the potential trope I’m talking about? I can describe it but not define it.

3. Anybody got more examples of this kind of thing?

One of these days, I am going to add this but I need some creative assistance. Can anybody join in?

Comments are closed.

  1. Thrill *

    It would be easier if someone’s already done this one, but I don’t see it on the list. If I could at least get a good name for it, I’d be 7/10 of the way there.

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  2. Hal_10000

    I think part of your trope has to be

    2.5 The villain is absolutely confident in his inevitable victory.

    Harry Potter has a lot of these moments, BTW. basically the end of almost every movie. So I think maybe you would have him as the trope namer. Another you could use it the “Here is comes” moment from Star Trek II. Kahn is so convinced he’s won and then his face implodes when his shields start to fall.

    Yes, “Here it comes”. That might be good.

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  3. Thrill *

    Good advice on all points, Hal. I do think your #2.5 point meshes pretty well with my #5 though. The more evil/cocky the bad guy, the more satisfying the outcome. That’s what I love most about these movie moments: You watch the bad guy go down and say “Oh, hell yeah! Bye, bye, dickweed.”

    I’ll put my wife (the household Harry Potter expert) look for something there for a trope namer. “Here it Comes” is definitely a good start.

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  4. Thrill *

    Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Definitely does fit the trope:

    Climax? Yes

    Final showdown? Basically. Belloq and the Nazis are making Indy watch them open the Ark. It’s more or less confrontational.

    The Power? Big time. The Ark was always God’s and he wasn’t going to let the Nazis fuck with it. Indy’s secret weapon was that he knew that and had enough sense to not look upon God’s power

    Oh Crap Moment? No mistaking the screaming when the head blows up.

    Darkest Hour? You bet. The hero is subdued and the Nazis got the prize. Turns out they can’t handle it.

    So yeah, I could consider this as a trope namer. I’m just not sure about “comeuppance”. I feel like the word “righteous” would work well in there somewhere.

    This is tough. I’ve been stuck on this for months.

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  5. Thrill *

    I can throw out a couple of more examples if it’ll help explain what I’m looking for:

    The Lion King: Simba shows up for the final battle with Scar. The Pridelands are ruined, the hyenas are there in force, and Scar pointedly reminds Simba of his father’s death. The tide doesn’t turn until Scar informs Simba right at the moment he’s about to fall that it was really he who killed Mufasa. Now Simba is able to come back and win since he’s overcome the mental block he’s had throughout the movie about killing his father. He’s the rightful heir to the throne and he’s going to put Scar down for good. Scar gets one good Oh Crap when he’s told that he’s banished and then a second one when he realizes that the hyenas are going to tear him apart.

    South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut: Satan’s Army is on Earth, Saddam is taking over, Terrance and Phillip are dead, and the Red Shirts on both sides are bowing down. It’s grim. Then Cartman finds out that the V-Chip in his head can hurt Saddam. Kyle eggs him on, “Do it!” and you know that it’s all over given how profane Cartman is. It turns out that profanity and its power was the cause of and solution to all of the problems in the plot . Saddam is shocked when Satan finally gets sick of him and hurls him off a cliff.

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  6. Thrill *

    Or Dog Shit Taco Moment, right?

    Another one is in Signs: The alien shows up at the Father’s house, in the kitchen, after the invasion. He’s pissed off about his fingers getting cut off and he sprays poison into the son’s nose. Fuck.

    Get through the flashback and…

    Joaquin Phoenix starts beating the alien with a baseball bat and then accidentally finds his only weakness: water (Jesus, I hope I’m not pissing anyone off with all the spoilers). The water is all over the house because the little girl had been putting it there through the entire movie. As the camera pans the room with glasses of water on every surface, you know that the green bastard is going to die. Painfully.

    The alien even gets a wordless Oh Crap in when the water starts burning him. It’s not until later you start wondering why the aliens invaded a planet that was 3/4 water, but okay.

    Added “Power”: The boy’s ashtma saves his life.

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  7. Thrill *

    That’s Oh Crap, Harley.

    It’s not so much about the villain. It’s kind of that moment that the audience, protagonist, and antagonist all realize that the protagonist is all but invincible. The antagonist is fucked, but that’s just one aspect of the moment.

    HP does have some good inspiration here, such as “A Sword Dropped on His Head” or “Caught the Elder Wand”.

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  8. Xetrov

    All of those examples come close to a Deus ex Machina moment. Insurmountable odds beaten into you the entire movie/book/series (You can’t possibly defeat Voldemort/Mordor/Agent Smith). Then when all seems lost, BAM, the climax, the hand of God enters via a nifty wand (Harry Potter), a bald greedy hobbit (LOTR), or loves true kiss (no, not Disney, the Matrix), the villain is miraculously defeated, the heroes sail off into the sunset.

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  9. Thrill *

    I’m glad someone addressed the Deus ex Machina issue, Xetrov.

    In my opinion, a DeM comes from out of nowhere, isn’t explained, and nothing else in the plot really supports it. A good example would be the army of elves coming from out of nowhere in The Two Towers (which does not happen in the novel) and joining the battle.

    When you’ve been watching a story unfold and there is the sudden hand of God just wiping everything away and making it better, that is extremely unsatisfying. What I like about the trope we’re working on here is that the audience should get satisfaction out of it. A DeM would kill that.

    I don’t think any of the examples qualify as DeM. The Deathly Hallows example relies on two things coming together at once: Voldemort’s last horcrux getting destroyed just in time and the fact that Voldemort is not the master of the Elder Wand. Harry is. It’s not a DeM because the Neville already has the Sword and is actively hunting Nagini. It’s just a question of if he can get to him in time. There’s a lot of tension there, but there’s a sense of purpose. And again: it was Harry disarming Draco earlier in Deathly Hallows that establishes his mastery of the Elder Wand. It was set up in advance and there’s a huge payoff when it betrays Voldemort. It’s not a DeM because there were logical elements of the story coming together at the most critical time.

    Chamber of Secrets comes a lot closer to having a DeM because the Phoenix shows up AND delivers the hat and sword AND blinds the Basilisk AND heals Harry. It’s a bit much and comes across as cheap. Mrs Thrill assures me that this is NOT a DeM because all of that happens because Harry is a true Gryffindor or something. I don’t know.

    However, those elements all come into play in Deathly Hallows as part of the larger story and it turns out to mean something in the end. It’s satisfying when it does. Personally, I don’t think Rowling really had her shit together until Order of the Phoenix.

    LOTR actually has two story lines: Frodo’s and Aragorn’s. The books are even split up by this and it all comes together at the end. Frodo’s story line absolutely ends with a DeM in the form of the Eagles miraculously showing up to rescue him. The movie did a HORRIBLE job with this and made it an obvious DeM. The example I used focuses more on the Aragorn story line though, which is the more logical of the two. One way or another, the Ring is destroyed and that directly influences the result of the battle. Aragorn and his army are rewarded for their courage and sacrifice in deliberately drawing away Sauron’s focus. I don’t see that as a DeM because of course destroying the Ring is the only way Sauron can lose. It’s the whole point of the story. It’s that Aragorn and the Men of the West stood up against fear and hopelessness that made it so rich.

    In The Matrix, we’re told by Morpheus that Neo is the One and that when he accepts that destiny, he won’t even have to dodge bullets. The showdown with Smith is satisfying because Neo has finally realized the power he has always had and the audience is explicitly told in the middle of the movie that he has this power.

    The big DeM in The Matrix series is in Revolutions when Neo is suddenly able to use his powers in the real world with zero explanation or reason. Then the machines accept a truce, end the Matrix, and back off of Zion. None of it makes sense. The machines might as well crush Neo’s skull, finish off Zion, and hook everyone back up to their batteries. The only way it adds up is if you accept the theory that the “real” world is just another Matrix, but nothing in the film really points to this. That’s why Revolutions sucked. The ending sent the audience home going, “The fuck?”

    Now this trope could possibly include some true DeM’s, but they really aren’t satisfying or the product of good storytelling. Deathly Hallows is brilliant because you have little things like Harry disarming Draco turn out to be hugely significant events at the climax. It’s just good storytelling that you have to appreciate when it all comes together.

    So yeah, the examples all appear to come close to being DeM, but they’re actually the opposite of it.

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  10. Xetrov

    In my opinion, a DeM comes from out of nowhere, isn’t explained, and nothing else in the plot really supports it.

    I’d agree with that. As I said (and you agreed), close to a DeM, but no real out of the blue Godly intervention. Perhaps Non or Minime Deus ex Machina (No God from the Machine) would work for the term you’re looking for, considering there appears to still be a Machine at work to get the heroes out of a jam, with no Godly presence behind it.

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