Deus ex Machina

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Created by: Team English -, Last Updated: June 10, 2024

Deus ex Machina

In literature and films, the use of deus ex machina is not just a random plot device; it’s a deliberate narrative choice. Similar to how a sudden twist can refocus the storyline, employing deus ex machina resolves complex plot issues with an unexpected intervention. This technique can shift the story’s momentum dramatically, just like when a pivotal character is introduced. Writers use deus ex machina to create a turning point that often leads to a swift conclusion, enhancing dramatic tension and ensuring a resolution that keeps audiences engaged. This calculated use of deus ex machina not only moves the plot forward but also keeps the audience guessing, making the story more memorable and impactful.

What is Deus ex Machina?

Deus ex Machina is a literary device where a sudden, unexpected solution resolves a seemingly insurmountable problem in a story. The term, meaning “god from the machine,” originates from ancient Greek theater, where gods were often lowered onto the stage to solve complex issues. In modern narratives, this may involve introducing a new character or event that quickly resolves the conflict. While it can provide a dramatic resolution, it’s often viewed as a sign of poor plotting because it can feel unearned and abrupt to the audience.

Function of  Deus ex Machina

The function of deus ex machina in storytelling is primarily to resolve conflicts or plot dilemmas in a sudden and unexpected way. This literary device serves several purposes:

  1. Quick Resolution: It allows writers to conclude stories quickly, especially when the plot has reached a complex situation that seems difficult to resolve in conventional ways.
  2. Dramatic Effect: Deus ex machina can create a dramatic and memorable impact on the narrative, surprising the audience and shifting the story’s direction dramatically.
  3. Thematic Emphasis: Sometimes, it is used to emphasize themes such as fate, divine intervention, or the unpredictability of life.
  4. Aid to Characters: It often helps characters escape from dire situations, providing them a sudden reprieve or victory that they couldn’t achieve on their own.
  5. Narrative Convenience: From a practical standpoint, it offers a straightforward solution for writers to tie up loose ends and complete a story within limited space or time constraints.

Pronunciation of Deus ex Machina

The phrase “deus ex machina” is pronounced as \ˈdā-əs-eks-ˈmä-kə-nə. Here’s a breakdown to make it easier to understand how to say it:

  • The first word Deus is pronounced as “day-us,” where “deus” sounds like “day” in “daylight” and “us” as in “us.”
  • The second word Ex is pronounced as “eks,” sounding just like the letter “X.”
  • The third word Machina is pronounced as “mah-kee-nah.” The “ma” sounds like “mah,” “chi” like “kee” in “keen,” and “na” like “nah.”

When pronouncing “deus ex machina,” the emphasis is placed on the first syllable of “deus” and the second syllable of “machina”: “DAY-us eks mah-KEE-nah.” This pronunciation guide can help you confidently say the term when discussing literature, theater, or film where this plot device is mentioned.

Types of Deus Ex Machina

Deus ex machina, a plot device that resolves complex story situations in an abrupt and often surprising manner, can manifest in various forms across different media. Understanding these types can enrich your appreciation of narrative techniques in literature, film, and theater. Here are the main types of deus ex machina:

  1. Supernatural Intervention: This classic form involves gods or other supernatural forces intervening directly to resolve the story’s conflicts. This type traces back to ancient Greek theater where gods literally descended onto the stage.
  2. Sudden Technological or Magical Solution: In sci-fi or fantasy contexts, a new invention or a magical element can suddenly appear to solve the central problem, shifting the story’s outcome instantly.
  3. Unexpected Character Arrival: A new character or a forgotten one reappears at the climax to provide a crucial piece of information or action that resolves the main conflict.
  4. Legal or Political Change: A sudden shift in the political landscape or an unexpected legal decision can provide a quick resolution to the narrative conflict.
  5. Miraculous Survival or Recovery: Characters may unexpectedly survive against all odds or recover instantly from severe dilemmas or injuries, thus pushing the story towards resolution.
  6. Unforeseen Wealth or Resource: The discovery of a new resource or receiving an unexpected inheritance can also act as a deus ex machina, resolving financial or resource-based conflicts.

When Do We Use Deus ex Machina

Deus ex machina is a literary and dramatic concept used to resolve complex storylines with a sudden and unexpected plot device. This narrative tool has a rich history in storytelling, where it offers a unique way to conclude seemingly unsolvable dilemmas within a story. Here’s a closer look at why and when it’s used:

  1. Quick Conflict Resolution: Deus ex machina is often utilized to quickly resolve conflicts that do not have an apparent solution, allowing the story to conclude on a decisive note. This is particularly useful in plots with tight deadlines or length constraints.
  2. Dramatic Effect: This device can introduce a shocking twist that heightens drama. By delivering an unforeseen solution, it keeps audiences engaged and can create memorable moments.
  3. Thematic Purposes: In stories where fate, destiny, or divine intervention are underlying themes, deus ex machina reinforces these concepts, suggesting that the characters’ lives are influenced by greater forces.
  4. Narrative Convenience: It can help writers tie up complex plots efficiently, especially in narratives where multiple story threads converge and need to be resolved simultaneously.
  5. Emergency Solution: Occasionally, writers employ deus ex machina as an emergency solution to resolve narrative issues that arise during the writing process, ensuring that the story progresses to its intended conclusion.

Examples of Deus ex Machina in Sentences

  1. In a fantasy novel, just as the protagonist is about to be defeated by the dark lord, a previously unmentioned ancient dragon swoops down and rescues them, turning the tide of battle.
  2. During a climactic movie scene, the main character is trapped with no means of escape, but suddenly an earthquake strikes, conveniently allowing them to escape their captor.
  3. In a thriller novel, the detective is at a dead end with the case unsolvable, until an anonymous benefactor delivers a piece of crucial evidence that wraps up the mystery neatly.
  4. A science fiction film features a spaceship running out of fuel in enemy territory, only for a previously unknown alien species to arrive out of nowhere and provide the needed fuel.
  5. In a romance drama, the lead character is heartbroken and about to move away, when their love interest suddenly gets a job transfer to the same city, solving their relationship dilemma.
  6. A superhero comic where the hero is on the brink of defeat, but a new superpower manifests unexpectedly, allowing them to overpower the villain in the final moments.
  7. In a historical drama series, a character is wrongly accused and about to be executed, when a new royal decree is declared granting amnesty to all prisoners.
  8. A mystery play where the protagonist can’t figure out the culprit, but then a minor character who had little prior importance confesses to the crime, resolving the plot.
  9. In a dystopian novel, the rebels are about to be crushed by the government forces when a sudden revolution in a neighboring country diverts the government’s resources and attention.
  10. During the climax of a horror movie, the characters are cornered with no hope of survival, but suddenly the sun rises, and the evil creatures that are vulnerable to sunlight retreat.

Examples of Deus ex Machina in literature

  1. “War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells – As all seems lost and humanity is about to be defeated by Martians, the aliens unexpectedly die off due to their vulnerability to Earth’s bacteria.
  2. “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding – Just as the boys’ society on the island descends into chaos, a naval officer arrives unexpectedly to rescue them.
  3. “Medea” by Euripides – In the climax of the play, Medea escapes retribution by the gods who provide her with a dragon-pulled chariot to flee in.
  4. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter is saved in the Chamber when Fawkes the phoenix arrives just in time with the Sorting Hat, providing Harry with the sword of Gryffindor to kill the basilisk.
  5. “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien – When Bilbo and the dwarves are surrounded by enemies, the Eagles arrive unexpectedly to carry them to safety.
  6. “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville – As Captain Ahab battles Moby Dick, the narrative conflict is abruptly resolved when the whale sinks Ahab’s ship and disappears, ending the chase.
  7. “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury – When the Earth is facing imminent nuclear war, a timely rain on Mars helps grow the Earth crops, providing the Martian colonists a new food source and hope.
  8. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen – Lydia’s scandalous elopement, which threatens the reputation of her entire family, is abruptly resolved by Mr. Darcy who finds Lydia and Wickham and arranges their marriage.
  9. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis – Aslan’s sudden resurrection serves as a deus ex machina that shifts the power back to the protagonists in the battle against the White Witch.
  10. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins – Near the end of the games, the rule allowing two tributes from the same district to win is suddenly revoked, then just as suddenly reinstated, allowing both Katniss and Peeta to emerge as victors.

Examples of Deus ex Machina In Movies

  1. “Eagle Eye” (2008) – In the climax, the protagonists are saved from an impossible situation by a sudden airstrike that eliminates the antagonist’s threat, resolving the central conflict unexpectedly.
  2. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) – The Eagles appear just in time to rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom after the Ring is destroyed, offering a timely solution to their perilous situation.
  3. “War of the Worlds” (2005) – Similar to the novel, the invading aliens die off suddenly due to Earth’s microbes, resolving the invasion threat instantly without human intervention.
  4. “Independence Day” (1996) – The alien invaders are defeated when a virus, quickly and somewhat improbably written by a character, is uploaded to their mothership, disabling their defenses.
  5. “Avatar” (2009) – In the battle’s climax, the protagonist is saved by the Pandora wildlife, which intervenes inexplicably to fight against the human invaders.
  6. “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003) – Neo negotiates peace with the machines in a sudden turn of events that resolves the war with the machines almost instantaneously.
  7. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) – In an intentionally absurd twist, modern-day police officers arrive and arrest the characters, abruptly ending the medieval quest.
  8. “Signs” (2002) – The alien invaders, who have been terrorizing the world, are unexpectedly vulnerable to water, allowing the family to defeat them with simple household means.
  9. “Con Air” (1997) – The film ends with a series of improbably convenient events that lead to the capture of the remaining escaped convicts, quickly resolving the ongoing threat.
  10. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2016) – The overwhelming magical creature outbreak in New York is conveniently erased from non-wizard memories by magical rain, restoring normalcy instantly.

Examples of Deus ex Machina In Anime

Deus ex machina in anime often appears as a sudden and unexpected twist that quickly resolves complex situations or conflicts. This narrative device can take various forms, from miraculous power-ups to unexpected character arrivals. Here are 10 examples from popular anime that illustrate this concept:

  1. “Dragon Ball Z”: Characters often receive sudden power boosts or timely help from allies, even from beyond the grave, which allows them to overcome seemingly unbeatable foes.
  2. “Naruto”: The Fourth Hokage appears just in time to stop the Nine-Tails’ rampage, providing a crucial intervention when all seems lost.
  3. “Sword Art Online”: Kirito defeats the game creator under impossible circumstances by mysteriously overcoming in-game death, an event that bends the established game rules.
  4. “Bleach”: Ichigo receives unexpected power gains when facing deadly foes, often through external help or inner power sources that were not previously revealed.
  5. “Attack on Titan”: Key battles and survival scenarios are influenced by the abrupt interventions of the Colossal and Armored Titans, changing the course of the story dramatically.
  6. “Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann”: In a desperate moment, Simon finds the key to his mecha, Lagann, which turns the tide in an important battle.
  7. “Fairy Tail”: Characters in this series frequently overcome challenges through the “power of friendship,” gaining strength in critical moments to defeat powerful enemies.
  8. “One Piece”: The series features numerous instances where external forces or sudden revelations help the main characters escape deadly situations or conclude difficult battles.
  9. “No Game No Life”: The protagonists manage to win games by pulling off unexpected and seemingly impossible victories at the last moment.
  10. “Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica”: Madoka’s final transformation into a nearly omnipotent being resolves the main conflict in a way that drastically alters the series’ reality.

Examples of  Deus ex Machina  in Books

Deus ex machina is a narrative technique that provides a sudden and unexpected resolution to a seemingly intractable problem within a story. Here are several examples from books where this device is prominently used:

  1. “War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells – The Martians, who seem invincible throughout the novel, are suddenly killed by Earth’s microbes, to which they have no immunity, saving humanity from defeat.
  2. “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien – In “The Return of the King,” the Eagles suddenly appear to rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom after the One Ring is destroyed, providing a timely rescue that feels both sudden and miraculous.
  3. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling – Harry is saved during his confrontation with the Basilisk when Fawkes the Phoenix arrives unexpectedly with the Sorting Hat, which then produces the Sword of Gryffindor.
  4. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis – Aslan is resurrected without prior explanation of this possibility, which turns the tide in the battle against the White Witch.
  5. “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville – The book concludes with the sudden appearance of another ship, the Rachel, which rescues Ishmael after the Pequod is destroyed, seemingly out of nowhere.
  6. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë – Toward the end of the novel, Jane hears Rochester’s supernatural voice calling her from miles away, which leads her back to him, a mysterious event that prompts the resolution of the plot.
  7. “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens – Sydney Carton’s last-minute switch with Charles Darnay, leading to his own execution, comes unexpectedly and resolves the major conflict of the story.
  8. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley – The creature vows to kill himself on a funeral pyre in the Arctic, which conveniently ends his story without further pursuit.
  9. “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien – The Battle of the Five Armies nearly wipes out all protagonists until the Eagles and Beorn appear abruptly to turn the battle.
  10. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen – Lydia’s marriage to Wickham arranged by Mr. Darcy, which resolves the family’s potential disgrace in a swift and somewhat unexpected manner.

Examples of  Deus ex Machina  in Everyday Speech

  1. We were all set to cancel the outdoor wedding due to the storm, but a deus ex machina happened when the weather cleared up miraculously just an hour before the ceremony.”
  2. “I was sure I’d missed the deadline for the project, but then, like a deus ex machina, my boss extended it unexpectedly.”
  3. “Just as I was about to run out of money while traveling, a deus ex machina occurred — I found some forgotten cash in a jacket pocket.”
  4. “Our team was losing badly, but a deus ex machina happened when the star player from the opposing team got a sudden cramp and had to leave the game.”
  5. “I thought I would be stuck at the airport overnight, but a deus ex machina struck when a last-minute seat opened up on an earlier flight.”
  6. “The presentation was going poorly until a deus ex machina saved me — the fire alarm went off, and we had to evacuate, so I got extra time to prepare.”
  7. “We were about to lose the court case, but a deus ex machina appeared in the form of new evidence that proved our client’s innocence.”
  8. “The car broke down in the desert, but a deus ex machina occurred when a tow truck just happened to be passing by on that remote road.”
  9. “We thought we’d have to cancel the event because of the budget cuts, but a deus ex machina came through with an anonymous donation covering all the expenses.”
  10. “I was running late and expected to miss my train, but a deus ex machina happened when the train was delayed by 15 minutes.”

Deus ex Machina vs. Plot twist

Deus ex Machina vs. Plot twist
AspectDeus ex MachinaPlot Twist
DefinitionA sudden and unexpected intervention to resolve a seemingly unsolvable problem.A sudden change in the expected direction or outcome of the plot.
PurposeTo resolve conflicts quickly and bring the story to a conclusion.To shock or surprise the audience and add complexity to the storyline.
UsageOften viewed as a last resort to end a story when no other solution is viable.Used deliberately to enhance the narrative by introducing new possibilities.
Effect on PlotTypically offers a quick resolution that might not be thoroughly explained.Rethinks or redefines the audience’s understanding of the storyline.
Audience ReactionCan be unsatisfying if it appears forced or unearned, feeling like a cheat.Generally increases engagement and interest by subverting expectations.
ExamplesA god appears out of nowhere to save the hero; a random lottery win solves financial woes.A loyal character revealed as the traitor; a protagonist discovered to be t

What does Deus ex Machina literally mean?

“Deus ex machina” is a Latin phrase that literally translates to “god from the machine.” It originally referred to the practice in ancient Greek theater where a god was lowered onto the stage using a mechanical device (the machine) to resolve complex plot situations or provide a resolution to the story.

Is god a Deus ex Machina?

In literature and drama, a god can be considered a deus ex machina if they suddenly appear and resolve the plot’s conflicts in an unexpected and sometimes implausible manner. This term is not used to describe an actual deity but rather a plot device involving any character or element that provides a convenient and sudden resolution to a narrative problem.

How is Deus ex Machina used today?

Today, deus ex machina is used in storytelling across books, movies, and other forms of media to introduce a sudden and unexpected event, character, ability, or object that resolves a situation or conflict in the plot. While it can be seen as a way to neatly tie up loose ends, it’s generally advised to use this device sparingly. Overuse can lead to dissatisfaction among audiences, as it may appear as though the writer has not thought through the plot thoroughly.

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