And it all turns out to be a dream.
March 4, 2011 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Movie device solves everything trope?

Is there a name for a device or plot development whereby any problem can be solved? For example: time travel is good for miraculously solving all sorts of problems. Or it turns out to be magic, or the almighty hand of god. Or Jeeves.

It's almost like laziness in writing for shows like Lost -- or that explanatory step in the cartoon that says "And then a miracle occurs" right before the final box. The scriptwriters can come up with all sorts of crazy nonsense but not have to plot out a solution because look, time travel! Game over at that point.

It seems like this should have a name, like Chekhov's gun or the Macguffin, but I am not sure. Also I may be describing this poorly.
posted by theredpen to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
Best answer: Deus ex machina
posted by brainmouse at 10:51 AM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability, or object.
posted by mskyle at 10:51 AM on March 4, 2011

Deus ex machina?
posted by padraigin at 10:51 AM on March 4, 2011

Deus ex machina?
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:52 AM on March 4, 2011

I was looking for Applied Phlebotinum, but this google search just gave me so many more TvTrope articles to read I had to include it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Related to deus ex machina, maybe applied phlebotinum in the TV Tropes world.
posted by phunniemee at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you! I kept thinking "ghost in the machine," but I knew that wasn't it. It's nice to be able to label things when they annoy me.
posted by theredpen at 10:55 AM on March 4, 2011

Could also be an ass pull depending on how it's written.
posted by valkyryn at 11:03 AM on March 4, 2011

d'oh! And it was even the title of an episode in the first season of LOST! How did I not see it coming?
posted by Sassyfras at 11:42 AM on March 4, 2011

Related: Unobtainium. A material, possibly magical, that can be used to make a machine capable of impossible things.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:15 PM on March 4, 2011

There's also the phrase "magic happens here" in the imddle of poorly-thought-out flowcharts.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:17 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Suddenly, a shot rang out...
Works equally well for print or screen
posted by Thorzdad at 12:32 PM on March 4, 2011

For what it's worth Deus Ex Machina is traditionally not considered to be a necessarily bad thing. Some of the greatest works of human culture have relied on it. See, for instance, virtually all the classical Greek tragedies.

Of course, you need to deploy it with style. But the expression as commonly used by scholars does not have a negative connotation per se. It's just a trope.
posted by Sara C. at 12:37 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Star Trek scriptwriters used to call this "tech."

"It became the solution to so many plot lines and so many stories," Moore said. "It was so mechanical that we had science consultants who would just come up with the words for us and we'd just write 'tech' in the script. You know, Picard would say 'Commander La Forge, tech the tech to the warp drive.' I'm serious. If you look at those scripts, you'll see that."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:36 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

That would be Star Trek, The Next Generation -- Gene Rodenberry hated "tech" because it's a surefire way to convert real science fiction into fantasy. Ruins a lot of TNG for me, because

It's almost like laziness in writing

Not almost, that's exactly what it is. Coupled with a lack of imagination, there's some more crap entertainment for the masses.
posted by Rash at 2:17 PM on March 4, 2011

Adding to Sara C.'s comment. Deus Ex Machina wasn't problematic in ancient Greek tragedy, because in that context, it made perfect sense for a supernatural being to swoop down and resolve the story. It wasn't seen as an 'out of nowhere' solution, because the interference of gods was expected, and the point of the narrative was not to play out the fantasies of audience members as super problem solvers, the way it often is today, especially in movies.

Similarly, time travel can function as a deus ex machina, but it doesn't have to. Doctor Who is a great example of this. Traveling in time is the thing that he does most easily, but his attempts to solve his problems that way always end badly.
posted by bingo at 2:19 PM on March 4, 2011

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