Dramatic irony in movies and TV shows currently popular with teens?
April 15, 2015 2:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of dramatic irony (where the audience knows something that the character doesn't know) to illustrate the concept to a 9th grade literature class. I'd prefer examples from TV shows or movies that they are likely to have seen recently, although popular books might be OK, too.
posted by bardophile to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's the episode Tabula Rasa from Buffy the Vampire Slayer where all the characters lose their memories, so the audience knows about their complicated relationships but the characters don't. Dramatic irony in Spike being mistaken for Giles' son, etc... not sure how popular it is with teens these days tho.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:57 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Disney abounds with these:

- Snow White: We know the the evil queen has a poison apple, but Snow White doesn't know the old woman is the queen in disguise. This creates tension in the audience as we watch Snow White bite into the apple -- we want to warn her because she doesn't know what we know.
- Frozen: We know Elsa has powers she cannot control, but Anna doesn't know this and thinks her sister is simply chilly and aloof, when Elsa is distant because she's terrified of hurting her sister.
- Lion King: We know Scar killed Mufasa, but Simba doesn't, so tension builds because we know Scar is a danger to Simba.
- Beauty and the Beast: Both Belle and the audience know the beast is cursed, but Belle doesn't know how the curse came to be or that it could be reversed or that the Beast swiftly running out of time.
- Little Mermaid: Lots! Ariel doesn't know Ursula is only using her to get to Triton. Eric doesn't know Ariel is a mermaid under a spell. Eric doesn't know Vanessa is someone else in disguise, to lure him away from Ariel. Ariel and Scuttle don't know the names for all the things we know (dinglehopper! snarfblatt!), which has a comedic effect.
posted by mochapickle at 3:18 AM on April 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

In X-Men: First Class (the one with Fassbender & McAvoy) most of the audience with any awareness of the X-Men whatsoever would know that Charles and Erik end up lifelong enemies/leaders of competing mutant factions/epic levels of facebook It's Complicated, but the film takes place over the course of their childhoods and early adulthoods where they meet and come to truly care about and for each other and each others' families.
posted by Mizu at 3:30 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ninth graders around here are very Glee-literate and Glee-conversant from years of watching the show in middle school, though the series is over now. It's chock full of mean kids scheming to trick innocent clueless kids, in over the top dramatic irony.

A good example is when the mean girl cheerleader Kitty makes the nice girl Marly think she is becoming fat by secretly taking in all her clothes (which we, unlike the other characters, are privvy to). This leads Marly to develop an eating disorder and to faint on stage, making the group lose their competition. It's in an episode called "Glease."
The tone is basically OVER THE TOP, CAMP DRAMATIC IRONY OUTRAGE, or another layer of meta-irony that modern teenagers seem to get tonally now.
(Yes, this sadly has become part of my brain, and I hope it is useful for education. )
posted by third rail at 6:09 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

And actually, that example is probably borrowed from an even better one -- in the actual movie Mean Girls, where the heroine (Lindsey Lohan) gives weight-gain bars to the mean girl Regina, pretending they're low calorie, causing Regina to gain weight and lose prestige.
You could do a whole class on the dramatic ironies of manipulated weight anxiety in teenage girls. Jeeeeez.
posted by third rail at 6:12 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

The entirely unnecessary Star Wars prequels, which your students probably like because they aren't "boring" like The Empire Strikes Back. All three movies exist on the premise that the audience knows that Anakin will become Darth Vader at the end of the third one.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:49 AM on April 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: SPOILERS BELOW!

Sometimes dramatic irony can be present even without it being explicit in the source material; many of those who saw the TFIOS movie probably had read the book or at least knew the basic plot. Thus, they were very aware while watching the film of what was only hinted at in the novel: Hazel will outlive the seemingly healthier Gus.

You could get a little meta with the Hunger Games: in the first book/movie Katniss kisses Peeta to play up the romance for the Capital audience, but we as the reader know she feels at most conflicted towards him. The dramatic irony also plays into the larger narrative irony of the story in which the denizens of the Capital care about a love story that the audience knows is just a ploy by Katniss/her handlers while ignoring the horror of the fact that children are being sacrificed for their amusement and to maintain social control. This also plays into the meta-irony which is that many of the book's readers seem to also care more about the love triangle than the horror of the society depicted.

I'm not sure if the ages quite match up right but if your kids watched the Avatar cartoon much of the plot of the first half of season 3 revolves around a plan to invade the Fire Nation that is supposed to be a surprise, but the audience knows it is not.

Any fans of the Gravity Falls cartoon know that Grunkle Stan is more than he seems long before his unsuspecting niece and nephew do. This dramatic irony is used to gradually escalate the tension up to the last couple episodes.

Along with all the Disney movies mentioned I would note that the Pixar films are all rife with dramatic irony, and frequently include dialog that highlights it. In Toy Story we know Buzz is a toy; he himself does not. In WALL-E the audience knows the starship Axiom's autopilot is evil long before the human passengers do. In Brave the audience knows that the mother has been turned into a bear but her husband does not, and nearly kills her.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:16 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

The current Flash series on CW is almost entirely built on this. (Some heavy spoilers if you're behind on this show or something.)

The audience is fed a LOT of scenes showing us that Barry's (main character, aka the Flash) mentor, Dr. Harrison Wells, is not what he appears to be. This builds in several reveals of increasing significance, starting with letting us see that he's not really confined to that wheelchair and appears to come from - or at least know an awful lot about - the future.

Then we see that he's able and willing to kill people who get in his way - VERY out of keeping with the persona he presents to the rest of the team - and the indication that his reasons for helping Barry learn to use his powers more effectively are actually in service of some darker agenda of his own.

Then the confirmation that he really is the other really fast guy in the yellow suit (as opposed to Barry's red) who occasionally shows up being all weird and mysterious and appears to have been involved in the death of Barry's mother back in the past.

And most recently the revelation that he isn't even Harrison Wells at all, but someone else from the future who killed the real Wells and took over his identity. At this point, Barry and the other characters are starting to figure out that something isn't quite right with Wells, but they have no idea what it is.

So you've got a whole symphony of dramatic irony going on in this show, in which we the audience are getting played like a harp. Each reveal builds the stakes and changes our own understanding of the real situation - to which the other characters are mostly oblivious. And as soon as time travel got into the mix, they immediately engineered a situation where Wells murdered Cisco, a beloved major character who Wells himself views as kind of the son he never had, just to yank it back through time travel. (Of course time travel is basically dramatic irony made... well, not flesh but a powerful and often cruel force.) So nobody knows about that and Cisco is just fine. But we know Wells would kill Cisco if Cisco again figures out the truth that got him killed the first time.

And on the other side, they're now starting to play with the ignorance levels of the other characters. As I said above, Barry and some supporting characters are starting to be suspicious that Wells was somehow involved in the show's creative genesis moment from which everything stems, the death of Barry's mom some 20 years ago. But none of it makes any sense to them. So from knowing nothing while we learn more and more of the truth, they're now sort of groping around in the dark towards that truth that we now know.

Show is in its first season - there are like a dozen episodes or so in total, some of which aren't really all that connected to this particular storyline so you don't need to watch all of them to get this point. Don't know if you can get them, but they're current, they're a perfect illustration of what you're looking for, and the show is pretty tame in terms of sex and violence and stuff. I don't see how anybody could object to showing it to 9th graders.
posted by Naberius at 9:18 AM on April 15, 2015

Oh, and of course there's Hannibal, though I kind of hope not too many 9th graders have seen it.
posted by Mizu at 9:25 AM on April 15, 2015

TVTropes has a helpful list. Serial stories like TV shows and comicbooks are likely in using explicit dramatic irony, i.e. milking it for all its worth over a period of time. But I think you're better off using movies or books, because not everyone watches the same TV series, so to use one as an example you'll end up explaining/recapping/spoiling A LOT more material than covered by a single movie, as in The Flash example above.

Still, like Flash, genre stories like superhero lit and horror are really the BEST at blatant dramatic irony, owing to their pulp-melodrama roots. There's the classic "girl alone with person she doesn't know is the serial killer, while the audience screams at her 'RUN!'" of slasher horror. And while concealing your secret superhero identity has gotten less popular recently due the "flat-out lying to everyone you care about" part, superhero lit still uses it often.

- In The Dark Knight Rises, Selina / Catwoman leads Batman into Bane's trap, only to discover too late that Batman is actually the millionaire guy she kinda-likes, Bruce Wayne.
- In the 1999 flashback that opens Iron Man 3, drunk Tony Stark blows off or antagonizes (at least) two scientists at a party. One scientist is Aldrich Killian, who vows revenge and (years later) serves as the present-day villain in IM3; the other scientist is Ho Yinsen, who (years later) died saving Tony's life in the first Iron Man.
- The entire premise of Agent Carter mourning the death of Captain America / Steve Rogers is dramatic irony, because the audience knows that Cap is safely frozen in ice for decades, but he will meet Carter again too late.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:03 PM on April 15, 2015

Bonus Arrow melodrama: this season alone has seen (overarching plot spoilers while naming no names the main Arrow cast investigate a murder while concealing the death from the public and the supporting cast. Then the killer is discovered to not know they're the killer. This leads to the continued public coverup of the murder, the coverup of the killer's identity from the public and from the killer, and the threat of revealing the innocent killer's murder to them used as blackmail by the real criminal who manipulated the killer into unknowingly committing homicide in the first place.

I may sound like I'm criticizing, but I actually love all of this. COMICS!
posted by nicebookrack at 12:05 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Many thanks, all. These have really helped me find useful hooks.
posted by bardophile at 6:17 PM on May 15, 2015

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