Deus ex machina (Latin for “god from the machine” or “god out of the machine”) is a literary device in which a character, usually a god or goddess, intervenes in an action to resolve a problem. It is often used by authors to resolve plot problems and can be seen as a solution to the problem without considering all the implications.
Deus ex machina is a term used in drama, comedy and other fictional works to describe a plot device that is introduced at the last minute to explain or resolve a problem. What is it good for? The term can be used in many different ways, depending on the context and genre.
The term itself was coined by Horace Walpole to describe the use of a stage effect in The Castle of Otranto, which he wrote in 1764 and 1765. In this story, the hero finds himself in a castle surrounded by enemies, and he is saved from his predicament by the arrival of a mysterious man with a magic wand.
It was used to describe the use of a sudden and unexpected solution to a problem, as opposed to one that was expected but not seen coming. In this article we'll look at some of the more common uses of deus ex machina in fiction.
The term may have originated from the Greek mythology of Zeus. When the gods were going to decide whether to give man free will, Zeus was challenged by Athena to make a test. If he would be able to make someone do something they did not want to do, he would be declared the winner and given free will.
Why is Deus Ex Machina bad?
Deus Ex Machina is a term used in literature to refer to the use of a “god-like” character who acts in a way that makes a problem or conflict seem insoluble, and thus forces the story into an unsatisfactory resolution. It can also be used to describe the character who has no explanation for their actions other than to say “I'm a god”.
This can be a trope used by authors who do not want to write a book that would otherwise have a happy ending. A common technique is to make the main character believe something which is later proven to be false, and then having the character struggle with the consequences of believing that lie.
In his first novel, The Time Machine, H.G. Wells introduces the protagonist, Professor Robert Morley, as an ordinary man who just happens to have been born with the ability to travel through time.
Throughout the book, Morley struggles with the paradoxes and moral implications of this ability, until he decides to use it to save the world from an impending nuclear holocaust. The novel ends with a twist in which Morley's actions have caused the nuclear war, but the time machine has somehow transported him and his friends back to the time period before the war began.
In the novel The Time Traveller's Wife, H.G. Wells introduces his protagonist, H.G. Wells, as an ordinary man whose wife has died and who, at the age of thirty-six, is living with a much younger woman whom he does not love.
Why is it called Deus Ex Machina?
It comes from a Greek myth about a god who was wounded by a bolt of lightning. Zeus, the king of the gods, was in a hurry to heal him and asked his son Hermes to bring him a wooden horse that would fly, so he could be carried to a place where the god could receive medical attention.
The story goes that after finding the horse, Hermes took it to the place where the god had been wounded and asked him what he wanted to do with it. The god replied that he needed it to transport him to the temple of Asclepius (the god of healing). Hermes was horrified and asked the god what he meant by this.
The god said that he was going to go to the temple to be healed of his wound. Hermes hurried to the temple and was able to get there just in time to see Death remove the final bandage from the wound. As the bandage came off, life returned to the god's body.
He then said that he was going to use the horse to take himself to the temple, and so Hermes built a wooden horse, which was named “deus ex machina”.
When Deus Ex Machina works
The exceptions to the rule are everywhere, and nothing’s completely black and white. There are some instances where deus ex machina completely change the outcome of a story and don't just make us care but it's why we keep coming back for more. This usually happens when the twist makes sense within the world and context of the story.
Everyone who watches James Bond movies gets excited every time 007 finds himself in a seemingly desperate, inescapable situation. They just sit on the edge of their seat and wonder which handy gadget James Bond will pull from his sleeve.
Another brilliant use of Deus Ex Machina is in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The premise of the movie is that when you dream, you only dream. When you dream of an action in your dreams, it will be that action when you are awake.
Then the film takes this concept and turns it upside down, so that you think your dreams have come true, but when you wake up, you find you've been tricked into believing that everything in your dreams was real, even though it was all just a dream.
This movie works because of its narrative surprise. Audiences have bought into the premise from the very beginning. They didn't question why or how the machine was so effective. Instead, they trusted the machine.
If you feel like your world is crazy enough that a Deus ex Machina would actually add something to the script, then maybe it's time to give it a try. But you never want to rely on a deus ex machina or have the story fall apart because you can't think of anything better. To use a deus ex machina effectively, it should be a choice, and it must work within the world of your story. In general, a deus ex machina should be used sparingly.
It doesn’t have to be the biggest or most outrageous plot device to work, and it often serves as the best way to introduce a character, particularly if the character doesn’t show up again until later in the film.