Deus ex machina

From Academic Kids

Deus ex machina is Latin for "god from the machine" and is a calque from the Greek "από μηχανής θεός", (pronounced "apo mekhanes theos"). It originated with Greek and Roman theater, when a mechane would lower a god or gods onstage to resolve a hopeless situation. Thus, "god comes from the machine". The phrase deus ex machina has been extended to refer to any resolution to a story which does not pay due regard to the story's internal logic and is so unlikely it challenges suspension of disbelief, and presumably allows the author to end it in the way he or she wanted.

The pronunciation of the phrase is a problem in English. Traditional ways of saying Latin would have it something like DAY-us ex MAK-in-a, while more modern ways of pronouncing Latin would give perhaps DAY-oos ex MAH-kin-ah, but many people naturally bring in the modern English m'SHEEN, resulting in a mixed pronunciation.

The Greek tragedian Euripides was notorious for using this plot device.


Deus ex machina in fiction works

Literature and comics

  • In the Edgar Allan Poe story The Pit and the Pendulum, the unnamed narrator has just been pushed over the edge of the bottomless pit when he reaches up and grabs the arm of the general who has led the French army to seize the fortress where the narrator has been imprisoned.
  • In Stephen King's novel The Stand, a minor character who has gone insane in the desert returns to Las Vegas with an atomic bomb, which is set off by an electrical charge taking the shape of a hand and destroying the city. The characters in Boulder believe the charge to have been the "Hand of God." Many of King's novels have a "deus ex" ending. In the Peter Straub/Stephen King novel The Talisman, one of the characters is said to be driving a Deus ex machina.
  • In The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton, an alien artifact known as "the Sleeping God" is used to solve a problem which over 3000 pages have been working through, in less than 5 minutes (or an hour, in the "Tinkerbell/Ketton" events).
  • Many comic book characters can be seen as walking "dei ex machinis". Wolverine is viewed by many fans of the X-Men comics as such. His mutant powers include an incredibly fast healing ability (making him nearly invincible), enhanced senses, and a skeleton of adamantium, a fictional indestructible metal. Lifeguard, also from the X-Men, is widely considered by her detractors to be the ultimate deus ex. Her mutant ability is to manifest any necessary ability to save lives, which makes her a quick fix for the writers if any characters are stuck in a tight spot. Perhaps the most famous superhero to be labelled a "deus ex" is Superman himself, as his writers had a tendency to inflate his powers over the years to constantly trump his previous successes. Kryptonite, Superman's only weakness, then became a sort of reverse deus ex machina, which would be called in whenever the writer wanted to explore a conflict which he didn't want Superman to resolve in one punch.
  • In the Lance Tooks graphic novel "The Devil on Fever Street", Satan falls in love with a mortal woman; order is restored when the saintly Black Lily Baptiste is mortally struck by a driverless truck bearing the words "Dusek's Machines" printed on its side.
  • In Bored of the Rings, Frito and Spam are rescued by Deus Ex Machina Airlines (parodying Frodo and Sam being rescued by eagles at Mount Doom, in the original Lord of the Rings stories).
  • In Isaac Asimov's I, Robot it is used as a part of the description of the relationship between humans and robots.
  • The character of Puck ends William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with a decidedly Deus Ex Machina flair.
  • In Forever Free by Joe Haldeman, after discovering the entire population of earth has disappeared, the main character meets God, who explains that the universe as man knows it has been one big experiment, which has now been aborted. After a short conversation, God agrees to restore everyone and leave the experiment to "simmer" for another few thousand years.
  • In The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, the Earth is attacked by highly intelligent Martians, whose superior machinery and weaponry render them all but invincible to any counterattack. Much of the book is spent describing the futility of all attempts to stop the invasion, culminating in the narrator's apparent resignation to his fate. However, at this point it is revealed that the Martians are highly susceptible to Earth-borne bacteria, having had no opportunity to build up antibodies to protect themselves. All the invaders quickly succumb to various diseases, and humanity is saved.
  • The first, second, and fourth Harry Potter novels all end with DEMs. In the 1st novel Harry's Mother's sacrifice saves him from Quirrel. In the 2nd book, Fawkes the phoenix comes out of nowhere to rescue Harry and in the 4th book, priori incantatem saves Harry from Voldemort.
  • In Stephen King's Dark Tower series, the author's fictional counterpart plays the DEM role when he provides Jake Chambers and Father Callahan with a clue to where Susannah Dean has gone. King does this once more in the final book of this series, warning Roland of Gilead and Susannah Dean of the vampire Dandelo.
  • In Molire's The School for Wives, Agns is suddenly found out to have been betrothed all along with another man, which spares us from marrying Arnolphe.
  • Tintin's encountered more often than not Deus Ex Machinaes to spare his life (heavy weights replaced by wood, a solar eclipse, explosive mines not working...).
  • In an Astro Boy episode, Professor Ochanomizu is stabbed to death by Ham Egg while they are detained on an alien spaceship. After Astro defeats the aliens, he finds out that the aliens have a scientific device to bring the dead back to life, and so Astro ressurects Ochanomizu, bringing the cast back to normal.
  • In Great Teacher Onizuka, Azusa has been kidnapped by Teshigawara. Onizuka not being smart enough to investigate it, a whole new character arrives, Makoto, Azusa's sister who is a genius investigator and who manages to find back Azusa and thwart Teshigawara.
  • In Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, scientist race to find a way to contain an extremely dangerous extra-terristrial virus. In the end, they fail and the virus escapes into the atmosphere, but conviently for mankind the virus mutates into a completely harmless form.
  • In Richard Adams' Watership Down, Hazel, after freeing the local farm dog to attack the Efrafans, he is immediately pinned by the farm cat about to be killed until a young girl resident of the farm intervenes by ordering the cat to back away and then takes Hazel into the country to a location which is coinicidentally near his warren.

Cinema and television

  • Additional examples are in the films The Joyless Street and Pandora's Box by G.W. Pabst. In Pandora's Box, the movie is ended when, for no apparent reason, the main character is murdered by Jack the Ripper. Similarly, in Medium Cool, the final scene ends with the lead characters being killed in a car accident.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail employs the device in combination with "breaking the fourth wall" when the film ends with a battle is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of the modern police who immediately arrest the entire on-screen principal cast of medieval characters.
  • In The Matrix Revolutions, the third movie of the Matrix trilogy, the Deus Ex Machina is the ultimate power in the machine world. With presumably intentional irony, that godlike machine does provide a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation.
  • In the end of the movie Donnie Darko, Donnie actually says the phrase, although it is very difficult to understand. Most people agree on that fact that the "Deus ex machina" in this story refers to the car that appears in that same scene, right after Donnie whispers the phrase. This is deliberate usage and a prime example of the technique.
  • In Adaptation, the main character (who is a screenwriter writing a screenplay of The Orchid Thief) takes a screenwriting class and is told by the script guru not to end his movie with a Deus ex machina. Because of this, he deliberately uses the device.
  • In The Wizard of Oz, just before Dorothy and her companions reach the Emerald City, the Wicked Witch of the West produces a giant field of poppies that puts Dorothy, Toto and the Cowardly Lion to sleep. The Scarecrow and the Tinman cry for help, and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, produces a snow shower that wakes everyone up.
  • At the end of the film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, the treasure chest containing the main character's gambling winnings has the phrase "Deus ex Machina" written on it. (The joke being that the prize money will be the thing that solves the problem in a flash)
  • Deus Ex Machina is the name of the ship Joel Robinson uses to escape from the Satellite of Love on the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Ethics, after Worf apparently dies, he suddenly recovers thanks to an improbable quirk of Klingon anatomy.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Sacrifice of Angels, the USS Defiant went into the Bajoran wormhole to face a gigantic Dominion invasion fleet that vastly outnumbered the combined forces of the Federation and Klingons. After talking with Sisko, the aliens that lived in the wormhole simply caused the fleet to vanish into nothingness.
  • In the television series Lost, the 19th episode is called "Deus Ex Machina".
  • In The Simpsons episode Thank God, It's Doomsday, after the rapture occurs and Homer Simpson is taken to heaven, he asks God to reverse what has happened. God agrees, then proclaims "Deus ex Machina" and normality is restored magically.
  • The seventh (and final) season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer concludes with a series of unlikely events to save the world from the near-impossible to stop evil.Buffy receives an amulet from Angel which Spike uses conveniently to destroy the Hellmouth and the scythe used to activate every slayer is introduced by making the villains dig it up for no real reason.
  • Nearly every episode of The Fairly Oddparents ends in a Deus ex machina, due to Timmy having fairy god parents and wishing a bizzare situation back to normal. Timmy also uses magical items/other fairies when his fairy god parents are unavailable for whatever reason.


Video Games

  • In Deus Ex, part of the story concerns an artificial intelligence (known as Helios) that believes its destiny is to rule mankind as an omniscent, omnipresent, and omnipotent being. Thus it is truly a god from a machine.
  • In Maken X, on the opening screen the words "deus ex machina" are heard, and the premise is a sword with the ability to control people and take any form, everyone it "brain jacks" is left in a sort of purgatory within the sword itself.
  • In the Tekken series of video games, several members of the Mishima family have been the victims of acts of violence that would kill almost any human being, and very often that would be the resolution of the conflict which the game was based around. For Kazuya in Tekken 4, the Deus Ex Machina is the G Cooporation, who he was "brought back to life" by after being thrown into an active volcano. The other DEM is the so-called Devil Gene, that apparently renders the bearer immortal.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, the ending finds Solid Snake and a companion (either Otacon or Meryl Silverburgh, depending on a choice the player makes) trapped under a crashed Jeep after attempting to escape Liquid Snake and the bombing of the island. Liquid, armed with an assault rifle, staggers forward, about to kill the two. The deus ex machina occurs when a virus known as "FOX-DIE" (unknowingly injected into Solid Snake to spread throughout the base, killing the terrorists and silencing the hostages) activates, causing Liquid to suffer a fatal heart attack. We later learn in a special section of the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2, that Naomi Hunter, the woman who programmed FOX-DIE to kill Solid Snake because he killed her brother, Gray Fox, set FOX-DIE to randomly activate at no predictable time when it came into contact with Snake's DNA. Liquid and Solid were both clones of the same man, and therefore genetic ex machina

de:Deus ex machina fi:Deus ex machina he:דאוס אקס מכינה it:Deus ex machina ja:デウス・エクス・マキナ nl:Deus ex machina


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