Friday, 19 September 2014

Denouement - The Unravelling

Photo by Daniela Vladamirova

DENOUEMENT

Noun. Also dénouement. Mid-18th century.
[French, from dénouer (earlier des-) untie, from des, dé- de- + nouer to knot.]

The unravelling of the complications of a plot, or of a confused situation or mystery;
the final resolution of a play, novel, or other narrative.

If anyone is ever describing the plot of their new book, idea for a film, etc, and they refer to the final act as the denouement (pronounced day-noo-moh), you just know it's going to be full of pretension and probably not nearly as clever as the author thinks it is.

When a denouement is done well, of course, it can be breathtaking, the mark of pure brilliance in an author. Done badly, however, it can unravel the entire narrative and make the audience question why they ever bothered to try and think this one through, especially if it seems the author couldn't be bothered doing the same.

In film, terrible denouements include: The Forgotten, Hide & Seek, Secret Window, The Happening and Safe Haven. In each case, they fell back on tired tropes to explain away convoluted plots that the audience really should have known better than to try and unravel, variously wheeling out aliens, ghosts, split personalities and the old "it was the main character all along" trick. Oh, and in the case of The Happening, it turned out to be plants. Evil plants. Evil plants that were making everyone commit suicide. Bet you didn't see that one coming.

The thing with a denouement is this: the writer has just had the audience commit a significant portion of his or her life to trying to unravel the plot. The very least any author can do is try and do the same, lest his work become one of many that could alternately be called The Unravelling (which is, if I may say so, not a half-bad title for a thriller with a convoluted plot).

The denouement can either tie up all the loose ends, or unravel the entire narrative, as per its French etymology.
Photo by Lisa Risager

Do you have any examples of good and bad denouement?

Do please wrap up your comments in the box below.

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