Every first year writing student in the world is familiar with the term ‘Deus ex Machina’. They’ll probably be too drunk, high or busy having sex to know or care what it means, but they will know the term. Beyond this, they probably have a vague concept of the appearance of the building they’re meant to be studying in, a hangover and an annoying feeling that the person in bed next to them is not going to be anywhere near as cool in the morning. That’s university life. I know this as, in-between crying over my own poetry, I occasionally had to listen to my fellow students. They told me.
Anyway, enough crass jokes about my own pathetic life. What is a ‘Deus ex Machina’? First off, it’s Latin. It translates to ‘God in the Machine’. I’ll give you a little while to absorb that or, at least, make out the letters through your vodka haze. (Because, really, who but drunk students cramming for an exam is going to be reading a blog post about ‘Deus ex Machina’s at three in the morning?)
As an aside, I just finished university. I’m bitter, lonely and poor. This is your future shit-head.
Right, got all that? No? Nevermind, you can always resit.
To any of you putting up with my incessant tomfoolery, the term ‘Deus ex Machina’ is (apart from something you can use to pretend to speak Latin at parties) a literary concept. It refers to an unnatural and jarring event in a story. It is also extremely, extremely bad and demonstrates and amiable, if annoying, desire to tell stories, regardless of how good they are. An example of a ‘Deus ex Machina’ might run something like this:
‘Trevor’s goldfish died. He flushed it down the toilet. The toilet was filled with water from the fountain of youth. The fish came back to and hopped out of the toilet, back into it’s bowl. THE END.’
I know this isn’t fun but we’re getting to the crux of the matter now. The ‘Deus ex Machina’ is found, here, in two parts. The first occurs when Trevor’s goldfish comes back to life; the second when it hops back into its bowl. Both of these events are impossible in the real world and, as the world of the story is not specified as one seperate from ours, impossible in the fictional world. This an extraordinarily basic example but it neatly sums up what a ‘Deus ex Machina’ is: an event, impossible within the fictional world, used to resolve plots hastily. It I were to rewrite the above story without the ‘Deus ex Machina’ it could not possibly resolve without the fish remaining both dead and in the toilet.
As this should be a fairly simple concept in the eyes of the more sober amongst, one might easily wonder why I’m going to such lengths to describe it. Bluntly put, I just finished watching ‘The Adjustment Bureau’. What I found, for the most part, to be an enjoyable film (admittedly badly paced and filled with McGuffins - we’ll get to them) was ultimately ruined by a crass ‘Deus ex Machina’ at the film’s conclusion. This infuriates me, for a very simple reason.
I WAS TAUGHT THIS SHIT IN FIRST YEAR. IT SHOULD NOT BE HUMANLY POSSIBLE FOR IT TO OCCUR IN A HOLLYWOOD FILM.
This, logically, has led me to infer that everyone in university is so much drunker than I originally thought. The knowledge must simply come out with the vomit. I’m not blaming anyone but I thought it best to remind everyone, simply, of how to avoid using the ‘Deus ex Machina’. Here:
DON’T PUT YOUR FUCKING CHARACTER IN AN IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION IF YOU WANT THEM TO GET OVER IT.
That is all. Get back to your party and I’ll get back to my post-grad poverty.
P.S. And, no, I don’t hate students irrationally. I hate them because I was never invited to the orgies and was forced into actually studying as a result.