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Stupendous man
03-17-2002, 08:56 AM
I see this in posts from time to time, where someone would rather see some deus ex machina rather than what actually occurred, or the like. What does that mean?

David Simmons
03-17-2002, 09:04 AM
Taken from Amo, Amas, Amat and More bu Eugene Ehrlich. It is used to mean "an unlikely and providential intervention." Literally it is "a god out of a machine."

Johnny L.A.
03-17-2002, 09:17 AM
I first heard the phrase in elementary school. It was explained that in ancient plays, a god would often be lowered by a winch into the scene to resolve it. A winch being a machine, this common resolution to a problem was called "God out of a machine".

Is that explanation of the origin of the term true? It seems reasonable, but so do a lot of other things that turn out to be ULs.

Ringo
03-17-2002, 09:18 AM
Some folks take on it all:

Deus Ex Machina. Directly translated, "God from Machine." The phrase actually refers to something that provides an unexpected and quite sudden solution to a difficult problem, a miracle of sorts.

Contrary to what we might expect, ancient Greek theatre was quite sophisticated with what we would term special effects. The most famous use of special effects in Greek theatre was the "deus ex machina" (literally, "god from the machine"). The deus ex machina was a large crane which lifted characters off of the stage and up into the air). Today, the term means any ridiculous ending in which happiness is achieved seemingly magically, without motivation. The end of Pretty Woman, in which Richard Gere comes out of nowhere to rescue Julia Roberts could be described as a deus ex machina ending. The Greek tragedian Euripides was especially fond of the deus ex machina, and he most famously uses this ending in his play, Medea (431 B.C.). At the end of the play, Medea’s husband Jason comes to kill her because she has murdered their sons (in revenge for him going off to marry a rich princess). As he arrives, the deus ex machina lifts Medea off of the stage. This is meant to simulate the gods intervening and saving Medea from Jason’s wrath.

I was surprised that the box and game had a bogus definition for the literary term 'Deus Ex Machina'. I will not debate the validity of the stated defiinition, because I'm sure it is meaningful in some context, but the definition which is engrained within the game is the more literal translation - to gain powers normally associated with a god, by means of technology (i.e. God from machine). In the simplest case, man assumes control of taking life away by using guns, or control of giving life by using modern medical machines.

-In Greek and Roman drama, a god lowered by stage machinery to resolve a plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation.
-An unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot.
-A person or event that provides a sudden and unexpected solution to a difficulty.

C K Dexter Haven
03-17-2002, 09:53 AM
OK, we've got several people giving the origin of the phrase (and one false origin), but the original question was "what does it mean?"

It is used to indicate when a play/TV show/movie has an artificial resolution of the characters problems. The characters' problems have reached climactic levels, you're wondering how the author can get them out of this fix, and WHAM! a god (in the original versions) appears and magically solves all the problems.

The expression is thus used to mean the sudden appearance of an unexpected, unbelievably coincidental, totally whacked-out resolution of the characters' problems. The total stranger turns out to be the long-lost brother, the contest entry wins, the main villain suffers an unexpected heart attack just before he's about to foreclose the mortgage.

I can't think of many examples, because such resolutions usually indicate that the work is too flawed to survive or be remembered much.

And don't get me wrong, the things I quoted can be legitimate plot devices, if there's some earlier indication or foreshadowing, or if the unbelievable coincidence intiates (rather than resolves) the plot.

Some examples do occur to me, I'm sure others will find much better ones:

- Charles Dickens often used solutions that might be classified as "god from the machine" -- the kindly stranger happens to be Oliver Twist's grandfather, or Charles Darnay has an identical look-alike who can take his place in jail. (These are actually NOT good examples of deus ex machina, because Dickens is usually very careful to lay the groundwork early on. A true "god from the machine" would be a total surprise, with no foreshadowing and no prior hint. Same problem with Agatha Christie, where somebody turns out to be the long-lost nephew from South Africa. Christie has usually done some foreshadowing, even if the reader didn't catch it, and on second reading it all holds together well. A true "deus ex machina", no matter how many times you read it, would always seem artificial.)

- Gilbert and Sullivan often parodied "god from the machine" by having the final act reveal that Iolanthe is really the Lord High Chancellor's long lost wife, or that Ralph and the Captain were switched at birth. Of course, in these cases, the use of such impossible coincidences is parody. My favorite is always, "Have you got a strawberry birth mark on your left arm?" "No." "Neither have I! We must be long-separated brothers!"

- Here would be an example of a god from the machine. Let's do a remake of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. We eliminate the opening shot and conversation of angels talking about the problem down on earth (that's foreshadowing) and all the little interjections. We just have a story of a heroic, warm, loving man whose luck turns sour and who is about to kill himself, when POOF!, an angel appears and magically gives him a pile of money that he uses to resolve his problems. That would be a "deus ex machina."

Una Persson
03-17-2002, 10:11 AM
This was a great question; I'd always wondered about this, but kept forgetting to ask or look it up.

Originally posted by C K Dexter Haven
My favorite is always, "Have you got a strawberry birth mark on your left arm?" "No." "Neither have I! We must be long-separated brothers!"
Thanks, Dext, for my first honest LOL of the day! :)

Diceman
03-17-2002, 01:15 PM
I'd like to nominate half of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. No matter how severe the trouble was, or how god-like the opponent was, Geordi and/or Data were always able to create some kind of magic raygun or field generator that solved all of their problems. It may not technically be Deus Ex Machina, but it was something similar.

How many times did something like this happen:


Picard: We've got trouble. The Laboobian is in control of the bridge. He is totally immune to our phasers, and he's stronger than any being we've ever encountered. He has disabled our engines, transporters, and shuttles, and we're drifing towards black hole XT-219. Options?

Geordi: Well captain, I can rig a small generator to create a field of Kellso Particles. They'll make him fall into a trance, so we can retake the bridge and move Enterprise away from the black hole.

Data: Captain, I should point out that Kellso particles have a range of less than a meter. The generator will have to be placed directly on the Laboobian's body.

[Everybody looks at Worf]

Worf: Er... Of course... I'd be delited to fight the Laboobian. [Grumble]

Niobium Knight
03-17-2002, 01:17 PM
There is a Smashing Pumpkins song called "Le Deux Machina" on the album "Machina 2" which is available on mp3 on the internet for free.

There is another album you can buy called "MACHINA/the machines of god"

C K Dexter Haven
03-17-2002, 01:41 PM
Thanks, Diceman, an excellent example. I don't know why STAR TREK skipped my mind, but they do dei ex machina all the time.

The one I recall was where the doctor (Welsey's mum) was on a planet and infected with some disease that caused her to age and deteriorate. In the last five minutes, they decided that they could beam her back into the ship using an earlier coding of her, so that she would be reconstituted without the virus. Presto! The virus is gone from her body.

This type of unpredictable, unforeseeable, totally new power of the transmitter that appears magically to resolve the characters' problems is a clear "god from the machine."

Stupendous man
03-17-2002, 01:45 PM
I as a hunch went to Merriam Webster online, and punched it in. This is what was returned:One entry found for deus ex machina.


Main Entry: de·us ex ma·chi·na
Pronunciation: 'dA-&s-"eks-'mä-ki-n&, -'ma-, -"nä; -m&-'shE-n&
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin, a god from a machine, translation of Greek theos ek mEchanEs
Date: 1697
1 : a god introduced by means of a crane in ancient Greek and Roman drama to decide the final outcome
2 : a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty

kunilou
03-17-2002, 04:30 PM
In that classic American art form, the B western, the technique was known as "the cavalry rides over the hill" to rescue the good guys.

ZipperJJ
03-17-2002, 04:56 PM
Deus Ex Machina is an Italian prog rock band. Duh.

:D

David Simmons
03-17-2002, 06:08 PM
Originally posted by C K Dexter Haven


- Here would be an example of a god from the machine. Let's do a remake of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. We eliminate the opening shot and conversation of angels talking about the problem down on earth (that's foreshadowing) and all the little interjections. We just have a story of a heroic, warm, loving man whose luck turns sour and who is about to kill himself, when POOF!, an angel appears and magically gives him a pile of money that he uses to resolve his problems. That would be a "deus ex machina."

Or as in Saving Private Ryan where the cavalry, flying P51's, comes to the rescue of the wagon train, having nothing but grenades and M1's, from the bad old hostiles, who are using tanks.

Hello Again
03-17-2002, 06:14 PM
Another Euripedes play that ends in deus ex machina is Helene. Castor and Pollux descend from the heavens to sort out the end of the play.

Balthisar
03-17-2002, 08:10 PM
My absolutely most favorite example of deus ex machina is from that newish Fox Christmas cartoon about the little doggy who wants to be a reindeer -- I don't remember the title.

There was a scene where the doggy (let's call her Carol for lack of memory) was stuck in the back of the evil mail-man's truck, and was locked in an couldn't get out.

Looking through the packages, she finds one addressed to her, with the means to escape! (A file or something). She looks to see who it's from: "Deus Ex Machina"!

Balthisar
03-17-2002, 08:15 PM
Okay, in the interest of NOT being as lazy as normal, I looked up what the heck I was talking about: the cartoon is called "Olive, the Other Reindeer," so the scene was like this:

Olive, locked in the mail truck, with no possibility of escape, starts rummaging through the mail. Surprised, she sees one addressed to her, and opens it to reveal a big file (or pry bar or whatever), knowing that she'll be able to escape. She looks to see who would be sending this to her as a Christmas present, and sees: "From: Deus Ex Machina."

mkmiller99
03-17-2002, 08:24 PM
I am glad that the deus ex machina question was asked and answered, I have been curious about it myself.

Balthisar

In case you are curious, the name of the dog is Olive. The show is "Olive, the Other Reindeer".

Mephisto
03-17-2002, 08:45 PM
So if I understand it, it's sort of like, um . . .

A hobbit got in trouble, and Gandalf appeared out of nowhere and saved him . . . and then the hobbit got in trouble again and a bunch of other hobbits saved him . . . and then the hobbits were stupid at the inn and a strange man called Strider appeared out of the blue and saved them . . . and then Strider saved them again . . . and then an elf that resembled Liv Tyler appeared magically out of the forest and saved them again . . . and then the wizard . . . .

Like that?

Or should the term only be applied to the end of stories . . . "Oh . . . thank goodness . . . it was only a dream!"

Hail Ants
03-17-2002, 08:48 PM
My favorite use of it was on MST3K's Joel to Mike changeover episode. Joel escapes from the SOL in an escape pod which was named 'The Deus Ex Machina'

RealityChuck
03-17-2002, 09:24 PM
A lot of people are missing the point. A deus ex machina is an solution that does not come out of the situation set up. Long-lost relatives are not a deus ex machina if it's established that the relatives exist before that fact is necessary to resolve the novel. This is one reason why an author rewrites and edits a work -- to give forshadowing and establish the facts that need to be there at the end.

That Star Trek with the dying doctor, for instance (Dr. Pulaski, BTW, not Dr. Crusher), was not a deus ex machina, but rather a logical development from the facts about how a transporter works.

The calvary coming over the hill isn't a deus ex machina if they settlers send someone to get them (or if someone has a line of dialog saying "the calvary usually runs patrols in this area").

David Simmons
03-17-2002, 09:39 PM
Originally posted by RealityChuck


The calvary coming over the hill isn't a deus ex machina if they settlers send someone to get them (or if someone has a line of dialog saying "the calvary usually runs patrols in this area").

In Saving Private Ryan, the cavalry (P51's) appeared fortuitously, out of thin air so to speak.

The Ryan
03-17-2002, 09:40 PM
Originally posted by Mephisto
So if I understand it, it's sort of like, um . . .

A hobbit got in trouble, and Gandalf appeared out of nowhere and saved him . . . and then the hobbit got in trouble again and a bunch of other hobbits saved him . . . and then the hobbits were stupid at the inn and a strange man called Strider appeared out of the blue and saved them . . . and then Strider saved them again . . . and then an elf that resembled Liv Tyler appeared magically out of the forest and saved them again . . . and then the wizard . . . .

Or a magician falls off a tower, but a huge bat-thing comes out of nowhere and rescues him?

Eliahna
03-17-2002, 09:54 PM
Just to follow up Reality Chuck's post, my understanding is similar... say the book is about a little girl and her horse, and is written like a diary of any little girl in the real world who has a horse. Towards the end there's a threat to the horse and the little girl is set to lose him, and as the book is drawing to a close, their parting is imminent - when suddenly a fairy godmother appears and waves her wand, and the girl and her horse live happily together ever after. If the whole book has been set in a real world type scenario, and there's been no mention of magic or the possibility of magic or the existance of fairy godmothers, and the book seems to have leapt out of our dimension and into another, then that's deus ex machina. It's a twist of the realm of possibility - you need to let your audience know what is possible and what isn't before suddenly springing a fairy godmother on them at the very end of the book.

Achernar
03-17-2002, 11:14 PM
Originally posted by The Ryan
Or a magician falls off a tower, but a huge bat-thing comes out of nowhere and rescues him? Right, provided we don't specifically see the magician sending an enchanted moth or some other means of signal for a rescue.

Geez, even I got that, and I'm slow as a brick.

Sofa King
03-17-2002, 11:40 PM
Heh. Anyone seen A.I. lately? If nobody has coined the phrase "plot-pun" yet, I think we might have to do it now.

kuroashi
03-18-2002, 12:15 AM
Scene One: Terrorists blow up buildings with airplanes, kill thousands, linked to Jolly Old Tallybahn

Scene Two: Leader of the Phree Whirled attacks the Tallybahn hideout in Topeka, Djibouti with tons and tons of twinkies.

Scene Three: Headmen of the Tallybahn ask their god why they have been forsaken and ask for forgiveness.

Scene Four: Leader of the Phree Whirled chokes on a pretzel. There is much glee and merriment among Tallybahn

kuroashi
03-18-2002, 12:18 AM
I'd just like to add that I don't condone blowing up buildings with airplanes, twinkie bombing or invoking deities with a penchant for pretzel torture.

oliversarmy
03-18-2002, 12:30 AM
...and then, everyone on the SDMB gets hit by a bus.