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Denouement (pronounced day-noo-mahn) is French for "unknotting", and means the point in the story when mysteries are unraveled, fates are determined and explanations are made. It is not, as is commonly believed, synonymous with climax: This is the aftermath of the action, not the peak. It is usually the scene after the climax—although, to be fair, it can happen in such close proximity to the events of the climax that it may appear to be part of its final moments. It is fairly ubiquitous, though not all stories have dénouements.
How final and extensive it is depends on the scale of the plot—and whether there may be a sequel.
For a Happy Ending or even Bittersweet Ending, this is generally where the happiness is shown. As a consequence, many usual rules — directed at keeping conflict and suspense going—are suspended here. The Law of Inverse Fertility, for instance, does not apply; if The Hero and the Love Interest married at the climax, a dénouement may show them happily anticipating the birth of, or cooing over, their first child.
In the Downer Ending, or even the Bittersweet Ending, the tragedy is often allowed to ease off. The Hero died at the climax; the Dénouement shows his Meaningful Funeral, or his friends raising a glass To Absent Friends. The Star-Crossed Lovers had to part; the Dénouement shows them going on with their lives, however sadly.
Not to be confused with Detournement.
Ending Trope. Spoilers follow.
- After the end of Fruits Basket, we see a scene with Kyo and Tohru's granddaughter talking to her mother, and Kyo and Tohru walking together, holding hands.
- At the end of My Neighbor Totoro, we see scenes from the future, such as Mother's return home, rolling alongside the credits.
- Similarly, in Kiki's Delivery Service, the ending theme shows such images as Jiji and Lily having kittens, Tombo flying an airplane, and a little girl dressed up as Kiki, wrapping up their arcs, and showing the entire city's acceptance of Kiki.
- For such a hot-blooded series, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has a mellow, melancholy dénouement.
- Heartcatch Pretty Cure (which has a Bittersweet Ending) has a particularly poignant dénouement, implying that Futaba succeed her big sister as a Pretty Cure.
- In All Fall Down, a Flash Forward at a funeral reveals the fates of several main characters:
- Paradigm saves lives as a paramedic.
- Portia fights side-by-side with the Ghoul.
- Pronto seeks counselling and rehabilitation in Prison.
- Plymouth forgives Pronto and visits him frequently in Prison.
- Grace happily marries the woman of her dreams.
- Phylum writes a bestselling autobiography.
- IQ Squared ends up in prison, but with his father's respect.
- The last real chapter of With Strings Attached (there are two postscripts) has the four talking with Shag and Varx about being sent back to Earth—but without their magic, which has John and Paul overjoyed but George disappointed and Ringo heartbroken. They also learn a little bit about the Fans (which turns out to be lies, though they never find that out) and decide not to tie up their last loose end by rescuing Lyndess.
- In Harry Potter, the dénouement actually happened before the climax. In Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Harry meets with Albus Dumbledore in an ethereal place, and Dumbledore explains most of the mysteries that are still left unanswered. Although the fates are still undetermined at this point.
- In the twelfth A Series of Unfortunate Events book there is a hotel aptly named this. The Dénouement is run by triplets (also named Dénouement), and it answers a ton of the questions in the series, but still leaves a treasure trove left unsaid.
- In JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King probably had a higher percentage of dénouement than any other story ever written. After the the climax is over, and the characters journey to their homes, saying goodbyes on the way, a new conflict is introduced. A new conflict. After The Climax.
- In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice the final chapter recounts how the two marriages occurred, and the happy life of the couples thereafter.
- In Persuasion Anne Eliot and Captain Wentwrorth actually marry, and Captain Wentworth acts on behalf of her friend Mrs. Smith.
- In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney relents, and Catherine and Henry marry.
- In Mansfield Park, Edward and Fanny marry and after a few years move to a better living.
- If you wonder why she has this: it was nothing uncommon in her day for a couple not to marry because one of them had died - including in her sister's case.
- In Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, after the heroine marries the king, and the heart-broken lover leaves, it recounts how every year, the new queen would send him a messenger, telling him of her.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 Blood Angels novel Red Fury, after the battle has dealt with the Bloodfiends, and the other Chapters have decided to tithe to the Blood Angels so that chapter will survive—they learn that Fabius Bile has stolen some "sacred vitae". Rafen is charged with recovering it in the last scene.
- In Black Tide, Noxx comes to see Rafen and talk, before they part to bring back the escaped Space Marines to their chapters.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Warlord of Mars, Thuvia's hopeless crush on John Carter is showing every sign of being cured by meeting his son Carthoris. (Things go wrong after so that she and he get their own book, Thuvia, Maid of Mars.)
- At the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, after the credits, "ten years later", Elizabeth and her nine-year-old son are walking to the shore; when they reach it, they look out to a ship at sea.
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine not only has this trope, but two Sequel Hook segments as well, one of which has just been greenlit by Hollywood. That's right, folks: the Merc with the Mouth is getting his own movie.
- WALL-E uses a series of animated scenes to document what happened to the characters after returning to a revitalized Earth.
- Clerks took out all the guesswork for its audience — "Dénouement" was the final title card.
- For a Few Dollars More climaxed with Mortimer shooting El Indio, and the dénouement was Manco figuring out and showing to the audience why Mortimer had wanted Indio dead so badly to begin with. And leaving with the loot.
- Metal Gear Solid always does this. 1 has it fight before the final fight, 2 and 3 have it place with the ending and 4 has it after the credits.
- Dragon Age: Origins has an entire level set after the Final Battle, where you can talk to your Companions and significant Origin characters to learn about their future plans, while the cheering crowd outside waits to see their savior. If the Warden dies, there is a Meaningful Funeral for him/her instead. Additionally, there is a slide show epilogue detailing the fates of your Companions and some NPCs. And there is the Witch Hunt DLC, which wraps up Morrigan's storyline, which was Left Hanging in the original game. Yeah, DA likes this trope.
- The slideshow/text epilogue, with voiced narration, was used for all Fallout games and Arcanum.
- In the When They Cry series, it usually happens in the 7th out of 8 episodes. Except for all of the lies and new questions that get added in during that time.
- Lampshaded in Order of the Stick: Elan tells Haley about Therkla, and she explains that he insisted because it was dénouement.
- A major plot element for dealing with Science-Related Memetic Disorder in A Miracle of Science.
...the dénouement. That's French for 'the end', and is a literary device, like the ninjas.
- At the end of Cars, scenes from Radiator Springs' future are run, along the credits.