Verbal irony is the most common type where people say the opposite of what they mean. Situational irony has a similar concept only that it isn’t summed up in dialogue only. Instead, how scenes play out is used to pull off this technique.
When we expect one thing to happen and the opposite takes place, that’s situational irony. All the signs pointed to one thing, but the absolute opposite ended up happening.
For example, say you leave the house in the morning, an umbrella in hand, ready to embrace a rainy day. The dark clouds have gathered, the wind is blowing like crazy and everything indicates a downpour. However, it turns out to be the sunniest 24 hours you’ve ever seen.
✅ That’s situational irony.
Just like dramatic irony, situational irony is an important tool in filmmaking.
It keeps the storyline unpredictable as opposed to going on in a straight line whose conclusion is visible from miles away. It is a satisfying way to hit viewers with a curveball they won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Furthermore, filmmakers and screenwriters use situational irony to create subtext in their screenplays.
This type of irony adds to the excitement of a movie, it builds anticipation and is a nice way to pack surprise into unexpected twists and turns.
Almost every good movie in history has implored some type of situational irony at one point or another. Without it, a film’s journey would be typical and mundane.
The entire movie is a roller coaster of situational irony. It is basically about a seemingly defenseless blind guy, Norman Nordstrom, who turns out to be the perpetrator rather than the victim. He lives alone with 300,000 in cash from his retirement.
Here’s the trailer for the movie:
A group of three burglar friends gets word of the fortune. They hatch a plan to steal his treasure. It seems like a piece of cake.
After all, how hard could it be to take money from an old, blind man, living alone in a deserted neighborhood?
Well, everyone’s in for a rude shock, including the audience.
The most powerful instance of situational irony that sets precedence for the movie is when the blind man stumbles upon two of his intruders at the beginning. Upon discovery, one threatens him with a gun. The other stays quiet, watching nervously from the other end.
The odds seem stacked against him. What happens next is the most unexpected thing ever. Blind Norman wrestles his attacker, wins the gun, and shoots him at point-blank range. Seeing what happened, the other burglar flees to meet up with the third and they run into the basement.
Norman hunts down the two would-be thieves in a series of tight escapes and hide-and-seek through the house. He is no ordinary blind man it turns out. Norman is a retired war veteran whose other senses have gone up tenfold to compensate for his lack of vision.
He is successful but for the third burglar, Rocky. She gets the better of him after setting off the alarm and accidentally shooting Norman in the side, believing him dead. A news reporting provides more situational irony as the film ends with Norman recovering in a hospital.
Situational irony was at the cornerstone of the film’s resounding success. Two instances especially stand out most.
The first is Rachel’s death.
Rachel is Batman’s (Bruce Wayne) on-and-off girlfriend. The Joker kidnaps her and district attorney Harvey Dent and leaves Bruce with a little time left to rescue just one. He has to make a tough decision on who to save before either is killed by an explosion.
It turns out the Joker had switched the locations of Harvey and Rachel. When Bruce shows up to save Rachel, he instead finds Harvey.
The fact that the joker also kinda, somewhat told the truth is also situational irony in itself.
He is known for his lies, so when the locations pan out, it’s unexpected and shocking.
The Joker’s scars are also part of the situational irony. The first time he talks about how he got his scars, he credits tragic childhood abuse by his drunk father. We believe him because of how he tells it and can’t help but feel his pain.
We understand why he turns out that way.
He must have had a hard life growing up. However, he tells the story a second time to Rachel when he crashes a fundraiser. This time the story’s changed. We were lied to as the audience. The joker deceived us too. Turns out, he changes his scars’ origin story to amuse himself.
The epic 1999 thriller packs a mean situational irony reveal at the end that no one was prepared for. The movie has us believing one thing throughout its entirety, only to have been something else in disguise, as audiences horrifyingly find out at the tail end.
Bruce Willis stars as child psychologist Malcolm Crowe in the supernatural blockbuster.
At the start of the movie, a former patient breaks into Malcolm’s house. He accuses the doctor of failing him and offs himself but not before shooting Malcolm first.
It is implied that he recovered and the following autumn he takes up a curious case of a boy, Cole Sear, who claims to see ghosts. Initially unwilling and thinking Cole merely delusional, a strange voice on a recording convinces him to take up the case.
As the movie twists and turns into an unexpected conclusion, Malcolm emotionally begins to discover that he is dead. As does the audience who had believed all along that Malcolm was part of the living. It turns out he did not survive the shooting at the beginning.
All this time, in fact, he was already a ghost, having been fatally wounded that night. He recounts Cole’s words of how ghosts “see only what they want to see” and consequently do not know that they are dead.
The movie boils down into an emotional tornado as Malcolm comes to terms with his death.
I’ve been binge listening to the Game of Thrones books. I’ve come to the realization that many of the best moments in the series come from situational irony.
🎥 The maegi Mirri Maz Duur killed Daenary’s husband and cursed Daenarys to have a stillborn child. Moreover, Mirri cursed Daenarys so she could never have children again. In response, Daenarys burned Mirri (along with her dead husband and stillbord child) and that’s how she got the 3 dragon eggs hatched – her 3 dragon “children.”
🎥 We expected Robb to lead his army in a big battle once the wedding of Edmure to the Freys was sealed. Instead, we got the Red Wedding.
Finally, the Lannisters won big in the War of the Five Kings. Joffrey looked high and mighty on his wedding day, until the unlikeliest happened —
The Game of Thrones was a big hit for HBO because of memorable moments like these (unless you’re a Lannister groupie). Martin has a way of twisting and turning the plot so his readers (and HBO viewers) could not predict what’s gonna happen next.
And this is what’s most important when crafting your story for cinema. If your audience is able to sit back in their chair and predict your plot, then you’ve lost them.
When used properly, situational irony can make the movie unpredictable. It will help keep the audiences at the edge of their seat and chat about your movie for years to come.
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