The dénouement is the last part of the film’s narrative structure, often also known as the conclusion. It is usually the final part of a five act structure – introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, dénouement. Its primary function is to wrap up the story following the main events of the film, solving conflicts and offering a release of tension for the viewer.
The term, which is unsurprisingly French, comes from the Old French desnouer, meaning “to untie”, which itself comes from nodus, the Latin for “knot”. This quite nicely gives the image of the film’s plot becoming unravelled as it concludes.
Most films have a dénouement and it’s not too difficult to identify it, although sometimes it may be very brief. Red leaving for the island where he meets Andy in The Shawkshank Redemption is a good example of dénouement, nicely tying the story up, as seen below. Other examples include the Simba reclaiming Pride Rock in The Lion King and Ripley putting herself and her cat into stasis in Alien.
Not all films have a dénouement, however. Some films simply cut to the credits as soon as the climax finishes, an example of which is The Blair Witch Project. This can either have excellent dramatic effect, possibly leaving the ending and following events ambiguous or it can leave the film feeling cut short and incomplete. Films may also dispense with any kind of dénouement (or have a very short one) if they are part of a series of films, with a longer dénouement likely at the end of the last film. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example has become known for having an incredibly long dénouement at the end of The Return of the King.
Are there any dénouements that stand out in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below.
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