Dramatic irony is a literary device in which the audience knows more than the characters in a story. It is often used to depict ambiguity and keep the audience guessing what will happen next. Dramatic irony exists when an event occurs unexpectedly. Still, it is revealed later that only one character knows about this event, and this knowledge makes an essential difference in how other events unfold.
Dramatic irony can be a very poignant device. Seeing the world through the eyes of a character utterly unaware of a significant event often makes the audience feel like they are in over their heads, and it makes us feel like we aren’t as smart as we think.
In addition, dramatic irony can turn a simple plot into a compelling story. Instead of the audience watching an event unfold, they become active members of the story and feel like they are living it themselves.
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Examples Of Dramatic Irony
The following movies are excellent examples of dramatic irony:
In the movie The Little Mermaid, Ariel is unaware that Prince Eric knows she is a mermaid until very late in the story. Throughout the film, she tries to bring attention to herself so that he can notice her. At one point, her sister teaches her how to walk on land, enabling Ariel to develop a genuinely over-the-top idea.
Prince Eric has never even heard of Ariel before at this point in the story. Neither has any of his court or his father. Yet, Ariel walks across the entire kingdom, making a scene, risking her life and endangering herself. She does this all to get Prince Eric’s attention. The audience knows that Prince Eric knows who she is and that he is coming to save her right before she drowns in the ocean.
This dramatic irony is highly effective because it reveals that Ariel has no idea how much danger she’s in, while the audience can see exactly what will happen if she doesn’t get rescued quickly.
Duration: 1h 32min
In the movie Toy Story, Woody is the only toy that knows that Buzz Lightyear is a toy. But, Woody doesn’t reveal this until late in the story.
It turns out that Woody was once a real-life cowboy and was owned by a little boy named Andy. Although Woody has since been relegated to the toy box, he still follows his original job description and acts as if he is Andy’s favorite toy. Andy doesn’t notice that Woody is missing until he goes out on his first date with Bo Peep.
At this point in the movie, Andy has never even seen Buzz Lightyear. He is entirely unaware that he is a toy. Yet, when he first meets Woody and cites him as his favorite toy, he implies to Bo Peep that he has a real-life toy of his own.
At this moment, things start to “click” for the audience. They realize that Andy has no idea what’s going on, but Woody does.
This dramatic irony is used to add suspense and help move the story forward. The audience cares very profoundly about Woody and is rooting for him to succeed. They want Andy to be happy, so they are very anxious whenever Andy talks about moving away and leaving his toys behind.
Duration: 1h 35min
Movie Rating: G
Hannah Montana: The Movie
In Hannah Montana: The Movie, Jackson is unaware that Miley Stewart (Hannah) is the star of the Hannah Montana show and his former best friend.
When he finds out, he is so devastated that he moves out of town and turns his back on everything they had together. But, all this time, Miley was also unaware that Jackson had moved away and turned his back on her.
She’s left behind with no explanation for why he ripped their friendship apart. This is truly a heartbreaking moment in the movie. The audience feels Miley’s pain, but they also understand why Jackson had to leave.
This dramatic irony is effective because it allows the audience to feel an emotional connection with the story that they would otherwise have difficulty relating to. They can see what each character is feeling at each moment in the story, and they sympathize with them like they would a natural person or family member.
Duration: 1h 27min
Movie Rating: PG
X-Men: First Class
In the movie X-Men: First Class, Xavier is unaware that Magneto is his former pupil. He only realizes that his student and friend have betrayed him when he finds out.
Magneto has been hiding in plain sight and working against Xavier’s plans for years at this point in the movie. He has infiltrated the X-Men’s ranks so entirely that no one suspects him of being anything but their greatest ally.
This dramatic irony is effective because it reveals how far back the hatred between these two men goes and how deeply they feel about each other. The audience can see that Magneto’s actions are motivated by hate and a desire to be superior, and they feel his pain as they watch him take down a student he once considered a son. Xavier’s character is much stronger and more interesting because of this dramatic irony.
Duration: 1h 57min
In Star Wars, Darth Vader is unaware that Luke Skywalker is his son. When he finds out, he realizes that he has made a grave mistake and will now have to pay for it.
During the entire movie, Darth Vader is searching for the Rebel base so that he can destroy them once and for all. He believes it to be on Hoth when it is on Endor in reality. When Luke arrives at Hoth, he tells Leia that his father has sent him.
This is a significant plot twist, as it completely changes the movie’s direction. It reveals that Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are not just enemies. They are father and son, which creates an interesting personal dynamic.
Vader has not heard that Luke is his son until the revelation occurs in the movie. It is pure dramatic irony because it makes his character much more interesting and well-rounded. The audience knows that he has known all along, which adds to the moment’s intensity.
Duration: 2h 11min
Movie Rating: PG
In the movie Final Destination, Alex Browning is unaware that Death has selected him to die, and he realizes that he has to change his fate when he finds out.
This movie follows a group of people who have survived a plane crash only because they have cheated Death. They are all going to die in order of how they were seated on the plane, so Alex and his friends desperately try to stop the deaths from happening by saving those insignificant, unrelated people. They believe the world would be better off without them anyway.
The characters are unaware that Death is hunting them, and they do not know that their deaths were simply a test.
When the characters find out, they realize that Death has been waiting for them and expects complete obedience from them. They decide to take matters into their own hands and save themselves by sacrificing the people they are supposed to be saving instead.
This dramatic irony is effective because it allows the audience to become invested in these characters and care about them even more than they would otherwise.
Duration: 1h 32min
Movie Rating: PG-13
In the movie Hercules, Hades is unaware that Hercules is the son of Zeus. When he finds out, he realizes that he will have to kill his son.
Hades has been plotting to destroy Zeus for years. He views him as a weak leader who does not deserve to be worshipped, and for these reasons, he is determined to destroy him.
At this point in the movie, Hades has no idea that Hercules is a demigod, which makes his hatred even more personal and justified.
This dramatic irony is effective because it reveals the characters’ ulterior motives and ruthlessness. The audience can see that Hades wants to be worshipped, but he has no interest in the true worship of the gods. He only wants to be feared. In addition, this moment in the movie allows the audience to understand that Hades is not a weak character but a knowledgeable one. He has carefully planned his plan over the years, and he has waited to implement it until he was ready.
Duration: 1h 49min
Movie Rating: PG
In the movie Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is unaware that Princess Aurora is her daughter. She realizes that she has lost her chance to be a mother when she finds out.
This is a crucial plot twist because it allows the audience to spend more time with Maleficent and understand all of her motives. The rest of the movie revolves around Aurora’s birth and how Maleficent became evil, and the audience does not get to see her become evil until the story’s climax.
The characters are unaware that the person they believe to be their daughter is their mother, which creates a creepy dynamic between them. The audience can see how much Maleficent hates Aurora and how much she is willing to do to protect her from Zeus.
Above all, this dramatic irony reveals Maleficent’s ruthless and cold nature. She has waited years for this moment, and she is willing to do anything to see it realized.
Duration: 1h 56min
Movie Rating: G