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January 26, 2023

What Is the Denouement in Film?

If you’re wondering what the most essential part of a film is you’ll most likely answer the beginning or the ending.

The beginning is important because this is what grips your viewers and keeps them there. That’s why writing your first page well is so important But your ending is what rewards your loyal viewer for sticking with you until the very end. 

What do we mean by the ending? You may think this just means the climax of the film where the conflict comes to a head but you’d be wrong.

The reward actually comes after the climax in what is known as the denouement. 

Let’s dive into the denouement definition. 

What is the denouement?

Simply defined, a denouement is the part of a story that follows the climax.

It’s where your readers get their resolution and learn what happens to all characters after they reach their goal. The denouement often includes foreshadowing for future films in a series, but it doesn’t have to.

The purpose of the denouement is to allow readers time to reflect on what they've just experienced and make sense of it all before moving on. This might mean moving on to another book or movie or even moving on from their seat in the cinema. 

What are some examples of a denouement in film?

In film, the denouement is the final scene or sequence of a story. It occurs after the climax when all conflicts are resolved and all questions answered to bring about a sense of conclusion or resolution for your audience.

The denouement can be short or long depending on how much time remains in your film's runtime after you've finished with your climax and conflict.

Let’s look at some examples.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The denouement takes place after Harry has defeated Voldermort once and for all. We could say the film and the entire series have separate denouements. 

The denouement to the film involves Harry snapping the Elder Wand in half and throwing it over the bridge and the conversations he has with Hermione and Ron in the ruins of Hogwarts.

Harry Potter snapping the Elder Wand in two in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Covered in blood and battle scars Harry snaps the Elder Wand in two symbolising the end of Voldemort's' reign and any temptation he fight have for power

The denouement to the series occurs when we see Harry as a grown-up 19 years later. He has children of his own with Ginny, who are all about to start at Hogwarts themselves.

Ron has married Hermione and, to quote the final line in the book on which the film is based, ‘all is well.’ 

It is cathartic as we get to see the characters at peace after facing so much hardship and loss throughout the series but particularly in the final film. 

Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny as adults with their children standing on platform 9 3/4
The 19 Years Later sequence serves as the denouement to the entire Harry Potter series

Wolf of Wall Street 

The denouement to Wolf of Wall Street takes place after Belfort has been arrested by the FBI and sent to jail. 

Using voice over which is in the present tense we come to understand that Belfort has learned the error of his ways and that prison leveled him. We see him teaching college students how to sell a pen and as viewers understand that he has changed as a character and has learned some harsh life lessons. This is a cathartic character arc

In essence, we can summarise the denouement of Wolf of Wall Street as crime never pays. 

What is the literary theory behind the denouement?

The word denouement comes from a French word that means "to untie" or "to undo." This makes sense because all stories have tension and conflict, something that needs to be untied or undone by their end. 

The climax may be exciting but can sometimes leave readers feeling unsatisfied as there are no further events occurring within its pages; however, this is not true with an effective ending.

The denouement forms a crucial part of the last part of the classic five-act structure, the spiritual transformation. 

What lessons can you learn about the denouement for your own screenplays?

The denouement is your chance to answer all the crucial questions raised in the course of your film or series. 

Any foreshadowing you set up earlier can come to fruition. Sometimes writers like to get to the end and write their denouement before then going back over the rest of the script and adding hints about where the plot may be heading.

Others like to plan much more meticulously so that when they come to write the first draft of their script they know exactly what’s coming up in the denouement.

The denouement is also the place to hint at what might happen in sequels. In the course of wrapping up your plot and offering catharsis to some characters, there may be unintended consequences. 

Think of Harry Osborn who upon finally realizing Spiderman’s true identity in the denouement of Spiderman 2 sets out to get revenge on Peter Parker in Spiderman 3

In Spiderman 2 we see Harry visited by his late father in the mirror: when he smashes this mirror he discovers his father’s Green Goblin identity and we get a sense that he may follow in his father’s footsteps. 

Harry Osborn sweating and discovering his father's Green Goblin mask
The denouement of Spiderman 2 sets us up for the sequel Spiderman 3

You don’t have to have your sequel fully planned out but you can leave clues in place that you may return to if you wish. 

We hope this article has helped you understand the denouement definition and given you some ideas about what to 

If you want help planning and plotting your work be sure to consider Arc Studio Pro, industry-leading screenwriting software that can help you take your script to the next level.


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What Is the Denouement in Film?
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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