Created By: TheHandle on December 14, 2012

Refuge in Darkness

When a work seems to actively revel in horrible stuff happening.

Name Space:
Page Type:
There's some debate on what it means, exactly, for a work to be dark, grimdark, and if they're the same thing or not. This trope's creation is an attempt to resolve the doubts. It's also an attempt to take all those works that were mistakenly attributed to Darker and Edgier (to the point that "Grimdark" redirects to that page, which it shouldn't), and only leave there examples of franchises that took a visible turn to the dark, with an emphasis on the "commercial gimmick" aspect of the trope, which is what the trope is actually about.

So, what definitions of "dark" and "grimdark" would fit the common usage best?

"Dark" is about confronting the horrible things about life. Think Blood Diamond. Dark is earnest; when there is black humour and sarcasm, it is as a coping mechanism. Dark is straight-faced.

"Grimdark" is about celebrating the horrible things and gloriously bath in them. Think Repo! The Genetic Opera. Fun is being had, the author takes some distance from the work, Black Comedy is only one step away; the expression "tongue in cheek" might be invoked. "So dark I can't take it seriously anymore" and "this is just getting silly" also come up now and then. I would call that a Refuge In Darkness; style over substance taken into the horrific direction.

As a rule of thumb, when something horrifying happens and someone is going to go "that was so cool", you're faced with a grimdark element.

Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are never grimdark, because evil is systematically portrayed as lame, disgusting, flawed, cowardly, and not at all awesome. They're dark, but they aren't tagged dark, because the dark parts, while crucial to the plot, aren't what the bulk of the feeling is about; that would be "friendship" and "a sense of wonder and curiosity" for the former, and "the futility of ambition in the face of entropy, the wisdom of humility" "the sense of loss" for the latter.

Evangelion is dark (save for the occasional lavishly-animated carnage). End of Evangelion starts horribly grimdark and then decides we need to go deeper.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is dark. Hellsing is grimdark.

Monster is dark. Death Note is grimdark. Both somewhat soberly so.

Chris Nolan's Batman films are dark (except for Two-Face's face). Tim Burton's are grimdark.

Into the Wild is dark (humbly so, and acknowledges the light). Hobo with a Shotgun is grimdark.

Fallout: Equestria is dark. Fallout3 is grimdark.

Jojos Bizarre Adventure is... a very fabulous, very energetic kind of grimdark. The manga at least. The current anime censors and downplays the violence considerably, while sacrificing nothing in action, melodrama, and madness, so I'd say it doesn't even qualify as "dark", just normal shounen-grade violence.

In Princess Mononoke, the story is generally just dark, it gets grimark whenever the violence and the gore becomes exceedingly unrealistic (anything involving demonic possession, the battle of pigs).

L.A. Noire is dark (noir, in fact). GTA is grimdark. Sains Row is out and out black comedy.

Gangs of New York is grimdark.

Farenheit451 is dark. Nineteen Eighty-Four is grimdark.

The Lord Of The Flies is grimdark.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • December 14, 2012
    How does Refuge In Darkness relate to Torture Porn? Supertrope? Sister trope?

    I also find your categorizations rather haphazard in some spots (Fallout 3 nihilistic? Impossible).
  • December 15, 2012
    There are two types of Grimdark, as far as I can tell.

    1. Massive overload of ludicrously dark elements to the point of Black Comedy. Aware of its own absurdity, even though it may pretend to take itself seriously in a rather deadpan manner. If you were to say "This is getting so dark I can't take it seriously anymore," the creator would likely respond, "Yeah, that's pretty much the idea."

    2. Darker And Edgier piled on top of Darker And Edgier for the mere sake of Darker And Edgier. Unaware of its own absurdity, and does frequently take itself seriously. Has pretensions of Tackling Heavy Issues, but does so in such an Anvilicious manner as to invite ridicule. If you were to say "This is getting so dark I can't take it seriously anymore," the creator would likely respond, "Well, then it's not for you, wuss."

    Warhammer40000, the best-known example of Grimdark, has done both, and opinions are somewhat divided as to which is the game's Dork Age.
  • December 15, 2012
  • December 15, 2012
  • December 15, 2012
    @Clever Pun, I never said grimdark is nihilistic; the presence or the absence of hope is entirely optional, and you can totally have The Polyanna, The Anti Nihilist or The Determinator in a grimdark setting. It's kind of a tradeoff; no hope makes the setting darker, but hope gives the characters motivation to struggle (and suffer) and gives viewers motivation to watch.

    @Jakes:your definition seems to leave out Horror Films, which are grimdark by necessity. And where do Exploitation Films lie? Also, 40K did both? I thought it was "100% straight in-universe, 100% tongue in cheek out of it".

    Darkness Induced Audience Apathy can be a consequence of Grimdark, but it's more related to not having anyone to root for because of Black And Black Morality, rather than because it's the setting that's too hard on the characters. Puella Magi Madoka Magica seems, at some points, to be entirely hopeless, but that doesn't make the audience apathetic, it just makes them cry. By the way, the show only goes grimdark once; in that one infamously shocking scene.

  • December 15, 2012
    Okay, so if the reveling in the horrible is the baseline, you're defining grimdark as something which revels in the horrible ironically? Isn't that covered already by Crosses The Line Twice and Refuge In Audacity. And does that mean that anything with Videogame Cruelty Potential is automatically included, and anything with Videogame Caring Potential automatically excluded? Are works with both disqualified? Is this a YMMV trope?

    I understand that tvtropes isn't using the term "grimdark" completely correctly, but the usage of the term "grimdark," especially in fanfic fandoms, really doesn't sync up with your explanation either.

    Of course, I could just be a little confused by your examples, and my preconceived notions about each, but clarity is still a problem in that case.
  • December 15, 2012
    No. "Dark" doesn't revel in the horrible; it just confronts it head-on, doesn't downplay it, doesn't disneyfy it. Grimdark revels in it. Bokurano, for example, is very, very dark, even exceesively so, but it's way too dignified and clean to go into grimdark. It's the difference between "abundant" or "excessive", and "gratuitous".

    At this rate, we might get stuck. since it seems different people define the term differently. Let's take a scientific approach, and hold off on proposing definitions. What are the traits, the concepts, that you associate with dark and grimdark? And what does the "ironic"/"earnest" variable account for?

    As far as I can tell, dark is sad, grimdark is gleeful. Dark lines up the facts concisely. Grimdark gets into the gritty details. Dark broods. Grimdark laughs maniacally.

    Let's take Repo The Genetic Opera: while I think it's all, on average, grimdark, I find that "legal assassin" leans towards dark, "Thankless Job" is pitch-black comedy, complete with cartoony sound effects and dope slaps, and "Night Surgeon" is pure concentrated grimdark.

    Or perhaps I'm mixing things up; what happens if I exchange the words "dark" for "gothic" and "grimdark" for "punk"? Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft: dark/gothic. William Gibson, Harlan Ellison; grimdark/punk.
  • December 15, 2012
    I've always felt that grimdark is to dark as Rule of Cool is to Played For Drama.
  • December 15, 2012
  • December 22, 2012
    I think this should have a name that isn't just a snowclone of Refuge In Audacity.
  • December 22, 2012
    All of the other Refuge In X pages ended up (or began) broken. We should not name any page similarly.
  • December 22, 2012
    For a name, maybe Delighting In Darkness?

    Edit: Oh wow, I so did not intend for that to come out as punny as it does. At the risk of Dont Explain The Joke: De-Lighting In Darkness.
  • August 23, 2016
    Let's see if someone's interested

    One thing that bugged me, though: is this page practically preaching the readers what (we thought) dark/grimdark stories look/feel like? Wouldn't the objective course of action be, well, looking for such cases of distinction from other sources? I mean, do other people talk about this or is this issue just something Tv Tropes made up?