A non-fighter (we'll call her Alice) gets the drop on Bob, a bad guy who is threatening her or another sympathetic character. Bob is usually undeterred since he doubts she could actually do it
and will often try to talk her down or simply step in and take the gun away
. But Alice holds fast, pulls the trigger, and shoots Bob.
Immediately afterwards, she feels the emotional weight of what's just happened. Perhaps a horrified or sickened expression settles on her face. She may go into a full Heroic BSOD
, dropping the gun and bursting into tears. Sometimes she collapses. Alternatively, she may just stand there holding the weapon until someone more battle-hardened comes over to her and takes it out of her trembling hand. Sometimes that other is Bob, merely wounded and ready for Round 2 — even though she
The usual meaning of this trope is to signify that the person holding the gun has never shot anyone before (perhaps has never even held a gun before) and is emotionally unprepared for this moment. It is more likely to apply to female characters, who may act shaky and hysterical
even before the act. Where a man would look down the barrel and coldly say "I'll Kill You!
", a woman in fiction will point the gun with a hand quivering in rage/fear and scream "I'LL KILL YOU!" with tears running down her face.
This doesn't seem to be as prevalent as it used to be, possibly because there's less emphasis now on women being the 'weaker' sex
and there are more 'badass
' female characters around.
If a similar thing happens to a male, it's generally portrayed as a Rite of Passage
, something that makes a man out of him
(see Upham in Saving Private Ryan
, the son in A History of Violence
). He may feel just as traumatized, but he doesn't drop the weapon and he doesn't cry. See A Real Man Is a Killer
There is a real phenomenon, occasionally called "Killer's Remorse", that can accompany the first kill of someone not trained against it, punctuated by tears, shakes, and occasional vomiting
. This is generally considered a healthy reaction, as taking a life is supposed to be a difficult and turbulent stigma to overcome, i.e. unpleasant in every sense of the word. Soldiers actively train to prevent this from happening, while sociopaths and psychopaths do not experience it at all. Of course, once that initial unpleasant experience has passed, It Gets Easier
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime And Manga
- Battle Royale: Noriko Nakagawa bursts into tears when she shoots Kazuo Kiriyama, even though he had slaughtered thirteen people previously.
- In Highschool of the Dead, Saya Takagi breaks down for a moment after killing her first zombie.
- DC: The New Frontier: Shooting a North Korean is an extremely traumatic experience for fighter pilot Hal Jordan, who blames himself for not remembering how to say in Korean that the war was already over.
- Seen in the John Wayne movie, Rio Lobo. Amelita (Sherry Lansing) shoots a corrupt sheriff repeatedly (and very coldly), then breaks down sobbing afterwards, making the point that enduring physical pain and overcoming the emotional trauma of killing someone are very different things.
- Shooter. Kate Mara repeatedly shoots Elias Koteas, who is implied to have raped her earlier. Koteas' character was able to get the drop on her after she blew his mook away with a sawed-off shotgun—and went into shock over it.
- The Eye of the Needle (1981) ends with Kate Nelligan shooting Donald Sutherland (a Nazi spy who became her secret lover, only to murder her crippled husband and threaten the life of her young son when his cover was blown) to prevent him rowing out to a U-Boat with info about the impending D-Day landings. "I had to do it," she sobs, when reinforcements finally arrive (in a helicopter).
- In The Getaway (1972) , Ali McGraw stares aghast after emptying a Colt Model 1903 into the Big Bad. There are factors influencing her emotions: she had been sleeping with him, and was supposed to have killed her husband.
- The Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Hard Target contains something of an aversion to this trope: Yancy Butler shoots one of the bad guy's henchmen and is admonished by Uncle Douvee (Wilford Brimley) for doing a man's work. He attempts to take the gun off her but she takes it back and walks grimly away.
- In Legion there's a gender-flipped subversion. Jeep desperately wants to be able to shoot the bad guy because he wants to protect the MacGuffin Girl. But he can't. He ends up in the rest room sobbing and puking just from coming that close to firing a gun at someone.
- In Ride Lonesome, Karen Steele's Determined Widow character points a rifle at the protagonists and tries to shoot, but Randolph Carter takes the weapon from her and convinces her that they're on her side.
- In the Rob Zombie version of Halloween (2007), Laurie shoots Michael in the face, then proceeds to scream like a crazy person over his body for a really long time.
- In Blade Runner, Rachel is very shaken after shooting Leon off Deckard.
- In Unforgiven, the Schofield Kid breaks down crying (in a somewhat delayed reaction) after killing Quick Mike while the latter was using the outhouse. While he talks tough about his reputation as a stone-cold killer, this is actually his very first kill.
- Inverted in indie Western Shroud: the heroine is understandably panicky when she is attacked and threatened with rape by a cowboy—but after she manages to snatch his gun from its holster, she grows visibly calmer with each shot as she empties the gun into him.
- Inverted and Lampshaded in Bound: the feminine Violet seems reluctant to shoot Caesar. He lampshades this trope in a most patronizing manner, telling her that she does not have the resolve nor the will to fire the gun. Violet does fire, but not before delivering a calm and collected Pre-Asskicking One-Liner.
- Male version in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Harry breaks down after shooting a goon.
- In Man of Steel, Clark, who has spent the entire movie trying to save everyone, breaks down crying after he is forced to directly kill General Zod to keep him from murdering a terrified family. It's treated not as a rite of passage but a terribly traumatic choice that forced him to do something strongly against his nature.
- A variation exists in Foundation and Empire. A woman shoots a friend in order to stop him from revealing a vital secret to the enemy. Then she cries for the first time since her childhood.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe
- Some books have a rare male example: when he's new to the Rebellion and to killing people, Luke Skywalker can handle shooting people down in his X-Wing or a firefight but has a lot of trouble after the fact when he kills someone at close range without giving them a chance to fight. Choices of One has him, after doing this, passionately think that doing this tears a fresh line across his heart every time, and he suspects it always will. Rebel Force heavily implies that he cries after unleashing monsters designed to take out infantry on unsuspecting Imperials.
- This is also in sharp contrast to the Jedi of the Old Republic, who considered themselves safest from the Dark Side by repressing all of their emotions, including remorse.
- Jerin in A Brother's Price; it's not stated if he cries, but he stands in utter shock and horror for several minutes. The novel has a Stereotype Flip of most gender roles; the much more violent woman he's escaping with winced earlier at exposing him to what she does and apologizes that he has to be there for her killing people. It's only the need to save her that got him to shoot.
Live Action TV
- The Professionals episode 'Runner' ends when a female character, played by Barbara Kellerman, shoots a bad guy (who killed her boyfriend earlier in the show) just before he kills one of the CI 5 agents. She weeps mascara tears.
- In an episode of Sharpe, a woman begins the episode by taking a boat from Ireland, riding on horseback across war-torn Europe up to the front lines, bullying her cousin Wellington into letting her stay at the camp, and beating everyone except Sharpe himself in a marksmanship contest. Then, when forced to shoot a man in self-defense, she bawls like a baby (and makes out with Sharpe). Furthermore, when Sharpe tries to tell her she "proved herself," she protests that women prove themselves when they have babies.
- In one episode of Charlie's Angels, one of the Angels loses her memory. A group of men attempt to steal her bag; she fights them off, eventually finding a gun in her struggles and pulling it on them to convince them to back off. Although she doesn't shoot anyone, as soon as the danger is over she drops the gun and runs crying down the beach.
- Kimberly Bauer of 24 breaks out in tears when she shoots the man who attempted to kill her. More tears ensue when her father instructs her to shoot him again.
- A Target Women segment parodies an "intervention"-themed clothing commercial by having Sarah shoot a friend to stop her from buying the wrong outfit, freak out, accidentally shoot the other friend she brought with her and then casually step over to the rack and start browsing.
- Tessa breaks down in Highlander after she takes out a serial killer with her car.
- Breaking Bad: You don't get to see Jesse's reaction immediately after he shoots Gale, but he hesitates for a long time holding the gun and he's softly crying the entire time. The whole event shocks him so much that the resulting Heroic BSOD lasts for half the next season.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1x17 has Fitz (a Non-Action Guy usually afraid of combat) forced to fatally shoot a HYDRA agent in the back when it looks like the agent is about to get the drop on May. Having been reluctant to even pick up a real gun (as opposed to his tranquilizer gun, which he presumably lost while being searched earlier in the scene), Fitz quickly throws it back down after shooting the enemy agent, looking absolutely horrified. Of course, with everything that was going on the poor guy had already been in tears for most of the scene, but he certainly doesn't get any happier after shooting someone.
- When Michael is knocked unconscious during the battle at the end of We're Alive's first season, Pegs is left defenseless when Latch and Scratch come looking for them - or so you think, until she picks up Michael's SMG and kills Latch with it, leaving Scratch emotionally scarred (they were twins, after all). So far, Pegs is still being haunted by what she had to do that night to save Michael.