Follow TV Tropes

Cathartic Exhalation

Go To

Heavy breathing to signify a tense or stressful situation is resolved.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
ginsengaddict on Mar 7th 2014 at 2:18:01 AM
Last Edited By:
ginsengaddict on Oct 4th 2017 at 7:10:00 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

"You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

Humans instinctually hold their breath during tense situations. This is probably an evolutionary holdover from back when we had to hide from predators, as holding one's breath reduces the amount of noise a person makes, possibly keeping them alive if a predator is nearby. This makes the act of taking a breath all the more rewarding when the predator finally leaves. Even now, when hiding from predators is no longer a regular occurrence for people, we still inhale and exhale deeply in response to stress relief.

Whether it be a bomb ticking, a pending execution of an innocent party, a plane doing a nose-dive or one of other countless many situations of a tense or suspenseful nature, characters shown experiencing the nail-biting, breath-holding uncertainty of pending doom will inevitably breathe heavily when the situation relaxes.

Compare Hyperventilation Bag. Can present as Visible Sigh. Is sometimes paired with Take a Moment to Catch Your Death if the writers are feeling particularly cruel.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film 
  • Alice in Wonderland: Exploited by the Queen of Hearts during her croquet match with Alice. Despite blatantly cheating, she still fans herself and sighs as if relieved to have made such a difficult shot.
  • Batman Begins: The people monitoring the water mains get to do this after the pressure finally settles.
  • Inside Out: A far more relaxed, Tear Jerker example. At the climax of the film, after Sadness is given the chance to let Riley pour her heart out to her parents, she hands control back to Joy. When this happens, Riley smiles as she sighs, having let go of the pain of moving.
  • The Matrix. The protagonists must shut down the ship's power and hide from the Sentinels. The Sentinels appear, search around for a while, and leave. After they do, everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

    Live Action TV 
  • Castle: At the climax of a two-parter episode involving a domestic terrorist plot to set off a dirty bomb in the city. Castle and Beckett find the bomb, but with only mere seconds left on the clock. After seemingly resigning themselves to their fate, Castle goes ahead and rips all the wires out, preventing the explosion. Once the shock wears off, Beckett starts gasping with relief.
  • Firefly: Wash and Mal share in some heavy breathing after the Reavers don't attack them.
  • The Newsroom: Invoked during the episode Fix You; the crew is waiting on confirmation that Gabby Giffords has been killed. When they get the news that she is in fact still alive and awaiting surgery, the technical director tells the graphics guy to "breathe normally."
  • Person of Interest:
    • Held captive and under torture, Fusco can do nothing but sob and offer vain comfort while his son is about to be executed over the phone. Once the gunshot is revealed to be Shaw who arrived in time to save the kid, Fusco has a sighing fit.
      • Taken to the next level in the follow-up scene, where Fusco escapes his restraints and overpowers his captor before strangling him to death. This is followed by another sighing fit.
    • Harold has been known to do this often, usually when he's unsure if his friends are alive.

    Video Games 
  • Crash Bandicoot (1996): Sometimes Crash will let out a sigh when he steps on the level's "finish pad" before he's teleported out of it.
  • Crystal Quest: When the player completes a stage by passing through the exit gate, older versions of the game play a sighing sound, obviously meant to represent the player's relief. However, the female voice and inflection used made it sound like something else.
  • In Mass Effect 2, after making the hyperspace jump through the Omega 4 relay, the Normandy ends up smack in the middle of a giant space debris field left behind by all the ships that attempted to use it before. After some tense maneuvers, Joker, your resident Ace Pilot, finally lets out the breath he has been holding for a minute and utters only "Too close".

     Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender:
    • Low risk example; after being banned from the Garrison for espionage, Katie Holt infiltrates it as a male student named Pidge Gundarsson. For fear of being recognised by the headmaster, she covers her face with her left hand as he walks past; he assumes she is saluting, says she is using the wrong arm, but continues walking. After he is far enough away, she lets out a sigh.
    • Happens again, this time during Allura and Shiro's infiltration of a Galra ship; Allura fumbles through allaying the suspicions of a Galra officer, and sighs heavily after seemingly convincing him all is well.

    Real Life 
  • Immediately after the original moon landing, mission control actually said this to the Apollo 11 crew: "...you got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

Feedback: 37 replies

Sep 6th 2016 at 5:27:42 AM

  • Crash Bandicoot 1996: Sometimes Crash will let out a sigh when he steps on the level's "finish pad" before he's teleported out of it.

Sep 6th 2016 at 6:40:55 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk-jGHHqwvw

This is the scene from the the POI example. Does everyone agree he's sighing, or is that just breathing heavily and stammering?

Sep 6th 2016 at 6:46:04 AM

But if that doesn't qualify, I think the very next scene certainly does:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3rs2CMeSwY

Sep 6th 2016 at 6:55:06 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZdCRyFMz_Q

I'd like to see more examples like this one, where the tension relieved is more emotional than suspenseful.

The trope is specifically the act of sighing to signify the moment when the tension is relieved.

Sep 8th 2016 at 12:02:16 PM

  • In Mass Effect 2, after making the hyperspace jump through the Omega 4 relay, the Normandy ends up smack in the middle of a giant space debris field left behind by all the ships that attempted to use it before. After some tense maneuvers, Joker, your resident Ace Pilot, finally lets out the breath he has been holding for a minute and utters only "Too close".
  • Real Life: Immediately after the original moon landing, mission control actually said this to the Apollo 11 crew: "...you got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

Compare also my older YKTTW Deep Breath Betrays Tension.

Sep 8th 2016 at 5:43:41 PM

^^ Page doesn't exist, but that's a good title option.

Sep 8th 2016 at 6:22:02 PM

Moved Inside Out example to Animated Film section.

Sep 9th 2016 at 1:02:01 AM

^ You forgot to pothole the new sections. And there aren't enough animated film examples yet to justify splitting the sections anyway.

Sep 9th 2016 at 1:36:15 AM

Film

  • The Matrix. The protagonists must shut down the ship's power and hide from the Sentinels. The Sentinels appear, search around for a while, and leave. After they do, everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

Sep 9th 2016 at 7:30:48 AM

  • Crystal Quest: When the player completes a stage by passing through the exit gate, older versions of the game play a sighing sound, obviously meant to represent the player's relief. However, the female voice and inflection used made it sound like something else.

Sep 9th 2016 at 6:21:40 PM

This often happens because humans have instinctual tendency to hold their breath whenever they're in distress or being too busy.

Sep 10th 2016 at 4:02:50 AM

I decided to expand the scope and include any heavy breathing in response to tension release. Also decided to go with Cathartic Exhalation, since its clear, concise, and quite witty to boot.

Koveras, thank you for the NASA example. Decided to use that as the page quote.

Sep 10th 2016 at 4:04:34 AM

However, I am still a fan of Phew Moment, so it's a toss-up between those two. If more tropers like Phew Moment, we'll go with that.

Sep 10th 2016 at 9:15:49 AM

^^ You're welcome. :-) Do note however, that potholes are no longer allowed in page quotes (at least, that's what I've heard).

Mar 23rd 2017 at 12:49:53 PM

Phew Moment sounds like it's about the situation, not the act of letting out held breath in response to a release of tension. atharticExhalationis a much clearer name.

Mar 23rd 2017 at 10:23:03 PM

Got enough hats. Could do with a few more examples though.

Mar 24th 2017 at 2:00:55 AM

Phew! could count as a redirect.

Mar 24th 2017 at 6:15:35 AM

^^^ It was decided that Sigh Of Relief is too limiting in scope. There are quite a phew variations of breathing after stress relief and all fall under the purview of this trope.

Mar 24th 2017 at 7:11:49 AM

Sigh Of Relief is too narrow. A sigh is a sound, made by the long exhalation of air. In common usage, it implies a soft sound. The Cathartic Exclamation doesn't need any sound or if there is a sound it may be louder or more plosive than a sigh (<Whoof!>, <Hwhoa!>)

Mar 24th 2017 at 7:21:11 AM

I'd like to open an Image Pickin discussion for this.

Mar 28th 2017 at 12:19:00 PM

Every "Phew!" relief sound counts? Sound omnipresent.

Mar 28th 2017 at 10:51:56 PM

Image Pickin discussion open. Go have your say here.

Apr 2nd 2017 at 6:53:59 PM

At the end of the original MacGyver theme song Mac does this to decompress after the minute of action clips he just had to do. ;)

Apr 17th 2017 at 6:29:03 AM

Web Video

Jul 1st 2017 at 7:43:48 AM

^ You could grab this. The OP hasn't edited it in a while.

Jul 28th 2017 at 12:00:25 AM

Looking forward to this trope. Num Nums does it when Chunk rescues her in The Zhu Zhus episode Hamster a la Karte.

Oct 4th 2017 at 7:10:00 AM

3... 2... 1... Blastoff.

Top