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Deep Breath Reveals Tension

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Just before or after doing something extremely risky and difficult, the seemingly calm and stoic character suddenly pauses and takes a few deliberate, audible breaths before proceeding. What happened is that in-universe, the character used hyperventilation to relax tense muscles and improve their performance. Out-of-universe, the writer used a simple shorthand to demonstrate how stressed and Not So Stoic that character is (or was, if it happens afterwards) without telling it explicitly.

Compare Hyperventilation Bag. Can be used to avoid a Rage Breaking Point. Take a Moment to Catch Your Death is a horror genre variation where this segues into a Death Trope. See also Cathartic Exhalation for when the air is let out of the lungs after a stressful event.


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    Films — Animation 
  • Done by, of all characters, B.E.N. in Disney's Treasure Planet, who is actually a robot, and doesn't need to breathe. B.E.N. does so anyway after killing all the lights aboard the Legacy while attempting to disable the on-board weapons systems. Of course, in his case, anything that might avert another monumental screw-up is worth a try.
  • In Turning Red, Mei does this before entering her school on the first day she gains her giant red panda form knowing that strong emotions trigger it and that school can be a stressful place.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Astronaut Dave Bowman does a lot of measured breathing in 2001: A Space Odyssey while he's working to disable the homicidal HAL-9000 computer. If Bowman disables too few circuits, HAL might succeed in killing him nonetheless; if Bowman disables too many circuits, the spacecraft Discovery will become unmanageable to the point of being a deathtrap.
  • Avengers: Infinity War: Before attacking the Big Bad Thanos, Loki appears to be calm and collected, but then takes a deep breath specifically to show how frightened he really is.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Emma instructs her daughter Madison Russell to take deep breaths when they're walking towards Outpost 32, surrounded by armed mercs whom have just slaughtered everyone in the outpost while Emma and Madison heard all of it.
  • Played with in Midsommar. Deep breathing appears to be part of the Harga language, which they use especially when stressed. It also proves very cathartic to Dani, but it isn't clear if this is it's intended purpose, and Dani constantly struggles to maintain a stoic face.

  • Subverted in Artemis Fowl: When Mulch is in a prisoner shuttle transferring him to the Atlantis prison, he starts taking deep breaths, which his guard assumes to be a normal behavior due to stress. However, Mulch is actually compressing vast amounts of air in his gut to the point where the submarine actually starts crumpling in on itself. The guard barely makes it to the cockpit/escape pod while Mulch makes his high-speed escape leaving only a trail of malodorant bubbles.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry takes deep calming breaths during a pause when Snape is interrogating him about being Hogsmeade, and finds the Marauder's Map.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, when the resident Stoic Doug Robinson flies off on a solo mission over the enemy territory with no backup and a lot of lives at stake, he takes several deep, deliberate breaths as the mission starts — the first indication that the stress is getting to him, too. However, he manages to control himself and complete his mission just fine after that.

    Web Comics 
  • Fen Quest: When Fen and Aira question Sir Zall's identity in the face of orders that contradict his previous ones (also they've never seen him angry before), Zall "lets out some noise that I'm not sure is a sigh, a deep breath, or a hiss" as he collects himself before amending his orders to comply with their paranoia.
  • In Weak Hero, Ben rushes all the way to the construction site where Jimmy is beating down his friend Alex. Upon arriving, there's a long shot of him taking a calming breath before he approaches the two of them.

    Western Animation