Dénouement (pronounced day-noo-mahn) is French for "unknotting", and denotes the point in the story when mysteries are unraveled, fates are determined and explanations made. It is not synonymous with climax: This is the aftermath of the action, not the peak. It is usually the scene after the climax — although it can happen in such close proximity to the events of the climax that it may appear to be part of it. An equivalent English expression would be "tying up loose ends".
It is fairly ubiquitous, though not all stories have dénouements. How final and extensive it is depends on the scale of the plot — and whether there may be a sequel. For a Happy Ending or even Bittersweet Ending, this is generally where the happiness is shown. As a consequence, many usual rules -- directed at keeping conflict and suspense going — are suspended here. The Law of Inverse Fertility, for instance, does not apply; if The Hero and the Love Interest married at the climax, a dénouement may show them happily anticipating the birth of, or cooing over, their first child.
In the Downer Ending, or even the Bittersweet Ending, the tragedy may taper off. The Hero died at the climax; the Dénouement shows his Meaningful Funeral, or his friends raising a glass To Absent Friends. The Star-Crossed Lovers had to part; the Dénouement shows them going on with their lives, however sadly.
Not to be confused with Détournement.
Ending Trope. Spoilers follow.
- After the end of Fruits Basket, we see a scene with Tohru's granddaughter talking to her mother, and her grandparents walking together, holding hands.
- Heartcatch Pretty Cure (which has a Bittersweet Ending) has a particularly poignant dénouement, implying that Futaba succeed her big sister as a Pretty Cure.
- Similarly, in Kiki's Delivery Service, the ending theme shows such images as Jiji and Lily having kittens, Tombo flying an airplane, and a little girl dressed up as Kiki, wrapping up their arcs, and showing the entire city's acceptance of Kiki.
- At the end of My Neighbor Totoro, we see scenes from the future, such as Mother's return home, rolling alongside the credits.
- Popotan ends with the sisters arriving in a new time period, inhabited by an older Mai (Konami's daughter). This after they've decided to continue travelling in the episode's climax.
- For such a hot-blooded series, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has a mellow, melancholy dénouement.
- The final chapter of Naruto, and especially its movie adaptation, Naruto the Last (which includes one last battle before the story shifts to the Distant Finale), serve as this.
- In All Fall Down, a Flash Forward at a funeral reveals the fates of several main characters:
- Paradigm saves lives as a paramedic.
- Portia fights side-by-side with the Ghoul.
- Pronto seeks counselling and rehabilitation in prison.
- Plymouth forgives Pronto and visits him frequently in prison.
- Grace happily marries the woman of her dreams.
- Phylum writes a bestselling autobiography.
- IQ Squared ends up in prison, but with his father's respect.
- The last real chapter of With Strings Attached (there are two postscripts) has the four talking with Shag and Varx about being sent back to Earth—but without their magic, which has John and Paul overjoyed but George disappointed and Ringo heartbroken. They also learn a little bit about the Fans (which turns out to be lies, though they never find that out) and decide not to tie up their last loose end by rescuing Lyndess.
- In the Total Drama story, Legacy, the last chapter is entirely dénouement. The climax comes at the end of the preceding chapter when Heather reveals her gesture of remembrance.
- Pixar does this occasionally:
- At the end of Cars, scenes from Radiator Springs' future are run, along with the credits.
- The last few minutes of Ratatouille (after Ego's re-review of Gusteau's restaurant) reveal what happened after Skinner and the health inspector were let go. They have Gusteau's shut down due to a rat infestation, and Ego loses his job due to giving a positive review to a "dirty" restaurant; Ego ends up investing in a new, successful restaurant run by Linguini and Colette, and we find out who Remy was narrating his story to.
- WALL•E uses a series of animated scenes to document what happened to the characters after returning to a revitalized Earth.
- Up ends at a ceremony where Russell receives his final wilderness explorer badge: the bottle cap that Ellie gave to Carl when they were kids.
- The last fifteen minutes of Toy Story 3, after the toys escape from the dump and return to Andy, and convince him to give them to Bonnie before he leaves for college rather than putting them in storage in his attic. Scenes over the end credits show what happened to the other toys at Sunnyside.
- At the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, after the credits, "ten years later", Elizabeth and her nine-year-old son are walking to the shore; when they reach it, they look out to a ship at sea.
- Clerks took out all the guesswork for its audience — "Dénouement" was the final title card.
- For a Few Dollars More climaxed with Mortimer shooting El Indio, and the dénouement was Manco figuring out and showing to the audience why Mortimer had wanted Indio dead so badly to begin with. And leaving with the loot.
- Discussed in Adaptation.. Charlie mispronounces it "De-newy-ment."
- In Harry Potter, the dénouement actually happened before the climax. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry meets with Albus Dumbledore in an ethereal place, and Dumbledore explains most of the mysteries that are still left unanswered. Although the fates are still undetermined at this point.
- Some fans, however, criticized the final book because of its rather meager and somewhat rushed post-climax dénouement before the Distant Finale.
- In the twelfth A Series of Unfortunate Events book there is a hotel aptly named this. The Dénouement is run by triplets (also named Dénouement), and it answers a ton of the questions in the series, but still leaves a treasure trove left unsaid.
- This is a Discussed Trope in book 12, as Snicket explains the difference between the dénouement and ending of a story, in traditional Snicket style.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King probably had a higher percentage of dénouement than any other story ever written. After the the climax is over, and the characters journey to their homes, saying goodbyes on the way, a new conflict is introduced. A new conflict. After The Climax.
- In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice the final chapter recounts how the two marriages occurred, and the happy life of the couples thereafter.
- In Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, after the heroine marries the king, and the heart-broken lover leaves, it recounts how every year, the new queen would send him a messenger, telling him of her.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Red Fury, after the battle has dealt with the Bloodfiends, and the other Chapters have decided to tithe to the Blood Angels so that chapter will survive — they learn that Fabius Bile has stolen some "sacred vitae". Rafen is charged with recovering it in the last scene.
- In Black Tide, Noxx comes to see Rafen and talk, before they part to bring back the escaped Space Marines to their chapters.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Warlord of Mars, Thuvia's hopeless crush on John Carter is showing every sign of being cured by meeting his son Carthoris. (Things go wrong after so that she and he get their own book, Thuvia, Maid of Mars.)
- The Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler frequently end with a dénouement, which occur during the villain's confrontation and/or in a closing scene (where Marlowe explains anything missed).
- In-universe example from The Dark Eye. Theatre plays in Maraskan have the tradition to pick up every suggestion by the audience. After the usually messy climax, a narrator has the task to explain all the strange twists of destiny and the ways, they show An Aesop. This can take up to a third of the whole play.
- After defeating the Final Boss of Persona 5, the story features Joker pulling a non-lethal Heroic Sacrifice by turning himself into the police to make sure that The Conspiracy that almost made Masayoshi Shido into the Prime Minister of Japan goes down. After spending a few months in jail, he's released thanks to the efforts of his fellow Phantom Thieves and his confidants. After that, the player gets a short Playable Epilogue where Joker can talk to his confidants and say goodbye before calling it quits and seeing the game's ending.
- Metal Gear Solid always does this. 1 has it right before the final fight, 2 and 3 have it place with the ending and 4 has it after the credits.
- Dragon Age: Origins has an entire level set after the Final Battle, where you can talk to your companions and significant Origin characters to learn about their future plans, while the cheering crowd outside waits to see their savior. If the Warden dies, there is a Meaningful Funeral for him/her instead. Additionally, there is a slide show epilogue detailing the fates of your companions and some NPCs. And there is the Witch Hunt DLC, which wraps up Morrigan's storyline, which was Left Hanging in the original game. Yeah, DA likes this trope.
- On a similar note, the abruptness of the end and thus lack of Denouement in the final Mass Effect game... well, the fan outcry isn't pretty. It was so bad that BioWare went back and patched in a more detailed version. Not exactly done to satisfaction for some, but at least it finally explained a few things.
- The Citadel DLC provided closure, albeit before the Very Definitely Final Dungeon. Despite not technically being a denouement, the DLC felt like one, providing closure with crew members (and the love interest), with Shepard's love interest or Joker reverently sighing at the end, "It's been quite a ride", with Shepard responding, "The best."
- The slideshow/text epilogue, with voiced narration, was used for all Fallout games and Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura.
- In the When They Cry series, it usually happens in the 7th out of 8 episodes. Except for all of the lies and new questions that get added in during that time.
- A major plot element for dealing with Science-Related Memetic Disorder in A Miracle of Science.
- Lampshaded in The Order of the Stick: Elan tells Haley about Therkla, and she explains that he insisted because it was dénouement.
- In Bob and George, the final strip was an animation of denouement.
- Archipelago has an entire chapter devoted to showing what happens to everyone after the Final Battle against Snow.
- Justice League Unlimited, before its Fully Absorbed Finale for Batman Beyond and the Post-Script Season, originally ended with the founding members announcing the dissolution of the League due to remorse for creating the show's main antagonists, but go back on their word after being convinced that they're still heroes and are still needed. Superman starts discussing ways that they could better public relations, which come into play in the Post-Script Season, while Batman tells Green Arrow that he's done a good job of keeping them straight. The final scene implies Clark is about to tell Lois that he's Superman, though it apparently wasn't the case as seen in the Post-Script Season.
- The Legend of Korra ended with almost the entire cast attending Varrick and Zhu Li's wedding, with Korra and Mako saying that they're Better as Friends, Tenzin noting that the world is going to need rebuilding and still needs the Avatar, and Korra and Asami becoming the Official Couple.
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated ended with a Cosmic Retcon Reset Button Ending, with the final minutes of the finale being of the kids discovering their new happy lives (as well as reuniting with their estranged-now-close family and friends) and feeling alienated from it, choosing to leave on a cross-country road trip after Harlan Ellison® tells them there are still mysteries to solve and has accepted them into Miskatonic University. The ending implies that the entire show has been a Stealth Prequel to Scooby Doo Where Are You and subsequent works in that canon this whole time.