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Heart in the Wrong Place

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"Okay, somebody tell Nick Brendon where the heart is."
Joss Whedon, DVD Commentary for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "The Harvest", in reference to a shot of Xander pointing a stake at a vampire's throat.

Anatomically, the human heart is located beneath the lower sternum, with only a very slight tilt to the left. Because of this, anatomists, being very precise people, say that the heart (meaning the centre of the heart) lies to the left of the sternum. In fiction, this position is greatly exaggerated, and it is common to depict the entire organ as lying just under the left shoulder, level with the armpit, in a position where the left lung ought to be. The thumping sensation that people feel in the upper-left chest that creates this impression is actually the aortic pulse.

A case of Artistic License – Biology so commonplace as to constitute Reality Is Unrealistic. If a character's heart is in the wrong place because they've hidden it for safekeeping, that's a Soul Jar. If a character's heart is in a different place because they aren't human, it's Bizarre Alien Biology. This trope can overlap with CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable when nobody involved does the research beforehand.

Often mistakenly conflated with dextrocardia situs inversus, a condition where a human's heart tilts towards their right side instead of their left; depictions in fiction fall under Bizarre Human Biology and, if it leads to avoiding what would've been a fatal injury, Organ Dodge. See also Attack on the Heart.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan Connie gets chastised by Drill Sergeant Nasty Keith Shadis for holding his fist at the wrong spot when doing the hand-on-heart salute.
  • In Fist of the North Star, this is an important plot point in one of Kenshiro's battles: when Kenshiro first fights Thouzer, his Pressure Point attacks have seemingly no effect. It is later revealed that Thouzer has dextrocardia: because his heart is inverted, so too are his pressure points. With this knowledge, Kenshiro is able to adjust his attacks and defeat Thouzer.
  • My Hero Academia has an episode with a focus shot of Izuku where his heartbeat is heard. However, his heart is indicated as being in the upper left of his chest in said shot.
  • The Seven Deadly Sins: While the Anime averts this trope for the most part, showing characters getting in the sternum, in episode 8, when Holy Knight Gulia kills herself to follow our heroes into the land of the dead, her gauntlet goes just under her shoulder, even though she's supposed to be stabbing herself in the heart.
  • The Voynich Hotel: Played for a joke when Helena Rearranges Taizou's internal organs to help clean up up his system and ends up placing his heart far in the right of his chest. Becomes a Chekhov's Gun when the Yakazua clan catches up with him. A torturer attempts to stab in the heart in the anatomically correct place but it isn't there allowing Helena to get back in time and save Taizou.

    Comic Books 
  • Averted by Iron Man, whose heart-sustaining arc reactor is located in the center of his chest. Although the sheer size of the device means his heart would have to be pushed to the side to fit
  • Rat-Man: Boda Valker, while teaching his son Janus how to become a killer, explained that the idea of the heart being on the left is a stupid legend, and a lot of people got killed for it, since the victim didn't die immediately from a hit on the left and could shoot back.

  • An Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfic used it as a plot point, where Zuko did not die from being stabbed in the chest, with the attacker going for his heart, since his heart is "on the wrong side" and thus it was missed entirely. No word on if he had actual situs inversus or it was just his heart. (see Real Life).
  • Averted in Royal Heights, where it's stated that the witches have their hearts in the middle of their chests, allowing a magic source they call the Darkness to better circulate throughout their bodies. Their blood also activates their immortality and having their heart removed is the only way they can properly die.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, when the acorn is abandoned by Scrat and Scratte, it drifts out to sea and washes up inside an intact ribcage on the beach, right where people who believe this trope expect a heart to be.
  • In Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, one of the proofs that the Lex Luthor Superman is speaking to is from an Alternate Universe is that his heart veers towards the right side of his body, showing a subtle difference in anatomy between universes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the final scene of the 2015 horror film The Atticus Institute, the demonic presence, having shifted into Dr. West's body, makes its old host Judith's heart explode, complete with erratic heartbeats prior to the spurt of gore. This effect happens well above and to the left of the heart's actual location.
  • ZigZagged in Battle: Los Angeles. Where the Marines torture a captured alien in a attempt to find out what their weak point is. Its apparently only vital organ is some sort of water sac to upper left of its chest. Exactly the same place as where a human's heart isn't.
  • Averted, strangely enough, by Boogeyman 2. While otherwise not even bothering with reality, a heart-removing scene appears to show the heart exactly where it should be.
  • Two characters in Django Unchained are killed by being shot through their hearts... a couple of inches above the left nipple.
  • In the Dune (1984), the heart plug of the unlucky Harkonnen slave is too far to the left. It also spurts out dark blood when pulled out by the Baron, not the bright crimson high-oxygen blood which is propelled by the left atrium and ventricle.
  • Tamara from Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan paints herself with some sketchy approximations of internal anatomy before attempting to seduce (and get blackmail footage of) Charles. Justified in that she couldn't care less if the illustrations on her "biology project" are correct.
  • Likewise, Kroenen from Hellboy doesn't seem to have a working heart or blood in the film adaptation, but the clockwork device that keeps his body going ... somehow ... is in the upper left side of his chest.
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Katniss supposedly shoots President Coin directly in the heart, and yet when we see her the arrow is just under the left shoulder, level with the armpit, in a position where the left lung ought to be. Sure, she could have died from a punctured lung instead, if proper medical attention wasn't available, which would be rare, considering who she was, but certainly not from heart related wounds.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the villainous cult leader Mola Ram snatches the heart from the left side of the sacrificial victim's chest. His attempt to do the same to Indy likewise uses this trope.
  • Iron Man: The arc reactor is housed within a wide, wrist-deep hole exactly where Tony's heart should be. The sheer size of the device means his heart would have to be pushed to the side to fit.
  • In Jeepers Creepers, the Creeper rips the heart out of one of the policemen at the sheriff's office, leaving a gaping hole through the left side of the man's chest. The hole is far enough off-center that the unlucky cop doesn't even keel over instantly, because his spine is still intact.
  • In Jennifer's Body, Jennifer places Jonas' hand above her left breast and asks him to feel her heart.
  • In Manon des Sources, Ugolin becomes a Stalker with a Crush for Manon, and stitches a discarded hair ribbon directly to his skin, supposedly over his heart but actually on the left side of his chest. Not that the exact position really matters, as all it gives him is a revolting infection.
  • The movie Ninja Assassin featured multiple people with the medical condition Dextrocardia situs inversus, which occurs in approximately 1 in 12,000 people. In an inversion of both normal human anatomy and this trope, their hearts were tilted towards the right side of the chest, which saves each of them when a ninja tries to stab them in the heart.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, when Will Turner reappears after becoming captain of the Flying Dutchman, the scar from impromptu heart surgery is visible high on the left side of the chest.
  • Obliquely referenced in the 1947 film of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in which one of Walter's magazine stories features a vampire that got staked early in the serial, but returns because the villagers pierced his left lung, not his heart.
  • In Terminator Salvation, when the T-800 visualizes Marcus's heart, it's too high and too far to the left. Then again, Marcus isn't entirely human, so he might have been built that way. On the other hand, when John Connor is stabbed and his heart is explicitly damaged, it's from being stabbed in the center of the chest.

  • Deltora Quest: One bit of Glamour Failure the shapeshifting Ols have is that their hearts are on the right sides of their bodies instead of the left. The heroes have to keep this in mind when they recognize Ols and try to kill them by stabbing said hearts.
  • Discworld:
    • Discussed in Monstrous Regiment when The Medic considers mercy-killing the team vampire before it goes mad with hunger, explaining that people typically aim too far to the left.
    • Used in Carpe Jugulum, when the Old Count turns out to have an anatomical chart showing where the heart is to help would-be heroes, otherwise he might end up leaky as a colander.
  • In the sci-fi novel Doorways in the Sand, someone attempts to murder the main character, Fred Cassidy, by shooting him in the left side of the chest. Fortunately for Fred, he'd recently passed himself through an alien matter-mirroring machine and his heart was now on the right side.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In Storm Front, the victims slain by the exploding-heart curse are described as having holes on the upper left side of their chests. (Fortunately, the graphic novel adaptation rectifies this mistake.)
    • Harry himself apparently believes this trope, as he refers to his barbarian PC's attack as a "perfect heart strike" — two inches under a Mook's left nipple — while role-playing in the short story "Day Off".
  • The novel Evangile Selon Pilate had Ponce Pilate considering the idea that Jesus came back because he never died on the cross given 3 days is a short time for crucifixion according to his medical expert. When a guard shows he stabbed him in the heart to see if he was dead, Pilate's doctor amusingly pointed out that this is not where the heart is and an unconscious man wouldn't have reacted. The doctor later still diagnosed Jesus as dead when he learned he was severely whipped beforehand and in too poor shape to survive the crucifixion and a punctured lung.
  • I Am Legend: Discussed, as the protagonist has been killing vampires by stabbing them in the heart but realizes that he doesn't actually know human anatomy well enough to guarantee hitting the heart every time, yet they always die. This leads him to realize that any deep stab wound to the chest is instantly lethal to them, regardless of whether it hits an organ or not.
  • Jack Ryan: Discussed in Without Remorse. One of the reasons the police are sure that their killer is ex-military is because the death wounds are exactly where the heart should be and not where the average person thinks it is.
  • James Bond: Dr. No tells James Bond how he survived reprisal from the Tong after being caught embezzling funds - they chopped off his hands and shot him through the heart... or thought they did, but he was a rare case with his heart on the right side of his body.
  • In Tanith Lee's Kill the Dead, it's mentioned that ghosts usually attack living opponents' left side. The narrative claims this makes human victims' hearts especially vulnerable.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. When Coulson shows May the scar on his chest left by Loki stabbing him in the heart, it is just barely left of center.
  • Played for Laughs in Angel, during the Pylea arc. It's already been established that Lorne's species has their heart in their gluteus maximus, so when The Dragon is sent to kill Angel, and is told to do so by staking him through the heart, he gleefully vows to impale him in "his rump." When he's corrected, he walks away muttering, "disgusting."
  • Committed repeatedly and with extreme prejudice in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the location of the heart in vampires seems to vary from more-or-less right, to the upper-left chest, to (in one particularly egregious case) the stomach.
  • On the makeup-F/X game show Face/Off, a costume of a re-imagined, horror-themed Tin Woodsman featured a bare chest with a gaping hole where the character's heart is missing. Naturally, it's very high on the left side.
  • Invoked in a TV adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. Facing an attacking Ceratosaurus, the Great White Hunter asks the Omnidisciplinary Scientist if the beast's heart is on the left or right side of its body. The scientist tells him to shoot between the eyes.
  • Averted early in Lost. The US Marshall that was on the plane was critically wounded in the crash, so Sawyer shoots him in the upper left part of his chest to put him out of his misery. Only for Jack to tell him that he missed the heart and hit his lung.
  • Justifiably used in Primeval, when the Future Predators' Bizarre Alien Senses pinpoint the beating hearts of its human prey on the left side of their chests. While the heart isn't actually on the left side, the left side of a person's heart is typically louder than the right, so the Future Predators' sound-based senses really should indicate it's a bit farther off-center than in reality.
  • In "Dig That Cat, He's Real Gone", a Tales from the Crypt episode, a bear-shaped archery target has a valentine-shaped cutout on the left side of its chest.
  • Averted in True Blood. Every time someone is stabbed in the heart or a heart is ripped out, it's in the correct place.
  • Averted in Warehouse 13: when Artie gets stabbed through the chest by a sword, it goes though where most people think is the placement of the heart. While he is seriously injured, he makes a very rapid recovery.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Ex Post Facto", Tom Paris is accused of murdering an alien. Among the evidence that exculpates him is the fact that the victim was stabbed in the heart which is in a different place in that species, a fact that Tom wouldn't know.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Among the many other failings of F.A.T.A.L. is the lungs on the critical hit chart; you're twice as likely to hit the right lung as the left lung (to make room for the heart, see?). While the left lung really is smaller than the right one, it's not as drastic a difference as FATAL is trying to pass off.
  • The "broken heart" piece in the game of Operation is positioned this way, far too high in the chest.

    Theme Parks 
  • The Beating Heart Bride, a former character from Disney's The Haunted Mansion, had a visibly-glowing heart that's too far to the left.

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham Knight, one of Professor Pyg's victims has the remnants of a cardiac pacemaker affixed to his right ventricle. The deep tissue scanner shows this physical anomaly's position to be quite far to the left.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Forsworn Briarhearts, who, through a magical process replace their real hearts with a magic substitute, can clearly be seen with these hearts located a good three inches to the left of where it would really be, and too high up the chest.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: Ocelot shoots Fortune in the left side of the chest. This fails to be an immediate kill, but that's not because he shot off-center but because the victim had a case of Situs Inversus.
  • Subverted in Telltale's The Wolf Among Us where Prince Lawrence shoots himself in the left side of his chest hoping to hit himself in the heart. When he is discovered by Bigby, he says that the heart is in the centre of the chest and he probably hit his lung.

    Web Animation 
  • In Mystery Skulls Animated Lewis' heart is where his left lung would be in addition to hovering on the outside of his ribcage. Justified in that it's not really his heart — it's a locket.

  • Stand Still, Stay Silent has a variation on this. At some point, Sigrun tries to indicate her heart by putting her hand on the right side of her chest, only for Mikkel to correct her by telling her it's actually "on the other side". "The other side" to where Sigrun initially had her hand is the area in which the heart is usually depicted to be when the trope is played straight.

     Web Original 
  • Emulated by SCP-2295, an anomalous organ-replacing teddy bear with a pin resembling an anatomically-correct heart pinned to its left breast.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In "Treehouse of Horror IV", Homer tries to stake Vampire Mr. Burns. He hammers in a stake with a dramatic declaration, only for Lisa to point out he just staked Burns' groin.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • "The Deserter": Captain Rex gets shot in the upper centre of his chest, seemingly slightly above where the heart would be. This doesn't stop Hardcase (who, admittedly, is not a medic) from telling him that if the shot had been "an inch to the left" it would have gone through his heart.
    • "The Soft War": Saw Gerrera is subjected to Electric Torture after being captured. A screen showing stress to his heart during the process locates his heart quite firmly on the left side of his chest, even though he's human.
  • Family Guy: Exaggerated in the episode "Friends Without Benefits", which portrays Meg's heart as being at the top of her head, hence why she's seldom seen without her hat.
  • Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?: In the Alton Brown episode, the Frankenfooder monster's patchwork fruit-and-vegetable body includes a heart-shaped gap on the upper left side of its pumpkin chest. A bright red heart-shaped tomato rests in the hole.

    Real Life 
  • Situs inversus totalis is a rare congenital condition in which the major visceral organs are reversed or mirrored from their normal positions; it may or may not include the heart, and when the heart is mirrored, its arrangement is referred to as Dextrocardia. It's actually better for the person with Situs inversus totalis if they do have Dextrocardia, as this usually means there aren't any circulatory defects that would need to be corrected. However, because organs are chiral, and thus do not form a perfect mirror image when flipped, it does mean that should the patient require an organ transplant (of which normal organs are obviously much more common), the blood vessels require being re-routed to ensure blood flows through them in the correct directions.
  • The hand-on-heart gesture used in Real Life flag ceremonies actually places one's hand over one's left upper lung lobe.
  • Clothing intended for little girls sometimes incorporates a valentine-style heart symbol on the upper left of the chest.
  • Real Life literal example: Newborn baby Audrina Cardenas had to undergo surgery to re-position her heart, which had been tilted too far forward and was protruding from the front of her chest at birth.
  • In snakes, the heart actually is slightly to the left of center, as it's positioned immediately between the two lungs and the left lung is vestigial. When large prey is swallowed, the heart moves even further to the left to make room for food's passage through the esophagus, which is on the right side of the snake's body cavity.
  • The signature pastry of Voodoo Doughnut, a specialty shop in Portland, Oregon, is a chocolate-frosted doll-shaped doughnut with raspberry filling. It comes equipped with a pretzel-stick "pin" stuck into its "heart", which is well over on the left side.
  • In 2014, there was a 48-year-old man who was involved in a motorcycle accident, which caused his heart to rotate 90 degrees inside his chest.
  • A chest injury that results in severe non-bilateral pneumothorax - air trapped in the pleural cavity in which one lung resides - can temporarily push the heart toward the opposite side of the chest.
  • Pragmatically, reality averts this trope; almost all soldiers and armed police are trained to shoot to kill by aiming for the centre of mass of the torso, which is not-at-all coincidentally the tip of the sternum and not-at-all coincidentally likely to perforate a ventricle on a perfect shot dead centre, and even more lethal if the grouping isn't perfect and is a little to the right. Snipers however prefer the "triangle", a small spot between the two collarbones to mid-sternum; a high or low shot — snipers are expected not to deviate right or left — will hit the head or aorta respectively. A shot that is dead centre in the triangle would still be almost as nasty as either alternative, of course.
  • The "heart ceremony" at Build-A-Bear Workshop nearly always includes rubbing the stuffed fabric heart against the bear-building child's own chest. This "rub it on your heart" step in the soft-toy-assembly procedure generally uses this trope.
  • In the Villari's schools of martial arts, students (regardless of rank) wear a patch with the school's logo on it. (This also functions as a "target" to aim for when practicing certain techniques.) Women typically wear theirs just below the shoulder, so that the patch doesn't end up sitting directly on their left breast.