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Ironic Juxtaposition

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"You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?!"
Colonel to Private Joker, Full Metal Jacket

A kind of visual technique, usually (though not always) played for laughs. It features two objects, people, or images in proximity to provide a contrast to one another. Frequently, it's an inanimate object, such as a sign or billboard, and something in or of the real world. While the sign is making one very clear statement, the real thing will be portraying a reality that is completely different in nature. The sign, as a result, will appear to be either surreal or completely ineffective, considering its general surroundings.

A subtrope of Mood Dissonance. Birth-Death Juxtaposition is a subtrope common enough to have its own page. When played for drama, is usually extremely bleak and depressing, and a sign of a Crapsack World. Compare Description Cut and Ad Dissonance.


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  • This happens all the time with Internet Ads, mostly because of their context sensitivity. There are screenshots of things like a news story about an infant dying in a house fire with an ad next to it for a CD burner saying "burn baby burn".
    • Invoked in a Cracked Photoshop contest.
    • And on our very own Ad of Win page.
    • The "Inappropriate timing Spongebob" meme was born when a banner ad showing a laughing Spongebob popped up during a dramatic moment (Korra falling off a platform) in Legend of Korra. Others quickly followed suit by inserting the banner into even sadder scenes in other shows (or showed Korra laughing at Spongebob).
  • In Great Britain, not every TV ad carries subtitles. If an advert without subtitling follows one which has it, the last line from the previous advert will carry over, and remain on the screen during the next. This leads to some wonderfully inappropriate juxtapositions. Imagine an advert aimed at parents for a head lice cure for kids, with subtitling. The following advert is for a wonderful shampoo and conditioner of the upmarket sophisticated sort where the girl is practically having an orgasm while applying it. This lacks subtitling, so the line appearing on screen is "Always guaranteed to kill 100% of all head lice and scalp parasites". Which rather kills the mood.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • An incredibly gut-wrenching example occurs in 12 Years a Slave, when Solomon is first held captive in Burch's dungeon. As he tries futilely crying out for help from the single barred window, the camera then scales up the building until it rests at the top, where the US Capitol Building can be seen in the background...
  • Throughout Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Alice has been promising an insistent Tommy that she will get them to Monterey, California before the school year starts. In the end, Tommy tells her that it's OK if they stay in Tucson. The last shot of the movie shows them walking towards the Monterey Hotel.
  • The Battle of San Pietro: The documentary's narration says that the Italian villager is a born mason who builds not for himself but "for future generations" while showing villagers picking up rubble, followed by a shot of a dead Italian teenager lying in the street.
  • Full Metal Jacket has Joker walking around with a peace sign pin and a helmet reading "Born to Kill". When questioned, he replies he was trying to suggest "The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir." This leads to some symbolism in the final scene where the sniper is begging Joker to shoot her. Both the "Born to Kill" phrase and the peace sign are visible as Joker struggles to pull the trigger. The exact moment the peace sign is obscured, he kills her.
  • One scene in the film Joyeux Noël, which depicts the Christmas truce of World War I, has German officer Nikolaus embracing his lover Anna under a blanket in the trench, both overjoyed to be together for a few brief moments of peace. Cut to Scottish soldier Jonathan, lying on the snow outside, holding his dead brother William.
  • Jurassic Park: "Objects in the mirror are Closer than They Appear." Said object is a charging tyrannosaurus.
  • One of the Lethal Weapon movies features a cool rebellious lead character standing in front of a non-smoking sign and smoking. You know, 'cause he's cool.
  • This trope is one of the main themes in Mondo Cane, where vignettes from one society will regularly be contrasted with a different one from somewhere else. The clip of mourners at an American pet cemetery is followed by Taiwanese people cooking and eating dogs. The American housewives trying to lose weight at a fitness club are contrasted with the New Guinea women that are supposedly locked into a cage and fed rich food until they fatten up.
  • Nocturnal Animals: Laura's daughter Samantha is shown lying nude with her boyfriend (from the back) on her bed, presumably in the wake of consensual sex, when she calls, after getting very disturbed by Edward's book. In the book, his expy's daughter was discovered lying the same way, but next to her mom (who's also naked) dead after both had been raped, then murdered.
  • October, a Soviet film about the Red October 1917 revolution, includes the "Women's Battalion of Death", an all-female Amazon Brigade that had been organized to fight in World War I. Instead, a fragment of the battalion wound up defending the Winter Palace against the Bolsheviks. Two of the women soldiers are shown going through military drill, right in front of a statue of a mother and child.
  • Savage Man, Savage Beast: Similar to Mondo Cane (on which co-director/producer Antonio Climati served as a cinematographer), vignettes from one society will often be contrasted by a different one from somewhere else. For example, an anti-hunting demonstration in which the participants freely copulate and practice nudity is contrasted with scenes of ancient hunter-gatherer societies with strict rules concerning nudity.
  • Combined with Entertainingly Wrong in The Shape of Water. After the Asset is snuck out of a government facility, Fleming declares it must have required a team of at least ten highly-trained commandos... while Elisa and Zelda, the cleaning ladies responsible for the heist, are punching their timecards in the background.
  • In the climax of Slumdog Millionaire, Salim dies due to Redemption Equals Death in a bathtub full of money, while at the same time Jamal wins 20 million rupees. Metaphorically speaking, we even have a Birth-Death Juxtaposition at hand, since Jamal can be considered a new person at this point.
  • A Stranger Among Us has a female cop having a Cigarette of Anxiety (her partner's been shot) under a no smoking sign, meant to demonstrate her lack of respect for authority.
  • There's a really dark example in Threads, where shell-shocked nuclear survivors are seen shambling past posters of happy, smiling babies.
  • In What Happened to Santiago Santiago, still fuming about being forced into retirement, tries to console himself, thinking that there's lots he can do. This is immediately followed by Santiago having to stop his car to let a funeral procession pass.

  • In Moonraker (the book), James Bond sees a billboard. The sign reads in blinking neon, "SUMMER SHELL IS HERE" but due to the angle at which he sees it, it says "HELL IS HERE...HELL IS HERE...HELL IS HERE".

    Live-Action TV 
  • The first season finale of Burn Notice opened with Mike doing situps when Sam walks into his loft holding a bucket of fried chicken. Their conversation reaches a point when they're both standing at Mike's counter, Sam with his bucket of trans fat, Mike with his shirt off and a cup of yogurt. The camera lingers while they look at one another's choices.
  • Doctor Who: In "Planet of the Ood", PR rep Solana's marketing spiel selling the Ood to the marketing reps about how they're treated well is contrasted with guards hunting down an escaped Ood with "red-eye".
  • Taken: In "Jacob and Jesse", Dr. Peter Quarrington's lecture about the friendly Space Brothers coming in peace is juxtaposed with Russell Keys being experimented upon by the aliens aboard one of their ships.

  • The music video of the iconic Dutch song 'Vijftien miljoen mensen' features a photo of a 'do not walk on the grass' sign, with a policeman cheerfully chatting with someone on the wrong side of it while dozens of people lounge about the grass.

  • Perhaps the most famous examples of this are the Depression era photographs by Dorothea Lange, which contrasted extremely cheerful billboard advertisements with happy American families with the desolate ghost town that most of America had become. The worst of it is that these advertisements stayed up during most of the Depression- largely because no one could afford to take them down and put up new ones.

  • Allegiance: In the background, Mike Masaoka is saying that those in internment camps should focus on the goal of proving the loyalty of Japanese-Americans in general rather than focusing on individual suffering. In the foreground, a spotlight is literally being shone on a couple weeping over their infant who just died due to exposure and lack of medical care in the camp.
  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto: After Angelo tells Cesare his name, Cesare's reaction is something like, "Angelo? That weird Florentine guy who keeps putting his foot in his mouth and needing to be rescued, his name is Angel? That's weird. ... there's a castle called that, in Rome, in the Vatican." (implicitly by projections, he goes into a church) "If God's kingdom exists on Earth, it should be Italy, where the pope is, in his castle of angels. It should be, but..." Cut to Roberto explaining to Angelo the complex relationships between all the cardinals who want to kill each other — which includes, of course, Cesare's father. Then cut to said cardinals, in Rome, threatening each other.

  • In Dead Winter, Lou's van nearly squashes a soldier (who had tried to blast it with a RPG) against a wall. Right under a billboard:
    "That was a close shave!"
  • In Episode 40 of Weak Hero, there's a shot of a banner promoting safe streets protected from school violence while Eugene is getting beat up by students from another school.

    Western Animation 
  • Ín Danny Phantom, the "Welcome to Amity Park" sign changes regularly, and sometimes does this, such as "Amity Park ? it's safe here!" right in front of a ruined town in the midst of a ghost attack.
  • In The Venture Brothers, there's a jolly sign with a smiling family stating, "If you lived here, you'd be home right now," Just outside the desolate trailer park that Pete White and Billy Quizboy inhabit. They are the trailer park's only residents.