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Ripping Off the String of Pearls

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Above: Inflicting this trope on another
Below: Self-inflicted example
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When a lady in a visual medium is wearing a lovely string of pearls around her neck, the odds of a Dramatic Necklace Removal occurring skyrocket. Why? Because removing jewelry with such force that it breaks is great for drama, and the individual pearls look awesome in slow motion as they clatter to the ground.note  Similar to Priceless Ming Vase or Ashes to Crashes — when you see this item, you can expect it to be broken.

While a Dramatic Necklace Removal fixates on the retrieval of a Plot Coupon in the form of a necklace, this trope focuses on the symbolism of a pearl necklace coming undone by force. As such, it leans on the symbolic connotations that pearls have: pearls are considered a feminine gem, and are often used to represent classic beauty and elegance in a character. note  Strings of pearls can also indicate that a character is wealthy (usually Old Money) or at least connected to the upper class. Any girl wearing a string of pearls is likely on her way to (or just returning from) a fancy event. If she's an Action Girl wearing them in a dangerous situation, viewers might expect that she's about to be Kicking Ass in All Her Finery.

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Like the Insignia Ripoff Ritual, this trope generally comes in two flavors:

  • Pearls Ripped Off by an Assailant: If the pearls are ripped off by an assailant, it indicates that the wearer is dealing with a dangerous or cruel enemy. She's in a confrontation that's turning violent, she's likely not dressed for battle, and someone who is willing to damage an expensive piece of jewelry like that obviously has no qualms about damaging the person wearing the jewelry.
  • Pearls Ripped Off by the Wearer: If the wearer rips off her own pearls, she's indicating a visceral rejection of everything the pearls represent to her; wealth, femininity, or even a suitor if those pearls were a gift. Or she might just want to use the multitude of small, round pearls to create hazardous terrain around her.

This trope can also work with beaded necklaces, but the impact is diminished when the beads are made of less precious stones, glass, or macaroni.

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Often used as a Symbolically Broken Object. Can be played for laughs if the characters break a necklace and then scramble to pick up the individual beads afterwards.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • A 1988 advert for the Volkswagen Golf features a woman who has obviously just been dumped (or caught her man cheating) divesting herself of his gifts. She slams the door behind her as she leaves his flat, then dumps her ring back through the mail slot. She starts off down the street and rips off her pearl necklace before chucking it in a bin. She also chucks an expensive looking brooch and dumps her fur coat, but she chooses to keep the VW Golf as it was more reliable than the man!
  • A 2014 television commercial for Dior's J'adore perfume features Charlize Theron climbing out of a gilded, baroque-style room on a length of champagne-colored silk. She stops to remove her shoes before climbing, but as she nears the top of her ascent she rips off a collar of golden pearls around her neck . The camera cuts away to show the pearls clattering to the ground around her discarded shoes, several stories below her, as she emerges from the sumptuously decorated rooms into a gleaming, futusitic cityscape. A voiceover stating that "the past can be beautiful, but it's no place to live" seemingly links the pearls to the idea of the past — just as she leaves "the past" by literally moving from the antique-styled interior to the more modern exterior, she cuts ties with "the past" metaphorically by removing the necklace.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In a flashback sequence in Episode 3 of Macross Zero, Dr. Hadsford bribes a young Sara Nome into giving him a blood sample (an act forbidden by her island's traditions) by offering her a pretty beaded necklace. At first Sara first admires her new accessory, but when she realizes the effect of her actions in breaking an island taboo she tears the necklace off and runs away from Dr. Hadsford in horror.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Yumi's necklace is undone and the pearls fly everywhere as she's stabbed by Shishio, who's trying to stab Kenshin.

    Comic Books 
  • The various versions and adaptations of Batman produced since Batman: The Dark Knight Returns often have Joe Chill dramatically rip off Martha Wayne's pearls, complete with a Slow-Motion Drop of said pearls before shooting her and Thomas dead. For added dramatic (and horrific) effect, Miller's The Dark Knight Returns depicts the gun getting snagged by Martha's pearls, causing the killer to position the muzzle directly against her neck before pulling the trigger...
  • This trope was in use as much as a century ago, as evinced by Nell Brinkley's WWI serial "Golden Eyes" and Her Hero "Bill", released between 1918 and 1919. Installment 6 (post-rename) shows protagonist "Golden Eyes" sumptuously attired as part of her Go-Go Enslavement to the nefarious German Captain Hugo Von Schwatzenburg. The illustration depicts Golden Eyes wearing at minimum 3 strands of pearls, and the necklaces are given special mention in the passage that describes her outfit: "decked out in siren-fashion, made gorgeous, her gold curls piled high, her throat laced with pearls." Installment 7 depicts Golden Eyes in the aftermath of Von Schwatzenburg's attempt to force himself upon her (not to worry — Von Schwatzenburg is tackled by the heroic canine companion Uncle Sam and knocked out by a falling champagne bottle). Her finery is torn and tattered and her hair tumbles from its updo as the text accompanying the illustration describes Von Schwatzenburg "clutching at 'Golden-Eyes' knees, dragging the toppling golden star of a candlestick down with him, and lying at last, stunned, his hands a-froth with lace and roses, a guttering candle on his chest!" Though the text of Installment 7 makes no specific mention of the pearls, the illustration shows that the necklaces mentioned previously are now hanging by a thread, with loose pearls scattered at Golden Eyes' feet and across the unconscious form of Von Schwatzenburg.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Cinderella, the sequence where the ugly stepsisters ruin Cinderella's first gown is kicked off when Drizella wrenches a string of blue beads off Cinderella's neck. Not quite pearls, but the the overall effect is similar — Anastasia and Drizella proceed to rip the terrified Cinderella's dress to shreds just as their coach is arriving. They exit, and a wide shot shows Cinderella in aftermath of their attack: clutching the remains of her ragged dress, staring in disbelief at the scraps of torn fabric and loose beads at her feet.
  • Pocahontas: As Kokoum is shot, he grasps at Pocahontas' necklace (which belonged to her mother) and it breaks off and falls to the floor in pieces, signifying how the shooting breaks relationships between the two sides and brings them to the brink of war. It got fixed at the very end, though.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • As mentioned in the Comic Book folder, all Batman films that deal with the character's origin story have their own rendition of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, with Martha's pearl collar breaking.
    • It's Jack Napier who murders Thomas and Martha in Batman, but not before his partner tears the pearl necklace from Martha's throat. Interestingly, the pearls comes off in one unbroken string when tugged, but the individual pearls only start to fall after Thomas and Martha are shot.
    • Batman Begins has Joe Chill yank Martha's pearls off her neck before shooting her.
    • Played with in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice when Martha is killed. She backs away when Joe Chill puts the gun in her face, causing her pearl necklace to snag on the gun. When Chill fires, the gun's recoil breaks the string, causing the pearls to scatter — in dramatic slow motion, of course.
    • The murder of the Wayne couple is featured yet again in Joker, and so is Martha's collar breaking. This time, It's one of the clown rioters of the crowd that got set ablaze by Joker's murder of Franklin Murray who kills them, and he rips the collar seemingly for the sake of it.
  • Exploited by Fairchild Van Waldenberg in Blades of Glory: after Fairchild and Stranz fail to detain Jimmy and Chaz (to stop them from making it to the ice in time to perform their final routine), Fairchild thinks they still have a chance to sabotage the two. She tears off the pearl necklace she's wearing as part of her Marilyn Monroe costume and flicks the pearls onto the ice, causing Chaz to break his ankle when he skates over one and loses his balance. The camera focuses on the single pearl that injures Chaz as it bounces across the ice and into his path.
  • Fred's promotion in The Flintstones leads to him turning into a Rich Jerk, and his behavior ultimately costs him his friendship with Barney. When Wilma confronts him over this, Fred haughtily claims that they don't need the Rubbles because they can buy whatever they want. Wilma says that the Rubbles are worth more than anything Fred could buy, and drives her point home by ripping off the pearl necklace he bought for her.
  • The 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby takes a few liberties with Jordan's flashback to the day of Daisy's wedding to make it more dramatic and visually impactful. In both versions, Jordan informs Nick that Tom had gifted Daisy a pearl necklace "valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars" as an engagement present, only for Daisy to reject the gift when she receives a letter from Jay right before her wedding. In the book, a languidly drunken Daisy deposits her pearls in a waste basket next to her bed, telling Jordan to return the pearls and break off the engagement. In the film version, Daisy rips the strings of pearls off her throat, screaming and crying as she casts them down a long hallway. The magnitude of her action is emphasized by the camera's low angle, showing the pearls rolling away from her. The film plays the symbolism of the moment for all it's worth — the shot where Tom draped the pearls around Daisy's neck ends when he draws her in for a kiss, cutting to a closeup of the necklace clenched in his hand like a leash. After Daisy's drunken outburst, there's a quick cut to Daisy's mother Inverting the trope by re-stringing the pearls (with Jordan's assistance). That shot serves to show how Daisy's own family wants her "leashed" to Tom and his fortune.
  • Invoked in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York — as Kevin is being chased through the streets of New York by Harry and Marv, he stops to buy a bunch of cheap beaded necklaces from a street vendor. Kevin breaks the strings and spills the plastic pearls all over the sidewalk, causing Harry and Marv to slip and fall on their behinds. This gives Kevin enough time to escape.

    Literature 
  • In V. C. Andrews' Dollanganger Series, Corrine Foxworth wears a signature rope of pearls that's broadcast pretty loudly as the symbol of all the luxury she sacrificed her children to obtain. In possibly one of the longest projected examples of this trope in literature, it takes three books before someone finally tears the pearls off her neck.
  • In A Murder Is Announced, Letitia Blacklock always wears a pearl necklace. When she accidentally breaks it and the pearls go everywhere, her horrified reaction makes everyone wonder why the necklace was so important to her. It was concealing a scar from an operation — but it was Charlotte Blacklock who had the operation, not Letitia.
  • The Night Mayor is set in a virtual reality realm based on Film Noir movies. It's always two thirty in the morning, it's always raining, and you can't throw a rock without hitting somebody getting murdered. One such murder is a woman who gets strangled on a fire escape with her own pearl necklace; as she dies, the necklace breaks and the pearls fall photogenically into the street below.
  • Invoked in The Wheel of Time by Queen Alliandre. In an audience with the mad self-styled Prophet whose army deposed three of her predecessors, he makes a disapproving remark about her obvious wealth, so she tears off her ornate pearl necklace as a donation to his cause. As a third party observes, the gesture costs her a piece of jewelry to appease the most dangerous man in the country.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On All My Children, after Gloria discovers her husband Adam's betrayal—he pretended to be stalked and kidnapped in order to test her fidelity, putting her through MONTHS of emotional trauma—she rips off the pearl necklace he gave her and lets the pearls fall to the ground.
  • Monk: In the episode "Mr. Monk and the Class Reunion," Kyle Brooks is plotting to kill his wife and make it look like a suicide using a suicide note she wrote in college. Before he does that, he has to kill a nurse who knew about the original note. He lures her into a stairwell in her building, where he then shoves her down the stairs to her death. Then he pulls out a necklace, breaks it, sending the beads scattering, with the intended effect being to make it look like the nurse slipped on the beads. His efforts are all for naught, as Captain Stottlemeyer quickly figures out that the scene was staged.
  • Veronica Lodge of Riverdale owns a string of pearls that were a gift from her father Hiram (before he went to prison for fraud and embezzlement). In Season 1, Episode 9, she learns that her parents' dirty dealings have driven Ethel Muggs' family into bankruptcy and caused Mr. Muggs to attempt suicide. Despairing of her family's actions, Veronica dashes to the girl's locker room so she can cry in private and ends up tearing the pearls off her neck out of disgust with Hiram's actions. Extra points for doing it in front of a mirror and the Slow-Motion Drop as the pearls bounce off the floor next to her 3-inch heels. Extra-extra points for Veronica having explained the emotional significance of the necklace earlier in the episode:
    Veronica: My dad gave them to me. He always brought home gifts whenever he did something wrong. As a way to make up for it, I guess.
    Ethel: Did it work?
    Veronica: What girl is immune to the charms of a Givenchy bag? And I still wear these pearls he gave me.

    Music Videos 
  • In Madonna's video "Oh Father," a little girl is seen playing dress-up with her dead mother's clothing. Her angry, grief-stricken father confronts her and rips a strand of pearls from her neck. The (very obviously CG) pearls fall to her feet in slow motion. The scattered pearls continue to reappear throughout the video at significant moments, symbolizing loss.

    Webcomics 
  • The trope gets played with and then inverted in Cursed Princess Club, and the deployment of the trope in both instances serves the characterization of several key players:
    • An interesting execution of the trope happens in Episode 57. Princess Aurelia, who wears a doubled string of gold beads/ pearls, has gotten herself in deep trouble with Club President Calpernia for tricking Princess Gwen into visiting the forbidden barn. Calpernia pins Aurelia against the wall of the barn by her necklace while she berates Aurelia for putting another club member in danger, then terrifies Aurelia by summoning her arachnid spies from the eaves. Aurelia shrinks back in horror, tearing the necklace in her haste to escape the army of spiders dangling just above her face, and the pearls go flying dramatically. Aurelia, who hadn't gotten much spotlight up till that point, is shown to be a bit of a spoiled Rich Bitch whose jealousy causes her to lash out. Under her veneer of righteous indignation, she's a coward who won't take responsibility for nearly getting another club member eaten by a giant spider. President Calpernia, who has thusfar presented herself as a moderate, mature, and levelheaded leader of the Club shows what she's capable of when one of the princesses under her protection is threatened. Though she never loses her cool, President Calpernia clearly demonstrates her control of the situation and the consequences Aurelia will have to face for her actions. Getting Aurelia to break her own necklace mirrors how Aurelia freely "confessed" her misdeeds when she tried to justify her actions to the members of the CPC.
    • The trope gets Inverted right afterwards by Gwen, who feels terribly when Aurelia is banished from the club, even though banishment is Aurelia's punishment for putting Gwen's life in danger. Episode 60 ends with Gwen collecting up the scattered beads from Aurelia's necklace, while Episode 61 opens with Gwen repairing the necklace and returning it to Aurelia. Gwen's sweet nature is made obvious when she takes the initiative to repair Aurelia's necklace, even though Aurelia called Gwen ugly and tried to get Gwen kicked out of the CPC. When Aurelia accepts the repaired necklace from Gwen she doesn't quite display remorse for her actions or apologize, but Aurelia does come pretty close to admitting she was wrong when she tell Gwen "I feel sorry for that fiance of yours. Because you make it really difficult for people once they realize they were wrong about you."
  • Happens accidentally in Lackadaisy. Zib grabs Mitzi's pearl necklace, and when Mitzi pulls away, the necklace breaks and the pearls go everywhere. Afterwards Mitzi scrambles to pick up the pearls.

    Western Animation 

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