There are many types of irony out there. Within the main branch of situational irony lies a version with a supernatural twist⏤cosmic irony. The main thrust of this series is getting writers to embrace irony as a tool that will add a level of depth and nuance to their work. How do you define cosmic irony? In this chapter, we’re going to specifically talk about this most “fateful” form of irony.
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Introducing Cosmic Irony
A brief overview
Irony occurs when the reality of a situation is the opposite of what was expected. There are 3 types of irony and many sub-categories within those main branches.
Cosmic irony belongs under the “situational irony” category and has its own specific quality that separates it from the other versions. What is it, how does it work, and how can writers get the most out of it?
Let’s begin with a cosmic irony definition.
COSMIC IRONY DEFINITION
What is cosmic irony?
Cosmic irony occurs when a higher power (e.g., God, fate, the Universe) intervenes to create an ironic situation. Otherwise known as “irony of fate,” this idea of “interference” can either be actual or inferred. In other words, there are clear cosmic irony examples when a 'mystical meddler' was involved. But there are also examples that only seem to be supernaturally influenced, or are ambiguous enough for the argument to be made.
Cosmic irony examples in movies:
- In Pulp Fiction, Jules assumes that “God stopped the bullets” when he and Vincent are shot at and live.
- When Aladdin is transformed into a rich man by the Genie, only for Jasmine to reject him.
- In Bruce Almighty, Bruce is given God’s powers but instead of making life better, he makes it worse.
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Cosmic Irony Examples
Cosmic irony in movies
There are plenty of cosmic irony examples in movies. These can range from more literal examples, as in faith-based movies, into other genres like horror, comedy, and drama.
Naturally, the presence of cosmic irony in these different genres serve different purposes. For example, cosmic irony is used for humor, commentary on the human condition, or to teach valuable lessons.
With these cosmic irony examples, we can understand its complexities, and how valuable it is in storytelling.
AN IRONIC TWIST OF FATE
Use irony of fate for character growth
One of the most common applications of cosmic irony is to push the character into learning a valuable lesson. Consider the example from Aladdin above. “Being true to oneself,” and “valuing kindness over riches” are simplistic ideas, ideally suited for children’s films.
But that doesn’t mean adults don’t need to learn similar lessons from time to time. How about one of Jim Carrey’s early classics, Liar Liar (1997)? He plays a lawyer who is constantly lying, especially to his own son. He is then “cursed” by some unnamed higher power and loses the ability to lie.
This is a perfect cosmic irony example.
By the end of his “day of truth,” Carrey’s character has been put through the wringer but becomes a more honest man. Again, this type of irony doesn’t always have to be so obvious but it's a great example for our purposes here.
Irony Of Fate On A Global Scale
Let cosmic irony speak to humanity
Just as individual characters can learn lessons through the power of cosmic irony, our species itself could do the same. For example, in the recent sci-fi film Arrival (2016), the mere presence of aliens creates a potentially disastrous situation.
If we consider the aliens to be the higher power (i.e., the “cosmic”), where is the irony? The response to the alien “invasion” is perceived as a threat. Ultimately, they are here to save us from ourselves.
The irony is that the aliens are both the problem and the solution. Also, for an extra layer of irony, Dr. Banks (Amy Adams) is more successful at communicating with the aliens than the different nations are at communicating with each other.
Movies like Arrival, and it’s multi-layered used of irony, is proof that it can be applied in a much more sophisticated and nuanced way.
Dive deeper into irony
We've covered the basics of cosmic irony but there is so much more to learn. If there is a particular form of irony you want to explore further, just follow the navigation below. Each one of these subtypes of irony belongs in every writer's toolkit.