The Impact of Silence in Movies

Movies are multidimensional monsters. Diving into all which contributes to the final product can leave you swimming for days. It is interesting that one of the most impactful aspect of movies is invisible. Music and sounds that accompany a film is part of what anchors viewers into the world that is being created before them. What we hear impacts everything about our movie watching experience. This is why we delve into the decisions to omit traditional audio components completely.

In the beginning of cinema, there was no sound. This didn’t impact the viewers at the time who would scream at the screen to try and get the characters out of harm’s way. They were fully invested despite not being able to hear conversations, train whistles, or gun shots. Today’s audience has grown accustomed to more stimulating content, but the impact of silent films still resonates.

Mel Brooks helped solidify his status as the comic genius with Silent Movie in 1976, well after the implementation of sound in movies. Although it is not Mel’s most praised work, Silent Movie relied solely upon visual and situational comedy which put it among my most admired of his collection. Mel chose to forgo sound in his film and proved it unnecessary given the correct ingredients.

Everything that is done (or not done) is a choice. When a filmmaker chooses not to utilize sound in a film, they are doing so with a very distinct purpose. In 2011, a black and white silent movie was nominated for 10 Oscars, winning 5 including Best Original Score, Best Director, and Best Picture. The Artist defied the odds because of one principle: If you put something into your film, you better mean it. Every sound, subtitle, or sequence pinned its’ audience to their seats more so than any dialogue, sound effect, or pop sound track could have.

Choosing to exclude traditional sounds from a film is a gutsy move, and it is also a highly effective tool when used properly. The Coen Brother’s movie No Country for Old Men shows just how acutely aware we are when we are able to hear what is going on. Throughout the film, silence is used to draw us in and create a massive amount of tension. Action isn’t dulled down using epic and driving orchestral pieces; instead, it’s amplified using silence and connecting us with each brutal turn.

Silence carries an intimacy which viewers are not always ready or comfortable with. Talented artists infuse their work with it to amplify their voice. Many movies don’t have to be loud to make waves. Subscribe to my blog to learn more about how sounds impact our experience watching films.

Photo Credit: A Critic of Everything, Relevance