Best use of Silence in a film?

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In my opinion some of the best film sound is not loud or overt, and I've used silence many times in film soundtracks myself but I am interested to know what your favorite use of silence or near-silence is in a film?

user49

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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Answers

14

The Spacewalk scene in Kubrick's 2001 is not only scientifically accurate in its silence but extremely effective in creating tension. I find myself focusing on the characters' movements and actions and bracing myself for that menacing first sound.

Great question. More of this please!

Joey

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

Reputation: 151

That´s the same I felt. – P. Lockhead – 2010-05-08T12:16:08.267

14

Contact... Not a huge fan of the movie, but the scene in the opening where the camera pans away from the Earth through all of the radio broadcasts through our history. It eventually gets farther and farther out until it reaches total silence. I've always thought that was one of the best uses of silence in film.

[youtube]kNAUR7NQCLA[/youtube]

ChrisEngineAudio

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

Reputation: 506

+1 Great opener, and great film - a fantastic study for lush backgrounds design - there's some fantastic, colorful depth to them. – Stavrosound – 2011-09-11T07:07:24.813

That must've been an interesting spotting session. I wonder how long they contemplated at what point they'd go to silence and just how long it would last. Great answer! – Steve Urban – 2011-09-11T20:26:44.430

1Love that opening sequence. Great mixing as well. – Auddity – 2010-09-09T20:49:57.707

7

In addition to the excellent examples previously mentioned, I thought that "No Country for Old Men" had great use of "silence:" Long sequences of ultra-subtle foley and natural ambiences instead of music, dialog, or any other hard-source sound. The sequence where the main character is first sussing out the figure beneath the tree, early on, was a great example of many.

Carter Burwell scored, what, only 15 minutes of music in that film, or something along those lines?

NoiseJockey

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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+1 Nathan. Amazing how many subtle layers were built in there - was hoping it would win for best sound mixing. I left that movie very inspired by the sound. – Joel Raabe – 2010-03-20T15:57:29.233

Another vote for No Country! Skip Lievsay did an amazing job. The scene in the Motel when Anton confronts LLewelyn is just one great use of near silence. – Andy Lewis – 2010-04-18T09:19:17.840

Only 15 minutes? Interesting. I think he's a great composer... – Andrew Spitz – 2010-03-06T22:44:56.573

6

One particular scene in 'The Fountain'; Hugh Jackman's character leaves a hospital after his wife has died, out onto a busy city street scene in total silence, and after a few moments steps out to cross the road and the silence is broken by a car horn and screeching tyres. Really beautiful scene in a really beautiful movie, which was apparently "borrowed" from a Kurosawa film, 'Ikiru'.

AJRussell

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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It was 'borrowed' from Kurosowa's 'Ikiru'. It's one of his best films, in my opinion. – Auddity – 2010-09-09T20:49:12.280

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Personally I loved There will be Blood for its minimalism regarding the sound and music. I think the contrast the film makers created made the film amazing to watch. I agree Book of Eli used sound design in an incredible fashion. I actually told my on-set sound guy to go and watch the film the next day.

If I remember correctly Three Colors Blue was also a very quiet film but extremely moving.

It suddenly jumped to mind, BABEL has a deaf character in the film who lives in Hong Kong - that was done with such sensitivity, truly amazing again to see (and hear) how the pictures and the sound contrast.

Of coarse the opening scene for 2001 a Space Odyssey, TOTAL SILENCE.

jozua

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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The way the images and sound/soundtrack of "There will be Blood" work together is simply amazing. Also, thanks for bringing up "2001" - one of only a few scifi movies where space is shown the way it is: silent. Amazing! – P. Lockhead – 2010-05-08T12:15:30.550

5

I'm just adding a few thoughts to Andrew Spitz's post. Yes, indeed silence is very unusual in films and the 3 examples you give, Andrew, are based on building up an intense soundscape and then dropping everything. Interesting climax, but it is becoming overused. Another example of the same kind is in Jarhead (2005) at 78 minutes, when the explosion goes off in the desert and the troop wets himself. (Sorry, can't remember names, but here it is on http://www.megavideo.com/?v=F5BIO6X)

The Director wanted solely the voice over. Pat Jackson (supervising sound editor on Jarhead) was against this idea and she asked a collegue to come up with a subtle sound that contrast well with the sound of explosions. It was decided to "give voice" to the sand particles and Pat's recordist collegue started to experiment with different materials. What ended up in the final mix is a type of fine sand slowly dropped on a movie light diffusion paper.

Watching this sequence in its context I think produces a good but now perhaps cliché effect.

The other film which people might want to have a look at is more drastical in using silence as a storytelling tool. "Leaving Las Vegas" by Mike Figgis is the only film I know which uses TOTAL silence in one of the scenes. It is around the time when Sera gets raped. As far as I remember the visuals show a waterfall around this time, too. It's been a long time since I saw this film last, excuse me for my rather vague memories.

Balazs Varga

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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5

+1 for There Will Be Blood (jozua already mentioned it.) The long, establishing shot at the top comes to mind.

Jonny Greenwood's score for that movie made me very uncomfortable. At first, I thought I just didn't like it. But by the end of the movie, my perception tweaked to think of the score as a character... a character whose villainy I did not like. And that, as a concept, I VERY MUCH like.

So often movie scores are literal and on the nose about what you're seeing. In There Will Be Blood, they were willing to risk subverting expectations. Playing against the grain. The music was in a sense, an unreliable narrator.

I digress. And love Radiohead.

MtL

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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That´s exactly how I felt. – P. Lockhead – 2010-05-08T12:18:27.923

5

The opening sequence of Akira, those seconds before the bomb goes off and destroys Tokyo is just awesome. Some people mentioned Kubrick´s "2001" and the way silence is used to portrait space in a realistic way... Goosebumps.

P. Lockhead

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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4

I love Gus van Sants "Gerry" soundtrack for its silence. His "Elephant" is also a quiet one. Andrei Zvyagintsevs "Return" ("Vozvrashchenie") is a great example of silence in film. Final scene (very dramatic) & titles are only with subtle rain. It's not silence of course, but many directors would put there very emotional music. One of the best movies I have seen.

Michal Fojcik

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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all those films were great with their eerie silences! – jgrzinich – 2010-03-31T18:46:55.770

4

I would propose the final climatic scene from "Treasure Planet", a vastly underrated animated film with brilliant sound design courtesy of Dane Davis. The planet is about to explode, the ship is nearly on top of the as-yet unopened portal to safety…and then…silence! Beautifully constructed....

Jay Jennings

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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Treasure Planet is really great, and... not silence, but the sound of "Morph" is pretty nice there :) – Miguel Isaza – 2010-03-10T05:25:33.620

4

Akira.

It's amazing how a sense of great power was communicated in some scenes of this film by using silence through out many parts of this film. The first time I watched this movie on the big screen I felt as if the whole room was hanging in suspended animation for an eternity. Incredibly affecting.

S

Stephen

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1I've only read the manga. I'm scared to watch the movie because I enjoyed reading it so much. I can see how the use of silence would work tremendously well for the film. Neo-Tokyo just screams silence. – Andrew Spitz – 2010-03-04T08:05:09.147

4

I'm jogging my memory here, but some of my favorite scenes with relative silence are:

  • The Pianist. The scene where an explosion goes off while he is playing piano. He deafens, and we hear this from his point of audition (POA?). All we hear is a high pitch ring and some low bass. Very disconcerting.

  • Saving Private Ryan: Similar thing after an explosion goes off.

I guess this kind of design has become somewhat of a sound cliche. But that's because it works well.

  • Book of Eli: I very recently watched it. One of the characters (won't say who in case you haven't seen it) gets shot. All that is kept is the decay/reverb of the gunshot. No other sounds are heard. The sound slowly pans around the audience. This relative silence makes time slow right down, and brought me right into the moment.

I can't think of an exact example, but going under water seems to be used quite effectively. Didn't Saving Private Ryan have this?

Andrew Spitz

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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That moment you're talking about in Book of Eli was awesome! Great sound design. – Dan2997 – 2011-04-04T06:25:05.030

4

Not a film.. but I personally love the way Greg P. Russell use the silence in his mixes... One of my favorites today.

Another recent would be "The Hurt Locker", Ottosson did an amazing work by combining silence on a deep and stressful soundscape :)

Horror films also use silence a lot to generate tension and contrast the silence with an specific sound in a specific moment. There are a lot of great of these. I would recommend the work of Gary Rydstrom on "The Haunting" or Ren Klyce on "Panic Room".

Miguel Isaza

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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3

I am surprised that none of the correspondents have mentioned the Jules Dassin classic, Rififi.It has one of the longest silences in a film.

Barry Prince

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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3

Nunta Muta (A silent wedding), a Romanian film has a brilliant sequence where a wedding takes place silently because of the death of Stalin, as celebration was banned as a part of "mourning" for his death. It is a very funny sequence and in my opinion is a sonically strong. It also has this amusing scene where words are misheard and eventually change the meaning completely when communicated (in this case in whispers) from one person to another and then to another and so on. I can not find the clip on youtube though.. but try to get hold of this movie.. it is a brilliant one.

cheers, HD

Phoenix.Kidman

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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3

There is a movie called "Kôfuku no kane" (English title: "The Blessing Bell") which only uses music for the opening and closing titles. Lots and lots of silence and the main character doesn't even speak until the last couple of minutes in the film. Such a great movie, making wonderful use out of the quietness. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0358559/

Peter

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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3

Apocalypse Now - Ride of the Valkyrie + Helicopters vs. the near-silent village. Also the silence leading up to the tiger.

Miles B.

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Possibly the earliest use of an effective silence in a film is Bande a Part AKA Band of Outsiders (1964) directed by Jean-Luc Godard. I loved that one-minute silence scene ...actually the whole movie is great.

[youtube]B9XAi7xYOwQ[/youtube]

Rishi Dani

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Almost all Ingmar Bergman movies. They are the ones that have made great use of silence. here's one of the scenes from wild strawberries:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3n4TxNeaPg

Jake

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Serenity.

The fight scene in the bar when Summer Glau (River) gets crazy. Her voice, clothes, then the first punches and finally the whole ambience of the bar is appearing with screams, foley, sfx...

[youtube]R8CYWGDxdQ0[/youtube]

Great scene and one of the greatest sci-fi movie of all time.

Conant

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Totally agree about Let The Right One In (the orginal version) for it's use of silence and suspense. Amazing film. Amazing sound!

David_EchoicAudio

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Ingmar Bergman is probably one of the best one's who intensively used silence in hie films.

Eric Paulson

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Favorite us of silence is difficult to compare and rate. I think silence can have very different funtions (visceral and sensuous or more symbolic etc) in movies and is closely connected to the overall sound design in a movie, including the music score, if any. Anyway, I want to mention Let the right one in. Absolutely fantastic sound design (including silence).

Martin

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Great examples. I also like the brief moment of near-silence Ben Burtt put before each "seismic charge" detonation in Star Wars Episode II (when Jango Fett is being pursued by Obi-wan in the asteroid field).

Tyler

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

I found the use of silence specifically difficult to isolate from a movie. For me silence is a part of the whole sound design, equivalent to for example the use of the color red, or a still. Good examples here though.

Martin

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

Wifey and I watched the latest Star Trek done by Ben Burtt again the other day. The shots where space is silent are awesome.

Rene

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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In space, no-one can hear a spaceship. j/k – Utopia – 2010-09-10T17:02:50.647

2

The Hurt Locker: When he's disarming the first bomb all you hear is his breathing and the camera angles are from potential spots of where the bomber might be watching him - pretty intense.

I think the hurt locker was great with silence in many scene's. All the explosions were uniquely crafted. Also a great combo of sound design and music. (there is very little music in it, mostly just acoustic drones). Loved that film

Durk

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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2

There are 2 films from the same director, Kyoshi Kurosawa, that use silence in an interesting way. Not just designed silence, but an absolutely (or, if not, very close to) dead soundtrack.

Cure (1997) has a scene where the antagonist (to use the term loosely) hypnotises a doctor. I can't remember the exact details but, as he speaks to her (doing the whole hypnotist soothing voice thing) the image cuts to some water, spilled from a glass, trickling along the floor. It's accompanied by the sound of water oozing over the floor, then fades to nothing briefly. Very eerie, and creates a strange effect.

Tokyo Sonata (2008) has a scene in which a mother sees off her rebellious teenage son, who's leaving to join the army. As the bus he's in pulls off, there's a tight POV (from the mother's perspective) of her son's face in the window, which is accompanied by a brief dead spot in the soundtrack. The scene was already quite emotional but, somehow, the dip to silence gave me a lump in my throat.

Madeo (2009): i don't know what it is with Japanese/Korean sound design, but this one also has a fantastic use of dead silence in the final shot of the film.

Roger Middenway

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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Totally agree re Tokyo Sonata and Madeo! I loved the moment in Madeo when the mother is trying to sneak out of the bedroom without being heard by the sleeping couple - the tension through use of sound is palpable!! A great film!! – None – 2012-07-09T01:03:24.953

1

I like in one of the Star Wars movies, where Jengo Fett and his son Boba Fett in "Slave 1" are chasing Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker through an asteroid field. Obi Wan and Anakin are zipping and zooming through holes in the asteroid trying to get away, and at one point someone fires a torpedo into the asteroid to scatter them about and creating a moving nightmare to navigate through. You see the shot, and everything goes dead silent, and you see the brilliant flash and the circular shockwave rip through the asteroids, and then THANGGGGGG with lots of reverb you hear the detonation afterwards. Its so awesome and the best use of silence in a film ever. Though totally technically incorrect, sound doesn't travel in empty space at all as there's no air / medium to carry it, it doesn't matter.

CHOPPERGIRL

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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same scene @Tyler posted above.... fairly overt & obvious but effective – None – 2011-09-11T10:17:40.193

1

One of the best uses of silence would have to be Jean Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge or The Red Circle. The heist scene just keeps you on pins an needles!

Ruben

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

The moment during the wedding in Fiddler on the Roof right before the Russian soldiers start destroying everything. I also like how the silence is broken by the horse and not any person, I feel like this makes the moment more poignant.

gahoolecat

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0247425/

In the Bedroom (SPOILER ALERT)

I actually will not say the spoiler because the terrible thing that occurs is written, directed, and acted so well that it scared me - not as in action movie explosions, bazooka shots, monsters, fights, etc. But actually made me jump like glancing over and seeing a little kid step into a street with a car coming on fast. Stomach drops and the brain dumps adrenaline into your bloodstream. The use of silence in those scenes is crucial. I will say no more. Watch the movie and don't allow anyone to tell you what happens.

And no - no one sees "dead people" and it is not "all a dream" or some other trope.

timcoalman

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

I'd really recommend an Australian film called "Samson & Delilah" for fantastic use of "silence". The majority of the film has no dialogue or music and it's set in the Australian outback, mostly in the desert, yet still manages to be captivating sonically as well as a great film overall.

Fabrice4211

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

I really liked how nerve wrecking the silence was in the film Insidious you know somethings coming but you don't know when, it works well with the really weird and creepy soundtrack.

Stephen Saldanha

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

I recently saw the film Gravity, which deals with the "silence" of space excellently. Worth checking out.

Unlike most films set in space, they did not steer away from the fact that in space the is no sound due to the lack of atmosphere. Therefore in this film there was little or very muffled sounds that were there beautifully complemented by a very delicate, but powerful score.

I was also taken by the use of digetic and non-digetic music as well as the spatialization (I saw it in a 5.1 theatre, but I'd be keen to see it again in a Atoms theatre). At first the spatialization seemed a bit odd as it breaks with convention, but after a couple on mins it seemed normal

Bit Depth

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

The use of silence in Gravity is outstanding. Some scenes are completely stripped of sound. The sound team came up with excellent concepts to work around the silence in space. The use of sound from vibrating objects and direct contact through the spacesuits is an excellent example.

Tamos

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

This is a vague memory. But I recall in 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' (Hurt Locker's Paul Ottosson) the courtroom scenes had no, or very little, room tone. All you could hear was the dialog and the rooms reverberation. Leaving silence between lines of dialog. Contrast that with the activeness of the flashbacks made for a very unsettling experience. Not to mention Christopher Youngs excellent score, not over used.

+1's on previous suggestions: There Will be Blood, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Minority Report, Contact, Ikiru

Auddity

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

Ridley Scott's 1979 classic, Alien comes to mind. If my memory serves me right there is no dialogue whatsoever in the last twenty minutes. And the last twenty minutes are some of the most tense of the whole film. Sound editor Jim Shields managed to create a very eerie atmosphere using very subtle sound design.

Colin Hunter

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

INCEPTION!!!

3 or 4 places I can think of where silence was expertly used.

brett

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1

I think the safe robbery scene from Hitchcock's 'Marnie' has to be right up there, particularly when coupled with the cinematography. It instantly came to mind when I read the question.

oliver

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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0

I always find it really cool when there are large explosions and warfare going off and you hear no sound, ore even a small tease of sound from a LPF. Even better when the scene is in slow motion.

Benjie Freund

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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1very true - Thin Red Line is a great film mix for this – None – 2012-07-09T01:04:53.333

0

This is an amazing topic. Haha I'm glad people actually appreciate this as much as I do!

Anthony

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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0

Castle in the Sky has some really amazing quiet moments as well do other Studio Ghibli films. Disney added lines over a lot of the silences in the english dub for Castle in the Sky and comparing the two tracks really says a lot about what silence can do.

Evan

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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0

Really liked the brief silent section in Berberian Sound Studio, just out.

pointy stumps

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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0

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I'm astounded no one mentioned it in this thread for as long as it's been up. There are ambient background noises but no dialogue for about 10 minutes at the beginning, and throughout the movie silence is used to add a sense of desolation to the wide open spaces or shift the focus to visual minutiae and add suspense. An incredible movie!

RAHM

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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lack of dialogue is not silence – None – 2013-03-24T08:30:53.553

0

Great answers with awesome examples in this discussion!!

I really love the intensive use of silence in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising" together with the droning ambiances & the minimalistic use of music & dialogue.

The film (for those who haven't seen it yet) is about the odyssey of a mute(!) Norse warrior (played by Mads Mikkelsen). That's why the use of silence in that movie works so unique with that character (at least for me :) ).

Like in the very first part of the film (not really a spoiler, since it's mentioned in the synopnis) where he frees himself from captivity & kills most of the guys who held him as a slave.

As he stands bloodsoaked in front of the leader of his captors, the film switches to silent scenes of a sky & then the main protagonist silently contemplating/watching it for the first time as a free man, only shortly before ruthlessly disemboweling the leader which was tied to a stone after the fight.

I also like the sound design of explosions with some super short silence in the initial moment of detonation.Like in Ben Burtt's "seismic charge"-Sfx from Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones which was already mentioned few times above. :)

OptimusBryan

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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0

Also thought about The Pianist, when the explosion happens while he is playing the piano right in the start of the movie. It just created this anticlimactic drama, this focus on the movements of the characters and on the aftermath of the explosion. And there's also the fact that he deafens, so by hearing the silence we are basically hearing what he hears at those moments. This whole scene is just so emotionally intense. Just... Wow.

Hexa

Posted 2010-03-03T22:07:30.807

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