The Power of Sound in Film Industry
With the development of filmmaking, sound has become an element that is equally important as images in the film. An excellent sound design not only helps reveal the vividness of the image used but also functions in the narrative of the story and influences spectators’ perception. The pitch of the sound and its intensity used throughout the film helps the audience better understand the storyline. The crime thriller No Country for Old Men is a good example of a film that uses sound to capture the audience’s attention and assist in narrating the story (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.). Instead of using any non-diegetic sounds to enhance the film’s action, the filmmaker chooses to manipulate speech and sound effects to convey meanings, engage senses and feelings, and to guide attention and expectation for the audience. This paper provides a critical analysis that helps to better understand the exclusive use of diegetic sounds in the film.
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Sound is an important component in guiding the audience’s attention and expectation in the process of watching the film. In the same light that the last paragraph or sentence in a scene should connect with the first paragraph or sentence, the type of sound used enables the audience to have some expectation of what events are upcoming, and thus guide their understanding and feelings of the film (“Yale film studies,” n.d.). With the help of appropriate sound used as a background for characters’ monologues and dialogues, the filmmaker tries to convey explicit, implicit, and symptomatic meanings to the audience. The film begins with the monologue of Sheriff Tom. Here, his soft words in a low pitch have explicitly showed his sentimental attachment to the past and his confusion to the present (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.).
More deeply, his description of his career by the use of unexpected sound raising, as though he was angry, shows his disappointment. He manages to narrate about his life at younger and older age, and thus captures the audience’s attention making them want to know more about how the time he is living is different. His unexpected high tone raising the sound shows violence and danger of a person living in his generation. As he narrates how youngsters are losing their morality, a shooting sound is heard showing that his only option as a sheriff, a guard of social security, was to hold a gun and act in search for justice (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.). The shooting sound is high enough to capture attention of the audience who are now curious and fearful, and the filmmaker can now move them to another idea. The success of the filmmaker is based on the sound produced. Further, the sheriff is seen in the monologue in which slow, low, and soothing sound holds viewers intact. His monologue is a tool to express the theme of the story and foreshadow a series of events that happen later in the film. Therefore, the choice of sound in this section connects the scene with the other upcoming scenes and prepares viewers towards what to expect further.
The filmmaker accentuates on the use of diegetic sounds as a way of capturing the viewers’ senses and feelings (Bordwell, 2008). The two monologues at the initial part of the last section as well as Sheriff’s two dreams are a way of capturing the feelings of the audience. The filmmaker uses sound to bring the idea of dreams, which is explained as a flashback, and at the moment where the sheriff finally wakes up, a loud, frightening sound is heard (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.). The sheriff explains that his father appeared in his two dreams. His dreams represent his previous faith to his career as a sheriff and his desire to return to the days that he has been familiar with. His previous career is unveiled together with the low-pitched sound, while his desire to go back to his old days is brought in a bang to express disappointment with the current situation.
As a result, there are no men of his likes in the current era, and his father becomes his companion. His father’s companionship is expressed in the soft sound of the wind at the beginning of a dream and a loud sound in the magnitude of scream to show his disappearance. The filmmaker engages the audience through two monologues, which show the Sheriff’s disappointment with the current life and the lack of similar personalities to bond with. The change from dream world through changing pitches of the sound captures the viewers’ senses and feelings. They get to learn about the corruption of the current society that stirs their emotions. With live senses and emotions, as amplified by sound during the film, the viewers are keen to follow the unfolding of the film hence leading to their understanding (“Yale film studies,” n.d.).
Further, the filmmaker has used diegetic sounds to convey meanings, for example, the conversation between Chigurh and Moss’s wife, Carla Jean, through the associated sound effects conveys the meaning of the text to the audience. When Chigurh comes to find Carla Jean and asks her to call a side of the coin, she replies that he does not have to do this and refuses to call (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.). The conversation is confrontational, and the pitch of the sound in the conversation rises from low to high. The high-pitched voice used by Carla Jean shows her stand, her nature of defiance, and rejection of evil doings of corruption. The sound is a way to show the magnitude of the badness of corruption. Their conversation shows that Carla Jean’s life does not lie on her fortune but is held in Chigurh’s hands. The sound effects in the dialogue help explain to the audience that corruption is not caused by the society but by people themselves (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.).
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The use of different sounds in the film is a way to capture attention of the audience. When the scene is quiet, for example, viewers will be glued to the screens more with the hope and intention of grasping the next occurrence. According to Bordwell, sound gives a new value to silence: a quiet passage in a film will force the audience to concentrate on the screen (Bordwell, 2008). At the beginning of the film, Chigurh is arrested by the young sheriff. The viewer can only see the Sheriff speaking on the phone and hear the sound, but the other environment around them is dead silent. This type of silence forces the audience to look keenly on the screen to catch every move made by characters (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.). The viewer is sure that silence will result in an action and hence they will be more attracted, since the film already created suspense in them. Therefore, the use of different sound effects is a way to capture viewers’ attention.
In addition to guiding attention, sound effects used in the film enhance the creation of suspense and guide viewers’ expectations. If the filmmaker incorporates too many silent scenes, then the audience will be bored and lose focus, probably doze off. To avoid such instances, a filmmaker creates ambient sounds that focus on the main character as a way of emphasizing the themes and meaning of the story (Bordwell, 2008). For most outdoor activities, sound is important. A good example of how the filmmaker eliminates uncomfortable silence scenes and replaces them with ambient sounds is when Moss discovers the dead bodies and money when hunting in the desert. The audience can only hear the sound of the wind, insects, footsteps, etc., which are made louder than in the real world. Additionally, the audience will have more suspense as well as tension. In the long run, viewers better understand the film (“Yale film studies,” n.d.).
In the same way that sound will bring certain meaning to the audience, silence will also elaborate something or prepare viewers for a scene. It can be used to successfully connect two or more scenes in the film. Silence can be used as a way to prepare the audience for a major happening that characterizes or is crucial to the story line (Bordwell, 2008). After silence, an abrupt sound is made and it either frightens the audience or arouses their emotions. For example, the silence of the environment between the young Sheriff and Chigurh helps emphasize the sudden sounds of struggles between them. Besides, before Chigurh’s shootings, the sound of conversation is soft, but when the sound of a gunshot finally happens, it is abrupt and loud (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.). In that way, silence and a soft sound are a way to prepare the audience for the major part of the story as depicted by the filmmaker.
Finally, different sounds used are a way to grasp viewers’ attention and make them focus on the characters. In that way, viewers’ attention is enhanced, for example, the different sounds of phone calls before the killer called captures viewers’ attention, while the other underground sounds, such as motif’s car engine, guide the viewer into focusing on the character (Coen, J., Coen E., & Rudin, S.). Therefore, sounds in some way suggest to the audience that they need to give the film or the character some time and space. Thus, apart from capturing their attention, the sound nurtures their patience in the story (“Yale film studies,” n.d.).
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In conclusion, sound plays a major role in filmmaking. Its presence or absence enhances the storyline by characterizing its flow. It is used to show meanings of different actions, such as when characters abruptly raise their sound and the filmmaker aims to reveal anger. A sound is important in raising emotions and engaging viewers’ senses, for example, a dream that is brought in the form of a flashback and a spirit appears and then disappears will make the audience develop feelings as well as fear. Consequently, they will be more focused. Moreover, the use of sound is used to capture attention of the audience, for example, where silence dominates for long, the viewers will tend to concentrate to unmask the storyline. Finally, sound is a way to create suspense, connect different parts of the story, and create expectation about the story. Therefore, sound is equally important in filmmaking just as images and words.