Critical Examination: The Use of Silence

I just got done watching the season finale of Game of Thrones.  I am in love with this episode.  Most people think the last one was the best of the season, but not me.  This was the one that truly made it for me.  The level of payoff here was just spectacular.  So many great character moments that pay off what we’ve seen about these characters both this season and over the course if the series.  But there was something else that got my attention this season as well – the silence.  So many shots in this episode were marked by absolute silence.  The use of it was so prevalent that it set the stage for the emotional climaxes so perfectly.  It got me to thinking about something that I love – the use of silence in visual mediums.  There are a thousand different ways that it can be used, and I’m going to talk about my favorites here.  I’ll save Game of Thrones for last.

Aliens

There is a great argument to be had about which is the better of these two films.  The original was a better-made film, if you ask me.  Its use of silence was near-constant.  That was a very quiet movie.  We all think of the loud segment where Ripley is abandoning ship, but for the bulk of the film it is pretty damn quiet.  But the sequel, on the other hand, is loud and bombastic.  It’s a movie that almost never takes a break.  However, when it does, we get scenes like the one with Ripley and Newt in the medical room, sleeping.  When Ripley wakes up, she can tell something’s wrong.  Newt can feel it too.  They aren’t alone in there.  She feels above to the bed for her rifle, but it’s gone.  Now she knows that she’s in trouble.  Something is moving.  When she looks, she sees two open tanks with the xenomorph spawning variations.

The silence here is only for a few minutes, but it makes the tension so high that you could cut it with a knife.  And when it all explodes and the two aliens are attacking, you feel the pressure that the characters to.  It’s legitimately scary to see those creepy fuckers slithering around, trying to get our heroine and her companion.  The thing about good use of silence is that I think it is more noticeable in loud movies.  When you have a film that is all about pulse-pounding action, a sudden use of silence makes you take notice.  When it’s done well, it sets the tone for what’s to come.  Another example of this is in Raging Bull, when the screen goes silent as the main character sets himself up for being slaughtered.  It was a great scene where that silent moment has you contemplating, like the character, what is about to happen and how fucked he really is.

Bloodborne

Like all games in the Souls series, this one has a unique tactic for how the game plays.  It uses silence almost entirely throughout.  Over the course of the game, all you can hear is this dead silence all around.  It really gives you a way to take everything in.  The ambience puts you in that shoes of the character, wandering through this world that feels as foreign to us as it does to them.  The only time that the music really turns up is during a boss fight.  Here’s an example from one of my playthroughs.

Notice how quiet it is beforehand?  Then you step into the mist, and the fight is on.  But the thing to notice is that it becomes silent again immediately afterwards.  The game is set up so that you can feel the pensive atmosphere before and after a fight.  Gaming’s use of quiet time can vary, depending on your title.  Most people think of the bombastic nature of Call of Duty games, but there is a wider selection than that, and most of them make great use of quiet time.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I know what you’re thinking – an Uncharted game?  Come on.  You’re just fucking with us now.  This latest entry marked one of the quietest in the entire game.  All four of them have good use of quiet time, but it was at its best in this title.  But there is one scene that stands above the rest when it comes to the use of quiet in story-telling – the finding of the last meal of the Founders of Libertalia.  It’s my favorite scene in the entire game.  I just uploaded it to my channel on YouTube.  Check it out and maybe you’ll see what I’m driving at.

Did you all catch how silence was used?  Granted, there is a score over parts of this, but its use is so quiet that you wouldn’t even notice.  I am certain that was a deliberate choice.  Because, while this is cool to learn about history and what happened to these Founders, that isn’t what the scene is about.  It’s about Nate and Elena and their relationship.  This entire game is about Nate and the relationships in his life.  So, as he is talking about this, you can hear in his voice the passion for the topic.  He loves what he is learning.  Then he is lamenting it.  It has him in the same shot with Elena, and you see the look on her face as he’s talking about it.

It’s in that moment that she realizes that he truly wasn’t here just for some treasure hunt.  This man is driven by a love of history and discovery that gives his life so much.  And she is learning that in order for their marriage to work, the two are going to have to find a way to have the best of both worlds.  The exploration into history, but minus the violence that was doing real damage to them.  All of that done with facial expressions and the use of silence.  It’s incredible.

Finally, we get to what I have been wanting to talk about…

Game of Thrones

Which scene could I pick to talk about the use of silence in this latest episode?  There are so many.  But one in-particular stands out above the rest – when Tommen dies.  Not only is the use of silence and ambient noise so perfect, but I am in love with how it is shot.  The entire scene is done in one take, from one angle.  You see Tommen, looking over the destruction of the Septum, which has resulted in the death of his queen.  You never see his face.  It’s just his backside.  It’s dead silent.  He then walks off-screen.  You hear his footsteps going away, and you’re left seeing the destruction that he was looking at.  There is nothing but this shot for a few moments.  More footsteps coming closer.  Tommen is back.  He’s removed his crown, and then he walks up to the window and swan-dives out.  Holy shit!  I did not see that coming.  It’s so well done!  I could teach a class about the way one angle and ambient noise incorporate so much into this one shot.  By being able to look at the destruction, we are getting a visual representation of the feelings inside Tommen.  When we see him having taken off the crown, that’s a way for us to know that he is done as King.  But it’s short-lived, since he is done with his mortality as well.

Almost every major event in this episode is marked by silence.  It’s so good.  If only we had more filmmakers using that to their advantage.  Whoever did the cinematography for this episode deserves a raise.  A big one.  So big.

So, what do you all think?  What silent moments in film or vidya stuck with you?  Let me know down in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“For what it’s worth, I’ve been a cynic for as long as I can remember.”  – Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

Peace out,

Maverick

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