It was a moonless night; the forest has fallen into deep silence, and only the fire crackling sound of burning corpses resonate in the air, seemingly clinging onto the tiny shoulder of a nameless girl.
Most storytelling employs two of our sense—our eyes and ears—to get information, characters’ emotions, the meaning behind their various actions, and many more across to us. We see, we listen, we feel, we sympathize, and we empathize. There’s no certain formula to it so there are countless ways to get this done: to tell a story.
In fact, some movies rely heavily on playing with both these senses: Bird Box and A Quiet Place, in particular, fabricates a perspective that eliminates how we see the world, and how we listen to each other, respectively. However, plenty of storytellers uses a simpler method to elevate the suspense, fixate our eyes, and grab our attention to stay in that moment—by crushing us with a complete silence.
And then the rain fades in, louder and louder.
It’s like you are in room of people, engaging in each other’s lively conversation and suddenly someone barge right in, shouting for everyone’s attention, before giving a grand speech. Inside most stories, depending on their theme, silence does not just manifest in its pure empty form. No. With different themes to tackle, it blends and takes different shapes.
For example, to portray loneliness, show a character watching a lively, rocking party inside television, alone, covered in blanket. Same scenario, yet to portray a satisfying victory, it is a festival in full swing, as the characters playfully celebrate their hardship, exchanging their dialogues that fade to become inaudible. And, to portray suspense, imagine a thundering night, with the characters hiding inside a closet, yet they hear nothing but their own heartbeat and creaking sound of the wooden floors as someone enters the room.
And, smile at them.
Ironically, these are not utter, complete silence scenarios yet they can provide a suffocating feeling, or rush up a sense of warmth to evoke our various emotions to different scenes. By contrasting silence with noise, it brings out the diverse states of mind that the characters are in with their surrounding—confused, angry, happy, terrified and many more.
This method of playing with silence create powerful scenes as they not only show without tell, but also in a biological sense that they muted one of our senses, forcing us to concentrate with our eyes alone: to deduce, to anticipate, to take a deep breath and absorb the happenings into our eyes. And sometimes, I think it’s reasonable to call them ‘breathers’ in cases that they literally grasp our breath, seizing onto it as hostage, before leading us to the next event.
This is literally portrayed by A Silent Voice‘s fireworks scene at the balcony, which took my breath away when the male protagonist’s shout starts to reverberates alongside the fireworks, as he rushes to stop her. But, it was too late. She jumped. And it all becomes silent. Then he musters all his strength he has left: physically, to grab and pull her up; emotionally, to confront and conquer his past mistakes.
From here on, the tone of the plot changes to a more positive, expressive one. And in other stories, it could have the same effect. Does it get better? Maybe darker? Lighter? Or simply serves as a transition? If powerful enough, the consequent events will be the ones to decide the flow of the story and how audiences react to it, which piles up on a snowball effect and lead to overall satisfaction of the story.
This is because, despite the employ of silence does not play a major role in the plot itself, it has the ability to enhance various moments; and to create beautiful, symbolic little moments.
It is because we can slow down our pace and stop at these points in the story that makes it all the more memorable. And honestly, I just can’t get enough of it.
Thanks for reading!