Importance of Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in Film
The complexity within films arises from three basic elements of sound known as music, speech, and sound effects. These elements are commonly referred to as diegetic and non-diegetic sounds in the film which are dubbed to be the relation of sounds in a fictional world. The internal sounds of the film are known as diegetic sounds, for example the car radio within a movie in which the characters can hear. Diegetic sounds are often thought to be realistic, such as fight scenes in a movie when the character as well as the viewers can interpret the different sounds. The external sounds are more commonly known as non-diegetic sounds, for example a narrator telling the story. These types of sounds help explain the important message found within the movie and reinforce the plot.
The aspects of sound and music play an important role in the plot of a story, whether it helps create suspense or an emotional impact for the viewers. Sound may differentiate a thriller movie from a drama movie, such as that found in Jurassic Park and One Week. Within the two films we can see how these sounds produce a much more diverse plot. The investigation and emphasis of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds within the movies from Michael McGowan’s One Week and Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park shows their importance in the contribution to the plot.
In the movie One Week, non-diegetic sounds contribute the most to create the mood and atmosphere throughout the movie. A narrator is used at the most significant scenes in the movie, such as at the introduction when he states, “What would you do if you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live?” This expresses the initial atmosphere in the movie as we know that Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson) is diagnosed with cancer; this foreshadows what the entire plot is like throughout the story. Along with the treacherous news, the narrator also provides us with some beneficial outlooks for Ben, such as he won’t have to mark six classes worth of English papers.
This movie is based upon the narration of Tyler’s book which describes his adventures living with cancer as he travels west. The music in One Week also resembles a type of sadness for the realization that Ben’s life is coming to an end; these types of harmonies are played as he travels away from home as well as visions of flashbacks with the family and his fiancé, Samantha Pierce (Liane Balaban). For example, flashbacks of Ben’s past come to life as the narrator explains that if he did something one way or another, it may have significantly changed his entire outcome in life. The narrator also explains how Ben had created an “orphan” from the novel he wrote, and was once told he had a terrible voice in which he never sung a tune ever again. On Ben’s journey, he comes to the realization that he did in fact write a masterpiece novel and is actually a decent singer; he realizes that he values his life a lot less that what he should and he tries to mend relationships with family and himself.
On the contrary, Jurassic Park uses many non-diegetic sounds to stress the importance of action within the film as well as contribute largely to the building of a suspenseful atmosphere in order to keep the viewers interest. A majority of the story is based around non-diegetic sounds. This is shown in many chase scenes involving the T-Rex when the music becomes intensely packed to create the negative mood in which the viewer’s become much more interested in the movie. There are also many parts in the movie where a suspenseful melody transforms into a triumphant harmony to show that the conflict at that particular point in time has been resolved. The non-diegetic sounds in One Week and Jurassic Park show completely different ends of the spectrum when it involves the storyline.
One Week uses the aspect of a narrator to depict the story of Ben Tyler’s (Joshua Jackson) life living with cancer; it is meant to create a sad atmosphere towards the viewers to feel emotional. However, Jurassic Park utilizes different types of themes and music to create an action packed plot. The use of music and sound is one of the most effective ways that a movie can use to create underlying messages as well as to create a certain atmosphere or sense of mood in the movies. This can be seen in the introduction of Jurassic Park as the main characters are approaching the island consisting of scientifically evolved prehistoric dinosaurs. The grand orchestral theme of music is loud and creates epic, yet positive imagery and atmosphere. Both of these movies apply the concepts of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds in many different ways to express various feelings throughout the movie.
There are many examples of diegetic sounds in Jurassic Park, such as the rustling of bushes, birds chirping, the vibrations of the T-Rex as it approaches, and even Allen (Sam Neill) screaming when he touches the electricity fence just to scare the kids, to name a few. In One Week the diegetic sounds of the snapping of the camera as Ben takes pictures throughout his travels reveals how his trip is worth the length of one lifetime in just one week. This sound also allows us to interpret that Ben himself can hear this sound as well as us; it captures each monumental Canadian sites that contribute to his journey, enlightening the viewer’s mood. Although these two movies create opposite feelings toward the movie, they both have similar diegetic sounds that are found in real life situations. These diegetic sounds are sources that have the ability to be heard by all of the characters on-screen. For example, the music played in One Week on the radio of the motorbike as he is traveling west can be referred to as a type of diegetic sound in which music is played to create a feeling for both the viewer as well as the character on-set.
Many forms of sound effect, music and speech can be seen by the preceding information. Diegetic and non-diegetic sounds contribute largely towards different kinds of plot, whether it is an action packed film or a Canadian drama film. These kinds of sounds help create an epic atmosphere and mood for the viewers to watch. Diegetic sounds allow characters as well as viewers to hear what is happening around them, whereas non-diegetic sounds is promoted by a narrator to help explain the storyline.
The narrator in One Week creates a negative, yet positive atmosphere throughout the movie, but the music is what generates suspense. The changing from diegetic sound to non-diegetic sound is a technique used by many editors in order to acquire the viewer’s interest throughout the movie (Robertson, 2014). From the information provided above, we can see that there is in fact a correlation between the sounds in movies and their contribution to the plot.
Giannetti, Louis D. Understanding Movies. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2008. Print.
Robertson, Hal. “Diegetic Sound.” Videomaker 27.10 (2013): 59-60. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
“Jurassic Park”. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum. DVD. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 1993.
“One Week”. Dir. Michael McGowan. Perf. Joshua Jackson, Peter Spence, Marc Strange. DVD. 101 Distribution, 2008.
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