Archive for the ‘subjective sound’ Category

Subjective sonic expression in film


In many films we can observe this phenomenon. A protagonist finds him/herself in a dramatic situation and the sound shifts to the subjective point of audition of this character. “Subjective or internal sound are sounds heard or imagined by a single protagonist and that we assume cannot be heard by any other characters who may be present” (Chion).

What is the role of music in this context? Music is the ultimate tool for subjective sonic expression, but not exclusively – in Hollywood film it too frequently tells what the protagonist feels and more annoyingly, what we should feel.

Some film examples are:

  • Being John Malkovich (1999)
  • Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979)
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000)
  • Katalin Varga (2009)

I saw Un prophète (2009) by Jacques Audiard, who has won the London Film Festival Price 2009.

It is a tense, gripping film which tackles issues of race (Corsicans, Arabs and Blacks in France), religion (Islam), and the injustice of the penitentiary system, which re-creates a society within the society. Audriard explores violence in prison and its consequences for society, i.e. often recreating the status quo.
Towards the last quarter of the film the main protagonist Malik El Djebena kills members of a rival gang in a crowed street by jumping into their car. Through the noise of the gun battle he becomes temporarily deaf, which is expressed sonically through a muffled sound in the soundtrack, i.e. subjective sound. When his companion asks whether he is injured, because he is covered in blood, the viewer can hardly understand his voice. We hear through the ears of Djebena.

In another scene the Corsican Mafia boss nearly destroys Djebena’s eye. After this event the camera shows the subjective view of the world through Djebena’s damaged eye.

A discussion of the subjective use of music in film has to follow.


Chion, M. Glossary, No. 97. POINT OF AUDITION (see Chion website )

Milicevic, Mladen. ‘Film Sound Beyond Reality: Subjective Sound in Narrative Cinema.’ (no year)

Raskin, Richard. ‘Varieties of Film Sound: A New Typology.’ fra publications, Aarhus University  (1992). pdf

definition on University of Texas film course