The Serenity in Silence

Since the advent of cinema both audiences and film makers have embraced the importance of sound and music in film. Initially the lack of recorded sound was supplemented, using title cards and having live orchestras in the theaters. As time passed cinemas started to utilize sound and dialogue to improve story telling in general. Today soundtrack(original or other wise) is a critical part of cinema. But of late most cinemas have procedurized(turned into a formula) the use of silence to a certain number of cliches.

The most notable misuse one can notice is in horror movies where extended moments of silence are usually paired with a profusion of loudness to make the audience uncomfortable and agitated. The other recurring use of silence is to show shock(either literal or mental) in movies like The Pianist(2002) and Saving Private Ryan(1998) sequences involving explosions are usually followed by moments of silence which is symbolic of how the protagonist is reeling from the shock of the battlefield. The same can be seen in One flew over the Cuckoos Nest(1975) where silence is used to the same effect when Frank(the protagonist) gets shocked electrically. While these uses can be justified, the worst misuse is for emotional purposes either to portray either loss or showcasing deep thought.

There are many examples where directors have used silence in innovative ways to improve the quality of story telling. But of them Martin Scorsese has been seen to consistently embrace the concept of silence. One of the best examples of his innovative use of silence can be seen in his 2016 production aptly named Silence featuring Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. While the movie is majorly about symbolic silence, the silence a believer has to handle before redemption from God, it also resorts to literal silence in many instances to show case this struggle a believer has to face. This also inspired the “2001: A space odessy”esque start of the movie where the audience was treated with minutes of silence whilst staring at a completely blank screen.

Another way the movie was unique was its use of minimal external music and soundtrack. Experiencing a movie which switches the norm from loud grandiose inception horns or cleverly orchestrated music  to ultra-subtle foley and natural ambiences was fresh and helps one personally experience the protagonist’s desperation for a word from God.

Another instance where Scorsese has showcased his mastery over this balance between sound and silence, is in his 1980 sports drama Raging Bull. In boxing matches where Jake LaMotta(the protagonist) is about to get slaughtered the choice of removing all the sound effects leave the oncoming punches produces a “numbing effect” (as quoted by Scorsese himself) helping exemplify the agony endured by the protagonist.

Most movies set in space make use of prolonged periods of silence to demonstrate the lack of any sound in space due to lack of air. To showcase this we can take either the 2013 destructive cast away drama gravity or the 1997 Sci-fi drama contact. But the innovator of such a prevalent norm is none other than Stanley Kubrick who demonstrates this perfectly in his 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the scene leading to death of the Dave’s(protagonist) crew mate Frank and Dave’s plan to retrieve his  pal there is very little dialogue and an excess of silence. One can hear hear the ambient sounds of the spaceship,  even breathing only when the camera cuts to Dave, every where else its total silence. It helps increase the suspense in general and helps further mystify the unknown, which is the space.

Terrance Malick’s movies usually tend to be very philosophical and filled with symbolism. So in almost all his movies be it A Thin Red Line(1998) or Tree of life(2011), most surreal moments are either accompanied by subtle soundtrack or complete silence, this helps one have a unbiased interpretation of the surreal matter.

Even when one pops the blue pill and snaps out of the “Matrix” that is Cinema and Entertainment, there is still an ever growing cacophony of conversation and music. In such times one needs moments of such pristine silence to discern the real sound  in all that noise. This article is not in any way condemning sound or its use in cinema. There is no way Psycho(1960) would be Psycho with out the excellent use of shrill violins in the shower scene nor would Jaws(1975) be Jaws  without the cello piece. Even contemporary classics like the helicopter scene in Apocalypse Now(1979) or the the swimming scene in Moonlight(2016) would  be as compelling  with out the respective soundtracks be it Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries or Nicholas Britell’s excellent score. But even though sound, dialogue and music all are a very important components in cinema, so is silence.

A Lifeless Ghost in the End

Ghost in the shell has come a long way from a mere manga evolving into the vast sci-fi cyberpunk universe we now associate it with. While there have been numerous adaptations of the manga(there are so many and so different in flavor that relating them is easily too exhausting) the universally accepted crowning jewel is the 1995 adaptation of Mamoru Oshii. While the new movie tries hard to emulate the brilliance of its 1995 brother it fails miserably in many important aspects.

This might have occurred because the movie writers seem to have increasingly “dumbed-down” the brilliant and thought provoking story involving questioning life and its significance, to a story of reunion of friends, all for ease of understanding for audience. Which in my opinion causes it to become another one of the innumerable and forgettable “Blade Runner”esque sci-fi movies.

In the 1995 adaptation we can see the protagonist, Major Motoko Kusunagi(who is a complete cyborg leave her brain) questioning her humanity and what a ghost is(which across the movie is shown as the key to calling something alive), contrary to her is the prime antagonist who is referred to as the “puppet master”, a sentient creature who was created in the sea of information seeking to grow beyond his boundaries and evolve. This aspect of the original 1995 adaptation shines and adds a philosophical touch to the story.

In the current take the antagonist is just like the Major(Mira Killian), a runaway who is at the wrong place at the wrong time ending up as fodder for experimental purposes by a certain capitalist “Hank robotics”. The story just turns into a search fest followed by a revenge quest. This choice to alter the story by the movie makers made the movie too prosaic and devoid of any philosophical flavor the original had.

The excellent 1995 adaptation manages to successfully transport the audience from a mundane day to day life to a completely alien but relatable universe. This is achieved by the excellent sound track which uses traditional Japanese chants sung in the folk Min’yō style along with intense Taiko drumming. These unfamiliar but enchanting sounds help improve the already excellent story telling transporting us to a mesmerizing yet alien world.

While the OST is outstanding, what shines in the original are the induced moments of pure silence along with a timely chime of a Kagura Suzu bell, again a traditional Japanese instrument which helps intensify the importance and relevance of such moments. In the 2017 edition the sound track feels too familiarly relatable and never manages to captivate or enthrall.

There is an extended long scene in the 1995 adaptation which involves just visuals of the world with such enchanting music, it mesmerizes one and sells this overly complicated world to them.

Don’t get me wrong ,the 2017 edition is not a bad watch, its visual design is nice and the action scenes are very well done. It takes the best of all the adaptations and sticks them into an action filled 2 hours. It picks the geisha scene from the “Stand alone complex” and borrows a lot from the 1995 version also, be it the final spider tank battle or the fight in the “kowloon”esque suburbs with the ghost hacked human.

The casting choices of the 2017 adaption also seem a little off. While it is likable the fact that Aramaki(Section 9’s chief) was voiced in Japanese and played by an actor of Japanese origin. Scarlett Johansson though a big name in Hollywood fails to potray the character very well as most of the movie she is shrugging and is never shown as a deadly weapon that she is.

Most live adaptations of pre-existing legends try to take the original story and change everything about it so that it seems fresher to the same audience. Contrary to this norm this live action rendition of Ghost in the shell is too reminiscent of the original which forces people to draw comparison with it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


In conclusion, the original being only one and a half hrs long manages to be exponentially complex questioning the meaning of life and evolution while the live action adaptation cheapens it with a love story of runaways on a quest for retribution. That is why the original will always be better (it deals with complex ideas and is ages ahead of its time), cheap Hollywood ripoffs can never match the greatness of this timeless epic.