It came out recently that AMC Theaters had been posting a note (which they’ve also decided to remove) for moviegoers explaining the 10 seconds of silence in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I have some thoughts on the silence, so proceed if you’re cool with spoilers.
This isn’t going to be about whether The Last Jedi is a good movie. It’s not even going to be about whether The Last Jedi is a good Star Wars movie; plenty of other people are debating (read: losing their shit) over the merits of the movie as a whole. This is about 10 seconds of film in the movie.
There is a scene when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) decides to sacrifice her life to help save the Rebellion, and she does so in spectacular fashion. After the largest transport in the Rebellion’s fleet has been evacuated, she turns the ship toward Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship (which seems about half as wide as the galaxy), and makes the decision to jump to lightspeed…directly into Snoke’s ship. The result is amazing.
It is at this point when Johnson brilliantly cuts all sound. We see the devastation, but we can’t hear a thing. After all, in space no one can hear a ship crash into another one at light speed…or some tagline like that.
There are two reasons why the decision to go silent is brilliant: the event is given more weight, more impact (no pun intended) by being silent. It’s a selfless, somber, yet inspiring act, and the quiet drives that home. The second, and biggest, reason is the reaction from the audience. When I saw it on Christmas Day, there was an audible gasp in the theater. Not everyone did it, but enough people for it to be very noticeable. Any director could have said, “I want this to be the biggest goddamn explosion in space anyone has ever heard!” (we all know it’s what Michael Bay would have done) and someone would have obliged. But then any raw emotion would have been drowned out in a cacophony of computer-generated sounds. Instead, we weren’t just connected to the film in that moment of silence, we were connected to each other. We heard each other’s emotion, more…we were aware of each other’s emotion. And it’s emotion like that we don’t always get to experience in a big blockbuster franchise.
Another example of silence being used to great effect is in Road to Perdition (2002). Watch the first two minutes of this scene…
Would that scene have packed the same punch if the machine guns could have been heard? Not a chance. Although not completely silent, the score isn’t at all intrusive, so it doesn’t counteract the effect of not hearing the gunfire.
It would be great if a certain segment of the moviegoing population could practice some critical thinking while watching a film and try to understand the director’s motivations. Hear his/her message, especially when nothing is being said. In the case of The Last Jedi, 10 seconds of silence said more than all of the other moments combined.