Last night I watched We Need To Talk About Kevin and was really impressed with the use of sound. British sound designer, Paul Davies, did an excellent job of helping the story evolve and, in particular, evoking an emotional reaction in the audience. One of the sounds that really stood out for me was his use of a garden water sprinkler, which was used throughout the film mostly in very tense scenes, often when there was no screen relevance. And it is only during the last moments of the film that the audience discovers the significance of this sound. But what I really enjoyed was the way the sound was used to create an anempathetic effect.

To quote Michel Chion: "the anempathetic effect is employed when, for example, in a very violent scene after the death of a character some sonic process continues, like the noise of a machine, the hum of a fan, a shower running, as if nothing happened."

One of the most famous uses of this effect is the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. There is also a scene in Antonioni's The Passenger using an electric fan.

So my question is, what other examples of this effect are there?

  • the escape scene in silence of the lambs... bach playing as the guards lie struggling on the floor and anthony hopkins humming along
    – user6729
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 21:50

13 Answers 13


Don Corleone's grandchild laughing, the breeze blowing and birds chirping as the old man lies dead in his tomato garden.


kill bill the bamboo fountain in the fight scene between lucy liu and the bride


The music playing in the background at the start of The Watchmen, whilst The Comedian is attacked.

Edit: And similarly, from a gaming perspective, the music used throughout Fallout 3 is brilliantly anempathetic against what's going on in the game and it's intro video.


One that springs to mind is the ear cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs. The music playing from the radio as it all gruesomely unfolds!


In Full Metal Jacket, when, after confirming two kills, the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" plays.


The death of Harry Dean Stanton in Alien. Stupid cat.


An overtly surreal example is the murder of Paul Allen in American Psycho to 'Huey Lewis and the News'. It's so viciously funny!


The very last scene of "The Shield"

If you havent seen it - and plan to see it spoiler alert.


  • Dunno if it needs to be Violent tho... If so ignore my post ;)
    – durk
    Commented Oct 16, 2011 at 20:17
  • this is probably quite empathetic I think? Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 0:53

The insects in the opening scenes of A History of Violence play this role well.


the sound of car racing blaring on the tv after the murders in 'funny games'


Another Antonioni one, 'Blow Up', the sound of the leaves rustling with the wind when the photographer discovers the dead body in the park at night, and realises that he didn't prevent the murder. So serene and creepy.


Here's another: At the beginning of The Fog (the original John Carpenter), when a stone mysteriously falls out of the wall in the old church, startling the priest and revealing the creepy old book, he drops his radio and it starts playing uptempo jazz music over what is otherwise a disturbing supernatural event.


The car horn in Chinatown. (The motif of the horn is also present in the soundtrack)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.