I am staring work on a full length feature, and one of the main characters is prone to anxiety/panic attacks. Can people help me compile a quick reference list of their favorite uses of this sort of sound design in film.

ie. when a character is freaking out internally because of a strong emotional moment, so the external noise is either heightened, deadened, or some other brilliant option, depending on the design.

Thanks in advance!

7 Answers 7


Pi has some great sound design work. Its primary function is to portray the effect of the protagonist's migraine attacks.

  • +1 on Pi. The sound design was a huge part of making the audience feel the madness of the main character. Jun 27, 2010 at 10:35
  • 2
    Speaking of Aronofski, @ianjpalmer: While it's not a panic attack, the effects used in "Requiem for a Dream" for the characters dosing themselves used real sounds but in a very stylized method of editing. Its repetition solidly underscored the story with only a few synthetic-sounding elements. Jun 28, 2010 at 3:35
  • @NoiseJockey - I've only seen it once so I couldn't tell you specifics. I loved the film, same sort of style as Pi but with a more obvious budget and refinement. Must dig out the DVD again.
    – ianjpalmer
    Jun 28, 2010 at 8:36
  • +1 on Requiem for a Dream too! The sound design on those scenes where the characters are shooting up is fantastic... Jun 28, 2010 at 16:09

When Frodo is under the Rings influence in the Lord of the Rings Films - obviously there's the voice of the 'ring' or the firey eye visuals going on in places but there's other spots when he's just feeling 'something', mainly anxiety or panic


Good example. At the start of Return of the King we hear a screaming sound (not literally) when Smeagol kills his friend. Similar idea to The Godfather when Michael Corleone kills Sollozzo in the restaurant. The trains outside the building is actually Michael's emotions screaming as he is dragged into the mob way of life.


  • Nice example - I forgot about that one. It's good. The change from happy birds and wind to the throbbing low-end is creepy.
    – Utopia
    Jun 29, 2010 at 22:30

Punch Drunk Love has some great sound design when the central character loses his temper. Theres some great stuff in Elephant when the high school shooter is planning his route out in the school canteen. Also the tension that is built through the entire narrative in There Will Be Blood, as Day Lewis steadily loses the plot.....


I can't think of any specific scenes, but Fight Club or Donnie Darko could have some moments of inspiration.

The scene in Jarhead where the narrator states that his 'combat action has commenced', is well done, almost complete silence, but i'm not sure it really fits what you're asking. I imagine silence + internal sounds like heavy breathing & heart beating would work.

  • Oh, and a little bit on the ridiculous side but I love the drum break when Jim Carey loses it in Me, Myself & Irene.
    – Mech
    Jun 29, 2010 at 8:00

Inglorious Basterds has some great sound design that's heavily influenced by music. One scene has Shoshanna/Emmanuelle Mimieux forced to have dessert with Nazi hunter Hanz Landa while he interrogates her. This is the first time she's seen him since he slaughtered her entire family when she was a young girl. He drops hints to Shoshanna that he's on to her ruse as the new "Emmanuelle Mimieux", owner of a quaint movie house that will play host to Hitler's presentation of Goebbels' latest Nazi propaganda filmTarantino uses the song Bath Attack by Charles Bernstein (I think that's the song). The song represented her inner turmoil as she tries very hard to enjoy a strudel (Attendez la creme!) with this cold and vicious murderer.


Just watched Guy Ritchie's "Revolver" last night. Beautiful story about the battle in your mind between you and your ego. Excellent moments in sound design there, particularly the climax in the elevator.

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