The Sound of Soderbergh’s Silence

By  · Published on November 28th, 2016

How the director crafts tension without a word.

There is a lot to be learned from silence, especially when it’s between people. Silence is a hindrance, yes, it is a barrier between our emotions and others, the last hesitant defense we erect between our true selves and the world in which those selves exist. Silence is nothing, it is an anathema, it is a negative to most people, a void to be filled, an absence to be eradicated, a weed to be plucked from a relationship.

But there are other sides to silence: a peaceful side, a thoughtful side, and indeed a telling side. Silence can also be a positive, or at the least it can be a neutral space in which things go unspoken because they don’t need to be said. Silence can communicate understanding between people, it can draw attention to the intense emotional bond they share in which feelings are transmitted instead of verbalized, and it can fill the very absence some think it creates with the boundlessness of its resonance, the way it can echo into our forevers as an attachment to memory.

In the following short and nearly-silent video from Yoann Casals, the silent spaces in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven have been compiled. These are moments between lovers, friends, cohorts and abettors, and each brings its own gravity to the film, each conveys the uniqueness of the relationship in question in ways dialogue never could. In an ensemble action film especially the use of silence is intriguing and requires a deftness of direction. Silence in this instance is a symbol of cohesion, of loyalty, and it conveys things about the characters’ communal backstories that exposition might make stereotypical at best, trite at worst; but silence is also a potential pace-killer, and the way Soderbergh employs it not only avoids this common pratfall, but uses the silence to his pacing’s advantage, making bigger moments into more compact emotional punches that hit just as hard in a fraction of the time it would take to talk through them.

In contrast to what the song would have us believe, a kiss is never just a kiss and a sigh is never just a sigh. The unspoken moments between people are, I believe, more powerful than the spoken ones – especially in a visual medium – and I think Steven Soderbergh believe’s this, too. Take a quick look at the video to see just what he can make out of “nothing.”

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist