A Look at the Silence of How I Ended This Summer and the Generational Gap that Highlights
If Martin Scorsese has taught us anything, it’s that silence in a film is a powerful tool. Alexei Popogrebski has taken that advice and put it to great use in his 2010 film How I Ended This Summer.
In this discussion we will look at the use of the word silence, and its context in film. Then look at the differences of silence, such as natural silence and manufactured silence, then discuss which one of these was used effectively in the film. While it seems trivial to talk about silence when there are varying levels of political and even social critiques being critiqued in the film, the use of silence seems to be either just as important or possibly even more so. So, an argument will be made that this use of silence only enhanced the films immersion and aided the feeling of isolation for the audience, thus making all of the underlying discussion that much more evident as they were not drowned out by noise. Additional arguments will be made that if silence were not used in the film the feeling and overall reaction from the audience would be much different and less effective than it is now. In the end the use of silence not only affects the interaction between the film and the audience, but the silence becomes the foundation of the complete failure in communication between the two characters. A final argument will be made as to how silence aids in the narrative of a generational gap.
Let us look at the word silence in terms of its use in films for the discussion. For years silence has been used in cinema, however it has not been used solely as the word would suggest. Early cinema was silent, however even silent films had sections where music accompanied the visuals. No, the word silence in this context is pointing toward the use of natural silence and manufactured silence or more appropriately the lack of manipulated noise.
Manufactured silence happens when it is used in a way to simulate how silence may be heard naturally. And example of this is in the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. As soldiers make their way onto the beaches of Omaha, they are overcome by Axis fire. They jump from their Higgins boat and into the sea. Underwater everything is silent and all we hear is the zipping of bullets in the water. Then when Tom Hanks character is concussed from mortar fire (explosion) the audience hears nothing but deep muffled sound that is near silence. In both instances manufactured silence was used to immerse the audience into the narrative, but only for these specific moments.
Now, for the film How I Ended This Summer the use of Natural Silence is utilized to aid the narrative of isolation. The design was quite meticulous. For the majority of the film we hear nothing but natural soundscape. By using this natural soundscape versus something that was manufactured through several effect layers the audience is becoming immersed in the space rather than a specific moment. The crashing of the water, the static of the radio, the wind, the birds it all comes together to present a soundscape that only exists in the natural world and is void of noise manipulation.
So, again the word silence is a bit misleading when looking at this film or any other film that uses natural or manufactured silence to aid the narrative.
With the use of natural silence in Alexei’s film, through soundscape, the audience is drawn into an isolated world. A world disconnected from the outside, existing only in the peninsula of the far northern artic coast of Russia. Director Alexei Popogrebski told Dazed & Confused that the decision to use this technique came after speaking with a former Polar Pilot, “who’d been living at the station for 40 years in such conditions, and he told me over time you get completely disinterested in the other person, strangely enough; you stop talking.” He would go on to say that, “it’s part of the psychology of the people on these stations. It’s not about going crazy.” In the end it’s about being isolated and alone in the natural soundscape without noise manipulating one’s emotions. It is how these characters would experience it, so therefore it is how the audience should experience it.
By immersing the audience into this natural silence the division between the characters becomes more apparent. Pavel is the younger of the two and in a sense represents not only the newer generation, but as Alexsi put it in the Dazed & Confused article, “He’s not just typical of a generation, he’s typical of any of us. Here we’re jammed with everything that’s completely unessential.” He is there for the romanticism not the reality. Then in contrast to this we have Sergey who is a representation of the old generation who grew up without the world at their fingertips. The natural soundscape and the silence it presents only serve to heighten this divide between generations.
In fact if silence, or the use of natural soundscape, were not used at all and the film was given a deep treatment of noise manipulation then this film would garner a much different reaction from the audience. It would be a manipulation of the senses rather than naturally allowing the audience to come to those feelings and emotions on their own through the narrative that is being supported by silence. As we see in the film the conflict arises through a complete lack of communication between the two characters. This lack of communication would not have been as effective without the use of silence and the natural soundscape.
Lastly, it is extremely important to realize that the use of the word silence in films like this is rather misleading. It’s not so much about actual silence, as it is about the lack of noise manipulation swaying an audiences emotions and opinions one way or the other. Director Alexei Popogrebski worked this technique perfectly and not only presented the audience with a soundscape that is both isolated and filled with tension, but he also aided his own narrative. These techniques work to heighten the affect of the narrative on the audience and naturally move the audience into an emotion rather than beat them over the head with processed and manufactured noise.
Popogrebsky, Alexei, dir. How I Ended This Summer. Loltebel Film Company, 2010. Film.
Spielberg, Steven, dir. Saving Private Ryan. DreamWorks Pictures, 1998. Film
Gray, Carmen. Alexei Popogrebsky: How I Ended This Summer. Dazed & Confused Magazine. London, 2010.