Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

‘Sound, Intimacy and Ethics in Lynne Ramsay’s We’ve Got to Talk About Kevin’ (2011)

Philippa Lovatt


Questions of intimacy in film studies have tended to be discussed in relation to the image. Specifically, the close-up on the face has been identified as the locus of emotional intensity and connection. Discussions of the relationship between sound and emotion in film sound studies have been dominated by the role of music – in particular, the film score – but also how diegetic music can comment on the action and draw out a particular response from the audio-viewer. The ability of other elements of the sound design of a film to similarly move the audio-viewer both viscerally and emotionally has received comparatively little attention. This paper will address this theoretical gap by exploring the theme of intimacy in relation to the sound design of Lynne Ramsay’s We’ve Got to Talk About Kevin’ (2011). In response to LaBelle’s suggestion that ‘[t]heories of listening are often based on the notion of diffused subjectivity: through listening, an individual is extended beyond the boundaries of singularity… toward a broader space necessarily multiple’,[1] this paper will also explore the concept of intimacy and closeness in terms of how the act of listening (as opposed to merely ‘viewing’) might transform our relationship to film by fostering a sense of empathy and intersubjectivity while maintaining respect for alterity. LaBelle argues that listening makes permeable the boundary between self and other partly because of the way sound’s presence is felt on and through the body. This paper questions whether it is perhaps this intimate connection of sound to our bodies that makes it particularly able to create a sense of commonality and sensory exchange in cinema thus communicating a sense of what intimacy feels like. Further, this paper questions whether ideas about intimacy and closeness must always be linked with empathy, or whether there is a meaningful distinction that can be drawn between these concepts.


[1] Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (London & New York: Continuum, 2006), p. 245.

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About the Presenter

Philippa Lovatt
University of Glasgow
United Kingdom

I am an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow where I currently teach a course on Sound in Film and Television. I also teach a course on Film Sound Theory at Glasgow School of Art.