In his use of sound, Lean was very sophisticated. He used the march, whistled and orchestrated, in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and in each case, its meaning was different. His use of Maurice Jarre's music in Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and Ryan's Daughter is probably unprecedented in its popular impact. However, it is in the more subtle uses of sound that Lean illustrated his skill. Through an interior monologue, Laura acts first as narrator and then confessor in Brief Encounter. Her confession creates a rapid identification with her.
A less emphatic use of sound occurs in Great Expectations. As Pip's sister is insulting the young Pip, Lean blurred the insults with the sound of an instrument. The resulting distortion makes the insults sound as if they were coming from an animal rather than a human. She is both menacing and belittled by the technical pun.
A similar surprise occurs in an action sequence in The Bridge on the River Kwai. British commandos are deep in the Burmese forest. Their Burmese guides, all women, are bathing. A Japanese patrol happens upon them. The commandos hurl grenades and fire their machine guns. As the noise of murder grows louder, the birds of the area fly off frightened, and as Lean cut visuals of the birds in flight, the sound of the birds drown out the machine guns. At that instant, nature quite overwhelms the concerns of the humans present, and for that moment, the outcome of human conflict seems less important.
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