In real life, when a person has something private to say to somebody else, they tend to whisper it to them, to make it more difficult for the other person to hear.
In fiction, however, all dialogue is usually completely audible to the audience. That makes the few times when we don't
know exactly what a person is saying all the more intriguing. As a result, an artist will sometimes use a whisper to add an element of mystery or ambiguity to a series. For this and other reasons, this trope is usually implemented near the end of a work.
Sometimes used as an Unreveal
(when left ambiguous), other times as a Chekhov's Gun
. Other times it begins as an
unreveal, and becomes
a Chekhov's Gun
. This may also be used if one character needs to tell another something so obscene that the censors might be offended if it were spoken out loud.
Contrast Stage Whisper
, which is clearly audible to the audience but not other characters.
Anime & Manga
- In Code Geass, CC's true name.
- In "The Real Folk Blues, Part 1" of Cowboy Bebop, Julia whispers something at Spike. We don't find out what she said until the end of the next episode.
- Subverted in Digimon Tamers episode 14: "Grow Mon Grow". When Terriermon whispers to Henry, the words are actually intelligible to the audience before Henry repeats them aloud to Takato.
- Practically Once an Episode on Detective Conan, at the point where Conan figures out the crime and just wants confirmation before the big reveal.
- Near the end of Arbitage, the main character whispers something to his daughter that we never hear. This was an improvisation by Richard Gere.
- Also, possibly referencing Lost in Translation (See below), in The Avengers, Scarlett Johansson whispers something to Jeremy Renner's character right before Loki is sent back from whence he came.
- At the end of Lost in Translation, Bill Murray's character whispers something to Scarlett Johansson just before he leaves Toyko.
- In Donnie Darko, Donnie walks up to Roberto Sparrow and she stands on tiptoe to whisper, "Everything on this earth dies alone." Donnie's dad asks what she said and the scene cuts without revealing (until later). New viewers will almost always ask prior viewers what she said.
- In Not Another Teen Movie, Austin whispers into Janey's ear, causing Jake to launch into a hysterical confession. Austin then explains to Jake that what he actually whispered into Janie's ear was that Jake was about to launch into a hysterical confession, thus reaffirming everything he just whispered into her ear.
- In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country right after the bodies of Chancellor Gorkon's killers are found, Kirk takes Spock aside and they have an inaudible conversation. At the end Spock says, "Possible." It turned out to be an idea to lure the killers' killer out.
- In The Polar Express after Santa asks the main character what he wants for Christmas, he whispers his answer in his ear, one of the sleigh bells.
- Lolita. In the Stanley Kubrick film, Charlotte Haze whispers in Claire Quilty's ear regarding an evening they spent together (implied to be more romantic for her than Quilty, who like Humbert is a closet paedophile). In both this and the 1997 adaptation, Dolores whispers in Humbert's ear what she got up to with a boy at summer camp; in that case definitely implied to be sexual.
- In Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn, Lucky and Wess take a moment to speak privately to one another by using ordinary sound waves, conducted through their spacesuits, so there is no risk of being spied upon. The narrator never tells us what Lucky says, but it becomes clear it has to do with the elaborate deception that Lucky pulls on everyone except Wess later in the book.
- In Wolves of the Calla, we're never told exactly what the 19-word sentence told to Eddie by the old man was, but we get the gist of it by the book's climax.
- Babylon 5
- In the episode "Interludes and Examinations", Morden whispers various things to different people in league with him on the station. We don't hear what's said, but the context of things that happen next tells us enough—so it's probably simply a device to indicate how covertly he must operate on the station at that point, since he's a recognized persona non grata there.
- * In "Day of the Dead" Penn & Teller guest star as comedy Duo Reebo and Zooty. Zooty, Teller's character, always speaks through this little device and even his partner has only heard him actually speak once (he said, "Why?"). In the very last scene, Zooty comes up to Sheridan and whispers in his ear, pointing to his hat. Afterwards, G'Kar asks what he said. The answer: "Because it tells me to."
- Raj Koothrappali does this into Howard's ear on The Big Bang Theory every time he wants to talk but there's a woman in the room and he's not drunk. Howard translates.
- Community has Troy do this to Abed when he leaves for air-conditioning repair school. When the rest of the group asks what he said, Abed tells them that Troy said, I know you hate when people do this in movies.
- In the Doctor Who episode where we first meet River Song, she whispers in The Doctor's ear and he says that she told him his real name even though he'd never met her before. In the series six finale, he then whispers something to her past self. It's later revealed that he didn't actually whisper his name, but for her to look in his eye.
- One episode of Legend of the Seeker had the Mord'Sith Cara trying to persuade a thief to come with them. She offers to do something which she whispers in his ear, causing him to become very excited.
- Just before Alice is Put on a Bus in Season 2, Episode 2 of Luther, she kisses Luther's cheek and whispers something to him.
- In the Season 1 Finale of The Walking Dead, Dr. Jenner whispers something into Rick's ear. What he said wasn't revealed until the finale of Season 2.
- The Twilight Zone (1985-1989). In the episode "Need to Know", hearing a certain phrase causes the listener to go insane. At the very end one of the two protagonists whispers the phrase in her partner's ear and drives him mad.
- Parodied on Community when Abed starts whispering his plan to his friends, the camera pans away, and Jeff pulls it back reminding Abed that he can't just pretend to say something and expect a whipcut to the enacted plan.
- Star Trek: Voyager. After Q spends most of the episode "The Q and the Gray" unsuccessfully trying to convince Captain Janeway to have a child with him, the captain suggests he instead do it with a female member of his species. At first they're outraged, but then Miss Q comes up with a suggestion that she whispers in Q's ear, causing him to chortle over how dirty it is. Janeway can't resist sneaking up for a peak, only for the two omnipotent beings to just touch their fingers, causing a flash that makes them shudder in delight.
Janeway: Is that it?
Q: You had your chance!
- Rome. Cleopatra asks Marc Antony to recognise her son by Julius Caesar. Antony whispers his price in her ear. Cleopatra's response makes it clear what he asked is sexual, but she calmly states that Antony must fulfill his end of the bargain first.
- In the play (and later movie) The Shape Of Things, Adam and Evelyn whisper to each other in bed. Later when he discovers she's been videoing him for a class project, that is the only part of their relationship that remains private. The play ends with him watching that section over and over.
- In Heavy Rain, Ann whispers the name of her son into Madison's ear. It's significant because her son happens to be the Origami Killer; the player doesn't learn his name for a few more scenes.
- Knights of the Old Republic: Saul Karath in his last moments, whispers The Reveal to Carth Onasi in this manner. Carth doesn't take it well.
- Parodied in 8-Bit Theater after Red Mage gets the entire party thrown into an elvish prison. Another inmate agrees to give them information in exchange for some "dag". Thief's explanation is initially this, but Fighter immediately blows the secret out of the water, in case some readers didn't quite get it.
Thief: It's whisper, whisper, whisper...
Red Mage: Perhaps I could negotiate the terms of our agreement.
Black Mage: Ya think!
Fighter: Psst! What does "situational homosexuality" mean?
- In The Simpsons episode parodying 24, Skinner recruits Bart to spy on his behalf. Bart will only participate if Skinner will tell him a swear word he doesn't already know. Skinner whispers it to Bart (we never hear it).
Bart: Wow, that's a swear?
Skinner: Used as a noun, it is.