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Shell-Shock Silence

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A giant explosion goes off, then — silence. In the eerie pause, we see the action continue but only hear a high pitched hum. Gradually Fade In small arms fire, yelling, screaming... suddenly everything returns to full volume and the character scrambles to get back in the action.

Sometimes paired with a slow-motion sequence, either to emphasize that we are in a heightened version of a character's perspective or to reflect the traumatized mindset of the main character. Sometimes the humming will be a ringing noise, like the onset of tinnitus.

An example of Truth in Television, as explosions and even prolonged gunfire can cause hearing loss. It's correctly called trauma-associated tinnitus, and rates of affliction are highly variable. A 2012 NCBI study found that in a random sample of Iraq War veterans, 71% had experienced close-range loud noises, of whom 15.6% reported developing tinnitus. However, transient traumatic tinnitus is actually fairly common: a loud noise causes temporary ringing, often with partial or total deafness. Despite what most fiction would lead you to believe, ruptured eardrums can naturally heal by themselves just like any other type of skin. However, recovery times and degrees vary by incident and individual, although for cases where intense ringing and/or substantial deafness occur, recovery time is usually on the order of days rather than the handful of seconds portrayed in most films. Of course, as with tropes, there are aversions to this "typical timeline," again due to differences from person to person.

Saving Private Ryan is arguably the Trope Codifier.

Compare Thousand-Yard Stare, the visual equivalent. See also Moment of Silence.

Contrast Stunned Silence, Steel Ear Drums. If it happens in a video game, it's an example of an Interface Screw.


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  • The traumatic D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan seems to have made this trope popular in the action movie genre.
  • Used for great dramatic effect in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
  • The movie version of Master and Commander: Far Side of the World has this during the first attack of the phantom ship.
  • Happens twice to James Bond in No Time to Die, first with the explosive Booby Trap on the grave of Vesper Lynd in Matera in the Action Prologue, then with a grenade explosion during the Final Battle in the climax as Bond fights his way up the stairs of a bunker killing mooks on the way in a seemingly uncut scene.
  • Children of Men has this occurring to the main character during a terrorist bombing: Theo witnesses a bomb go off in the street and we hear a sort of dull ringing in the background.
    Julian: Y'know that ringing in your ears? That 'eeeeeeeee'? That's the sound of the ear cells dying, like their swan song. Once it's gone you'll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts. note 
  • The first Hellboy movie has this happen to Meyers right after Liz Sherman goes Person of Mass Destruction in Rasputin's clockwork funhouse.
  • Used in I, Robot after Detective Spooner "experiences a car accident" as a result of being attacked by NS-5s. As he crawls from the wreckage, all sounds are muted until he spits out a mouthful of blood.
  • Manny in Ice Age: The Meltdown tries to cross a geyser field and is deafened when one goes off near him.
  • Happens in Sherlock Holmes (2009) after a warehouse explodes.
  • Happens in Dumb and Dumber To after Harry and Lloyd are deafened by a firecracker. The silence continues even as a train goes by, carrying their car along.
  • Occurs during the Allied air attack at the beginning of Valkyrie.
  • Invoked in the BBC docudrama Krakatoa, during the moment of the famous loudest noise recorded in historic times. In the film, people kilometers away find themselves momentarily deafened with a ringing in their ears that gradually fades. In reality, the blast was heard as far away as Perth, Australia, 3500 km away. Dramatization.
  • Epically done in the 1985 Soviet war drama Come and See. After our protagonist gets caught in a bomb raid, everything gets drowned out in a howl of tinnitus; it gets better, but it takes a full half-hour for the sound to come back completely.
  • Used in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when lightning strikes from the spire of Minas Morgul, everything goes quiet in the middle of the massive crack of thunder that accompanies it, indicating that it's so loud that the characters are briefly deafened by it.
  • In the 1970 version of The Out-of-Towners, Jack Lemmon's character experiences tinnitus after a manhole explodes and the cover crashes to the street right next to him.
  • Happens near the end of Tropic Thunder, just before they get to the bridge.
  • When Katniss blows up the Careers' stash in The Hunger Games, we're treated to this. Some variants also occur throughout the movie.
  • The not-incense in Serenity leaves the Operative suffering from this temporarily, allowing Mal and Inara to escape.
  • Used in The Town when the SWAT team tosses some flashbang grenades during a shootout in a parking garage.
  • Played with in Welcome to the Punch (2013). A detective tackles a civilian at gunpoint whom he mistook for the criminal who shot him three years ago, an event from which he's still traumatized. His partner can be heard faintly yelling at him to stop even though she's right next to them, but she's drowned out by a ringing sound (he was shot in a concrete tunnel, so the temporary deafness may be a flashback).
  • A similar concept is the subject of the Australian film Noise (2007), about a police officer who suffers from tinnitus due to psychological damage from witnessing the aftermath of a massacre.
  • In Edge of Tomorrow, the hero has two of these moments. First when his drop ship is hit and later when he is overwhelmed by the terror on the battlefield and all sounds go mute for a moment.
  • Happens to Jason in Galaxy Quest, when he is shot down by Sarris during the movie's climax. The sound goes almost mute as Jason watches his fellow crewmates being slaughtered one by one.
  • Several times after explosions in Mad Max: Fury Road does the sounds drown out, especially during the Final Battle.
  • In The Revenant, this happens towards the end of the opening Big Badass Battle Sequence. The battle sound drowns out, leaving us with the horrible visuals of the massacre along with a low-pitched sound from the soundtrack.
  • Used in combination with an aversion of Steel Eardrums in Cockneys vs. Zombies, when Mickey fires off his combat shotgun inside the van.
  • In T-34 (2018) this happens whenever a shell strikes a tank's armor but doesn't penetrate, leaving those inside alive but with very sore ears.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): Diana momentarily loses hearing during the Final Battle after the explosion of a crate full of grenades that she threw at Ares. She can't hear Steve's last words to her as a result before he jumps on the gas containers-filled plane to stop it, and she has to figure out what he said to her later on.
  • A momentary non-military version occurs in World War Z when the Lane family's vehicle is blindsided by an ambulance in the Philadelphia scene.

  • Surprisingly, Taylor Anderson uses this during the battle of Baalkpan in the third book of the Destroyermen series. After Mahan self-destructs in the side of Amagi, the setting is described in this very fashion: silent except for a buzzing, everything somewhat blurred and slowed-down.
  • Doug gets this during one of the last chapters of Parellity, during the battle of Harborage.
  • Just like in the movie, The Hunger Games has Katniss describe this happening in the immediate aftermath of blowing up the Career food supply. In fact, her hearing only comes back in one ear, leaving her vulnerable for the rest of the titular Games.

    Live Action TV 
  • Chernobyl. After the Distant Reaction Shot of the reactor exploding, we cut to the reactor control room and get this from Dyatlov's perspective while Akimov shouts his name.
  • The episode "Mayhem" of Criminal Minds starts out this way.
    • Unlike some of these examples, Hotch, who is close to the explosion, suffers significant hearing damage which stretches into the next episode.
  • The Season 6 premiere of Lost after a possible nuclear detonation.
  • In the premiere episode of The Walking Dead. The lead character fires a Magnum revolver at a zombie right next to him inside an enclosed tank, leading to this, in the form of a loud ringing.
  • Used on Fringe, when Olivia fires a gun right next to Peter's ears, so he wouldn't be susceptible to a sonically-induced brain melt.
  • The Grey's Anatomy episode "The Sound Of Silence" features this for a full quarter of the episode, as it follows Meredith after she is badly beaten and hospitalized. Her injuries include temporary deafness, and the episode's sound is accordingly replaced with a low drone until it gradually fades away and the sound comes back as her hearing returns.
  • The audience is treated to this in The IT Crowd when manchild Douglas Renholm tests his grandfather's service revolver by pointing the barrel into his mouth without effect, but then accidentally discharges it into his leg.
  • In a late-season episode of JAG, after Harm is right next to an explosion he spends the rest of the episode without hearing. It comes back in fits and starts, so after a little while Mac starts communicating with him by shouting.
  • Person of Interest. Root after she's momentarily stunned during a truck crash in "Mors Praematura", but it segues immediately into the Climactic Music as she wakes up and starts kicking ass. Played straight in "Matsya Nyaya", when a bomb goes off underneath an armoured car Reese is guarding. Also Sameen Shaw in "Relevance" has a flashbang grenade roll towards her; she ducks her head but doesn't have time to cover her ears, so this trope ensues.
  • In Season 6 of Riverdale, Jughead is deafened by the bomb Hiram planted under Archie's bed. He remains deaf for most of the season, but also gained the ability to read minds.
  • In the BBC docudrama Krakatoa: The Last Days, this happens without warning when the volcano explodes offscreen: there's a deafening noise and the characters spend the next few moments in a panic because they can't hear. To put this in proportion, the scene in question is taking place in the village of Katibung, which was forty miles from the volcano. Sailors on ships equally distant from the volcano got their eardrums ruptured by the force of the blast.
  • In the first episode of Briarpatch, Allegra is standing near a car when it explodes. While she avoids the worst of the explosion, she still has ringing ears afterwards.

    Video Games 
  • Happens to you in the Uncharted games whenever an explosion goes off near you.
  • Mass Effect 2 and 3 introduce this effect whenever a sufficiently heavy explosion (usually a rocket launcher) detonates near you. Lacking a similar effect for the guns is justified by the guns being miniature railguns instead of propelled by explosions, so they'd understandably be quieter.
    • At least two DLC packs in the second game feature enemies using flashbangs grenades. One of them introduces a teammate who can use them. The flash part can be mitigated by turning the camera, but the bang part will get you regardless.
    • There's also an example in the opening cinematic of the third game, where after a Reaper blows up an entire wall, Shepard is thrown against the opposite wall and all we hear is muffled, discordant sounds for at least ten seconds before Anderson's shouting becomes audible.
  • In Deep Rock Galactic, just before a lithophage meteor is about to impact Hoxxes IV, all the ambient sounds of the cave briefly get muted.
  • Half-Life 2 has this when the player takes damage from an explosion.
  • Saints Row 2 has this, along with a very annoying ringing noise whenever someone sets off an explosion right next to the player's character.
    • There's even a flashbang grenade that does minimal damage but stuns enemies/allies (or the player who throws it too close to themself) with this effect.
  • This has been a staple feature of the Call of Duty franchise since the beginning
    • The demo for Call of Duty likely wanted to show this off, as the level it features (the second level in the full game) has a field that gets bombarded with mortars. There's a good chance you'll get a near hit with one, reproducing the effect used in Saving Private Ryan
    • Happens in the first D-Day mission of Call of Duty 2 when a shell goes off near your boat, and for nearby artillery strikes in other missions as well.
    • Also during both Modern Warfare games and Black Ops, the effect of getting flash-banged.
    • In 3, whenever you get caught in a blast that doesn't send you into critical mode but still goes off close enough.
    • Standing near War Pig's turret as it's fired in the mission named after it in Call of Duty 4 has this effect, as well as throwing off your aim. Oddly, RPG's and frag grenades don't have this effect, at least in the first MW game.
  • In Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth this is invoked deliberately in the final battle, as you must deafen yourself from the final boss' song by blasting your BFG on a huge gong while standing next to it, but avoided at other times despite of having extremely realistic weapons in every other way, lacking an ammo counter and forcing the player to rely on the iron sights.
  • In Vietcong, firing a gun, getting shot or standing close to an explosion will result in some seconds of tinnitus. In the "Tunnel Rat" mission, your commanding officer even tells you to stick to using a pistol while in the tunnel, as anything else would make you go deaf.
  • ARMA, where you can be rendered temporarily deaf by loud sounds such as explosions and rockets be fired nearby (try it from a helicopter!) The ACE mod introduces ringing ears as well, as well as earplugs to counter those sounds.
  • Used extensively in the freeware game Soldat, where every close grenade explosion, even if it's not deadly, will mute the sound for a few seconds.
  • Battlefield 2 plays this pretty straight. Being near anything explosive, be it grenades, C4 or even artillery or tanks firing their barrels (plus high-caliber gunfire from attack choppers and jets), players will literally lose game audio and ring for a few seconds (complete with visual dazing).
    • A little awkwardly implemented in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, at a distance tanks will make the standard bang sound effect that most players are familiar with, but up close it simulates this trope by muting all sounds when the turret gun fires, it's a deep bass thump, followed by a ringing sound that fades as sound slowly returns. This is all nice and realistic except for the fact that you can hear the metal scraping of the loading system cycling, and the fact that you hear the initial explosion as the bass thump, as if you were deafened just before the shell is fired. In the PC version before some of the early patches, it's possible to stand at certain distance from a tank and hear both the Shell-Shock Silence sound effect and muting as well as the sound effect used at a distance.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots started doing this with flashbangs, which will completely deafen players if they're caught in the blast. Averted with actual explosions, however.
    • Much as the Call of Duty example above, an explosion close to you will make you walk a lot slower and the only thing you will hear is a strong low-key tinnitus briefly overlaid by a high-pitched one.
  • In Resident Evil 5, if you throw down a flash grenade too close to where you're at, Chris will end up stunning himself as well, with a brief moment of Shell-Shock Silence accompanying it.
  • In Rift, getting stunned will blur your screen and muffle sounds briefly.
  • Flashbangs in Rainbow Six do this and temporarily blind the player, but not frag grenades, at least in the early games.
  • If you're too near an explosive enemy you kill in Hammerfight, the game will cut the sound and fade it back in, with a ringing noise.
  • F.E.A.R. does this with grenade explosions.
  • In Halo: Reach, grenades, Fuel Rod Cannon shots, and other explosive ordnance have this effect on the player, tinnitus included, if they don't kill him outright. The Invisibility Cloak also mutes the sound effects while active.
  • In Medal of Honor: Vanguard, explosions close enough to the player cause the sound to muffle as well as cause a ringing sound and the player's vision to blur for a few seconds.
  • While it doesn't go totally silent, Medal of Honor: Airborne muffles the sound and applies a red filter when you are low on health or an explosion goes off too close to you, with ear ringing accompanying the latter.
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter has this alongside HUD interference.
  • In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, if your head becomes "crippled", your sound will periodically be replaced with a tinnitus effect while your vision blurs. In Fallout 4, the sound of an explosion can also cause a concussion.
  • Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney: The Cute, but Cacophonic mail lady Lettie Mailer shouts so loudly (which is saying something) that this happens to Phoenix if he's the next to speak or think. This even happens to Barnham at one point.
  • Far Cry combines this with blurred vision and a Heartbeat Soundtrack if an explosion occurs nearby.
  • Killing Floor 2 does this to players who are running low on health (less than 25) or get hit directly by a Husk's fireball. Sounds more like you got a bucket stuck to your head for the duration.
  • War Thunder introduced this for ground vehicles as of their v1.61 update; when a member of a player vehicle's crew is wounded, the player will hear a ringing ears sound and/or have the normal audio become muffled.
  • Dead Island: Riptide introduces the likes of mines and C4 to go along with the other improvised explosives. Get too close to one and be momentarily deafened and possibly blown off your feet if not killed outright.
  • Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate: Any hunter who fights the Valstrax will face this after its 'Round the World' attack, where it flies off, soars in the skies, then crashes down at sonic speed into the ground (and likely you if you don't try to dodge). Even the battle music is hushed momentarily after the crash-landing.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum: Batman experiences one of these near the end of the game, after the Joker triggers his booby-trap.

    Web Original 
  • Referenced in D&D campaign podcast Almost Heroic when one PC hits another with the booming blade spell inside a crowded casino, blowing out several windows and the target's eardrums.
    Sammael: I lean in and just say "Don't. Move."
    DM: All Murmur hears is "eeeeeeeee..."

    Western Animation 
  • Happens in the South Park episode "Imaginationland", in a direct parody of the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan.
  • In the third episode of Transformers: Prime, we are treated to such an eerie scene from the human kids' POV, as the Autobots and Decepticons wage battle over them.
  • Used regularly on Archer, when Archer operates a gun or explosive without proper ear protection.
    Archer: Mawp? Mawp. Mawp?
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, this happens to Applejack when she bumps her head during "Applebuck Season", resulting in her mishearing the ingredients for muffins and creating a Lethal Chef recipe.
    • Happens again in the episode "Appleoosa's Most Wanted" to the character Troubleshoes when he's coming to after being knocked unconscious by hitting his head on a lantern.
  • In the Tom and Jerry short "Sorry Safari", the brutish hunter wraps a gun around Tom's head and fires it, leaving the cat deaf. This results in the cartoon going silent, and Tom picks at his ears for the sound to come back.
  • Happens a couple of times during battle sequences in Rick and Morty.
  • Robot Chicken subverted this in a sketch involving a war between the Smurfs and the Snorks, with the scene in question being a parody of Saving Private Ryan.
    Deaf Smurf: I can't hear! I can't hear!
    Papa Smurf: You couldn't hear before! Your name is Deaf Smurf for God's sakes!
    Deaf Smurf: Oh yeah. Well, it still sucks.
  • Kaeloo: When the gang put on a concert in one episode, their fans' cheering renders them deaf. A ringing sound is heard to the audience. At the end of the episode, Olaf tries to talk to Kaeloo, Stumpy and Quack Quack, only to get a loud "WHAT DID YOU SAY?" in response since they've gone deaf.
  • Regular Show: At the end of "Think Positive", after Benson lets out his pent-up frustration at Rigby and Mordecai and tells them off, the two are left lying on the ground, unable to hear anything.
    Mordecai: What? What are they laughing at?
    Rigby: What?!
  • Total Drama: Aftermath: Revenge of the Telethon ends with Izzy detonating a bomb with a hammer, which causes an explosion in the studio and Bridgette temporarily loses her hearing in the process.


Video Example(s):


Omaha Beach Landing

[Trope Codifier] After surviving a nearby explosion, Cpt. Miller spends over a minute gazing at the horrors of the D-Day landing in silence.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShellShockSilence

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