Uploaded to MoviePilot on July 17th 2017
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is without a doubt one of the most anticipated films of the year. It’s a stylish action film about a teenage boy with tinnitus, who’s also a getaway driver for a rotating band of thieves. In order to block out the constant ringing in his ears, he listens to music on his iPod, which is apparently making people nostalgic for an item that’s still available pretty much anywhere.
One of the things about this movie that’s getting everyone so hyped about this film is it’s soundtrack, specifically how it is perfectly integrated with the stylized action on screen. The sound is an incredibly important aspect of the film’s success, so let’s explore how diegetic sound makes Baby Driver stand out from the crowd.
What Is Diegetic Sound?
In its most basic terms, diegetic sound is sound where the origin of the source is within the film’s world and would therefore also logically exist for on-screen characters. In Baby Driver, the sound is primarily diegetic as everything comes from Baby’s headphones or a car radio. It may be heightened so we can hear it clearly, but we still know where the music is coming from.
The counter to that is non-diegetic sound, which is a sound that isn’t part of the on-screen world. This includes things like narration by a main character, some forms of sound effects and music that’s primarily there to set a mood (but wasn’t put being played by one of the characters). The infamous shower scene in Psycho has non-diegetic sound to create tension. We understand that the scene’s violins are not being experienced by the characters, and are purely for the audience.
As you can see, both techniques can be used to great effect when in capable hands. Now that we’re established the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, let’s take a look at how Baby Driver perfectly utilizes the former.
How Is Diegetic Sound Showcased In Baby Driver?
The use of diegetic sound helps us understand the character that’s playing it or listening to it. In this movie, for example, the song choices tells us that Baby (the owner of the iPod that we’re ostensibly listening to throughout the movie) is a bit of an audiophile with music from every genre you can think of. He seems to love anything with a beat that’ll drown out his tinnitus, which is the cause of many problems.
Wright introduces obscure songs out of nowhere and we believe that this character would know them because of how we’re introduced to them. We believe that Baby would have a version of the Harlem Shuffle by Bob & Earl from 1963 on his iPod because it fits the character that’s been created.
It also helps inform the scenes around it. Let’s take the ‘Harlem Shuffle’ scene as an example. This song underscores a simple three-minute scene where Baby goes to get coffee. We’re made aware of his music when he gets to the coffee shop and pulls out his earbuds, causing the music to go quiet. In that second, we instantly identify with that character and have been told who the main character is. It tells us everything about his world, his job is and how engrossed in his music he has become. The scene wouldn’t work without utilizing diegetic sound.
Baby Driver: Wright’s Diegetic Action-Musical
Those buds almost never leave Baby’s ears
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Edgar Wright used the term ‘diegetic action-musical’ to describe Baby Driver, and it really is the perfect term to describe what Edgar Wright has achieved. The diegetic music combined with high-tempo action scenes is something akin to a musical, but also feels unique. Instead of the music dictating when a specific dance move should be performed, these tunes inform Baby when he needs to make a left turn.
Throughout the film, the diegetic sound becomes an influence on secondary characters and their actions too. There’s a scene where the team hear ‘Tequilla’ by The Button Down Brass during a shootout.
Every bullet is matched to a note, and this timing creates cinematic tension throughout the scene. This song is playing in everyone’s heads and you almost believe they’re firing their guns intentionally in time with the song. If this was done using non-diegetic music it would still be an incredibly cool moment, but it wouldn’t immerse you in the characters’ experience in the same way.
Baby Driver is a movie that’s completely built around its use of diegetic sound, and I can’t think of a film that has used it better. The actions of the characters are informed by the music found on Baby’s iPod, and the plot itself revolves around these songs. It’s a film that uses diegetic sound for style and substance simultaneously, demanding you to pay attention to the character’s environment.
What did you think of Baby Driver’s use of diegetic sounds? Let me know with a comment.