39:35: Two crew members of the United Planets Cruiser C57-D stand guard outside their saucer in the middle of the night. (This correlates with 10:40 on the soundtrack.)
—Funny to see two moons in the sky, isn’t it?
—Funny how quick a guy gets used to it.
—Do you hear something?
—Like a sort of big breathing.
—It’s funny. I did.
As this conversation takes place, the camera tracks past the two guards at monster’s-eye-view, three or so feet taller than the guards, looking down at them. The camera smoothly pans away from the crewmen to the entrance of the saucer. This is the same kind of effect we get in a shot–reverse-shot sequence, typical of two person dialogue in many films, but better, as the camera is moving, and the eyeline match feels more solid, visceral, and complete. We are moving through this space, flattened to become a part of the 3D image projected onto the 2D surface of the image screen.
A “monster is nothing but a combination of elements” (xii), Jorge Luis Borges tells us in the preface to The Book of Imaginary Beings, and furthermore, that we recognize them, possibly recognize ourselves in them, because we are of one “essence” (xi).
This “combination of elements” might not be a bad way to think of the sound-image sync in film generally, or what Michel Chion calls spatial magnetization (247-249) or the “carnival of synchronization” (222).
In Forbidden Planet, we in the audience do not hear the breathing either, until about 40:13. This “sort of big breathing” is quiet in the film, introduced—and rhythmically synced—with the presumably nondiegetic soundtrack, and it is in no way audibly distinct from it. The breathing doesn’t play over the music, but seems to be a part of it. (Yet, the big breathing is not a part of the soundtrack music.)
Lois Parkinson Zamora, in her essay, “Borges’s Monsters,” sees “monsters” as “metaphors of being” (48), that “slip suggestively . . . between real and imagined” worlds, opening “the way to chaos, deformity, and dream” (59). The point, both everywhere and here (In Forbidden Planet) is that a monster is a conceptual or actual hybrid—the collapse of disparate significations into a single signifying space.
One of the crewmates of the United Planets Cruiser C57-D hears the breathing while we do not. We hear the music while the crewmates do not. And we, with the camera, creep past the crewmates. Then we hear the music and the breathing while the crewmates hear neither. We magnetize the mentioned sound (“Do you hear something?”) to the camera’s POV, our POV—from where we hear the music—and a moment later we associate the breathing sound to the mentioned sound, which gives the sense that the monster was holding its breath (it could, like us and the other crewmate, not hear itself for a moment). And through the synchrony of the sound (the breathing with the music) and the synchrony of the sound with the moving camera, we—the clearly nondiegetic audience—cross the diegetic line, invisible, and climb into the saucer with mal-intent. This is how, for just a moment, Forbidden Planet hybridizes us into the film and we become the monster.
Borges, Jorge. The Book of Imaginary Beings. Trans. Peter Sis. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Chion, Michel. Film, A Sound Art. Trans. Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
Wilcox, Fred. Forbidden Planet. Music, Louis Barrob and Bebe Barron. United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956.
Zamora, Lois. “Borges’ Monsters: Unnatural Wholes and the Transformation of Genre.” In Literary Philosophers: Borges, Calvino, Eco. Ed. Jorge Gracia, Rodolphe Gasché and Carolyn Korsmeyer. London: Routledge, 2002. Pp. 47-84.