Many of the greatest protagonists in movie history have cemented their legacies through a mix of awe-inspiring actions and remarks, confirming that dialogue is a key part of how a film unfolds. However, this is not always a must. Over the years, there have been movies where the protagonists survived their entire time without speaking.
Whether the lack of speaking in particular movies enhances or dilutes the quality is up for debate, but by not making any sort of remarks, these characters certainly seemed very unique. And thanks to the lack of words, their actions also became bolder. Most of them were lucky to have people who understood them too.
Crime Wave (1985)
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In what is arguably one of the best films about budding writers, a screenwriter named Steven seeks to develop the perfect script but can only come up with intros and endings. His neighbor’s daughter, who has a huge crush on him, narrates most of the film.
The structure of the surreal comedy is interesting since the characters that Steven writes about are also represented. The scriptwriter never says a word, but he doesn’t need to since his neighbor’s daughter understands everything that’s going on in his life and talks about it to the public via voiceovers. And as basic as the premise may seem, events are littered with shocking twists.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
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In the year 1096 AD, the Norse warrior One-Eye travels through unknown regions in the hope of finding the Holy Land. During the journey, he is beset by unseen forces and dark visions.
Apart from the protagonist remaining silent, the film strays further into unconventional territory by keeping the names of all the characters a secret. Interestingly, it is never clearly explained why the protagonist refuses to speak. Even when one of his allies, a boy, asks him questions, he remains silent. On a positive note, the silence helps bring out the film’s many puzzles that would otherwise have been lost in long conversations.
The Piano (1993)
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When Scottish Ada McGrath is sold into marriage with her daughter, she refuses to get closer to her new husband. And having never said a word since the age of 6, Ada prefers to communicate only on the piano.
The Oscar-winning film uses Ada’s ability to communicate only on the piano to create a complex love story. His experiences arouse a lot of sympathy. Her abusive husband does everything to prevent her from communicating with her new piano-loving boyfriend, including cutting off his finger. And most of her emotions remain repressed because she never says a word.
The Great Silence (1968)
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An armed bandit named Trintignant protects a widow and a group of outlaws from a team of bounty hunters intent on capturing them. And for Trintignant, it’s the gun that speaks the most.
That Quentin Tarantino described the film as one of his favorites is proof of its awesomeness. As Blondie proved in the dollars trilogy, the best gunslingers are those who are sparing with words and Trintignant does even better by not speaking at all. The lack of words helps Trintignant maintain his status as a mysterious badass and largely qualifies the film as one of the best Westerns ever made.
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Mr. Hulot—the chief designer of Altra Automotive Co.—travels to Amsterdam to launch a new model. Along the way, he encounters various traffic-related obstacles.
Thanks to the silence, Mr. Hulot’s frustrations only manifest themselves through his facial expressions. And the constant presence of all traffic related sounds further compounds the frustration. Traffic is definitely not a feel-good movie as there is no relief for the protagonist when the traffic ends. He’s still missing the car show.
The Artist (2011)
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Silent movie star George Valentin falls in love with a rising actress named Peppy. Soon, cracks form in their relationship when Valentine’s fame wanes due to the end of the silent film era as Peppy becomes a huge star.
The protagonist’s silence is appropriate because the film is structured like silent films of old. It’s also shot in black and white, making it look like it was published in the early 20th century. Also, love often needs words to express itself better but Valentin and Peppy manage to break and mend their bond using just actions.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
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Ryu becomes desperate when he loses his job and learns that his sister needs a kidney transplant. He contacts black market dealers to trade his kidney for one his sister can use, but they scam him. He thus kidnaps the daughter of a corrupt tycoon, hoping to obtain a ransom to be able to pay for his sister’s treatment.
Ryu is the true definition of a tragic hero. He goes to great lengths to make sure his sister survives only for her to kill herself. Losing your own kidney to black market dealers and kidnapping a tycoon’s daughter ends up being for naught. Even sadder is that he ends up being dismembered by the tycoon without ever uttering a sentence.
Hardcore Henry (2015)
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Henry is saved from an accident by a scientist, who gives him prosthetics. Before the scientist can replace his voice, mercenaries show up. Henry escapes and spends the rest of the film dealing with the mercenaries.
The film keeps things simple by explaining the reason for Henry’s silence fairly early on instead of leaving it unknown. Schwarzenneger has proven it can be cool when cyborgs talk, but Henry does just fine by staying blunt and never saying a word. And even if he does not speak, he has many allies who understand him.
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Tae-Suk is a loner who breaks into people’s apartments while they’re away and cleans them up. He eventually falls in love with the abused woman, Sun-hwa, who begins to help him with his acts of kindness.
The lack of dialogue between Tae-Suk and his new lover Sun-hwa greatly benefits the film by increasing the tension levels. The audience not only has to worry about Tae-Suk getting caught in people’s homes, but also getting caught by the abusive husband. Sun-hwa ends up speaking a little but Tae-Suk stays quiet most of the time. Despite his silence, he’s an intriguing character and the main reason why 3-Iron is one of the best Korean films of all time.
The Holy Mountain (1973)
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An alchemist takes a messianic figure known as The Thief to a mountain where he plans to take advantage of him. However, things are not as simple as he expected.
The Alchemist describes himself as a guru, but he is actually a villain, hoping to take advantage of others. As the only one who can speak, his unclear words lead the audience to a point of confusion, wondering if he is genuine or malicious. And like the audience, The Thief remains silent as he tries to figure out what’s going on.
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