Are you familiar with the 1948 Preston Sturges film Unfaithfully Yours starring Rex Harrison? This film provides the perfect example of diegetic ambiguity. Before looking at whether the music can be considered diegetic or non-diegetic, it’s first important to understand the overall plot.
Sir Alfred De Carter is an orchestral conductor who suspects his wife has been unfaithful. While conducting his orchestra, Carter imagines multiple scenarios on how he could handle the situation. The film transitions between showing Carter conduct famous music by Rossini and Wagner to scenes of him carrying out the “plan” in his mind. What’s ambiguous is whether or not the music can be considered diegetic or not. We see a music source (the orchestra) so it is diegetic for Carter as he conducts, the musicians, and those watching. The scenes in Carter’s mind, however, display the music as non-diegetic, as the people in his mind cannot hear the music that occurs in real time.
How would you classify this music in Unfaithfully Yours? Can the Carter in Carter’s mind hear the music?
Next time, join me as I take a look at the latest from Terrence Malick, Knight of Cups.