This month, Clef Notes revisits a popular topic: music and cinema. Last time we introduced two important terms often used in reference to film music – diegetic and non-diegetic. Diegetic music is the type of music that is not only heard by the viewer, but also by the on-screen characters in the film (the source of the music is on screen). Non-diegetic music serves as a background to the film and can only be heard by the viewer, not the characters on the screen. But what happens when these two concepts blur?
The 1998 Jim Carrey film The Truman Show tells the tale of an insurance salesman who discovers that his life is a popular television show. At one point in the movie before Truman realizes the truth, viewers watch Truman sleep while an appropriate Philip Glass score plays underneath. Obviously, Truman himself does not hear this music making it, in a sense, non-diegetic. The on-screen viewers of Truman’s show can hear the music. So how would we define this? Is the music diegetic since some actors on screen can hear it? Or is it non-diegetic since its purpose is background music, both for us, and for the on-screen audience? If you pay close attention during this scene, you may notice the music performed at the piano – a source. Does this make it diegetic? What do you think?