Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jennifer M. Barker

Second Advisor

Patricia Pisters

Third Advisor

Angelo Restivo

Fourth Advisor

Greg M. Smith


This dissertation argues for an understanding of “form” in two senses: as both the plasticity of the cinematic medium and the contour of the human body. Form is most often understood in relation to visible traits such as line, shape, or figure; whereas sound is described as being without form, as any number of sonorous metaphors attests (sound as aqueous, as “disembodied,” as invisible or indeterminate). Cinema, therefore, constituted as it is by sound and image, exhibits a tension between form and formlessness that manifests itself in contemporary films such as Her, Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Tree of Life, and Upstream Color at the level of the human body: corporeal boundaries blur as characters incorporate into new configurations. I conclude that we must reckon with the image in terms of sound, for thinking sonically allows us to see form—bodily and cinematic—as inherently protean.

Unlike most scholarship on film sound that is predominantly formalist or historical in nature, my study takes an interdisciplinary approach that draws on theories of sound and image hailing from outside film studies proper, such as Nietzsche’s theorization of Greek tragedy, Jean-Luc Nancy’s ethics of listening, Deleuze’s exegesis on painter Francis Bacon, Nicole Brenez’s “figural” method of film criticism, and Karen Barad’s “agential realism.” I unite these ideas and others and bring them to bear on cinema, showing in the process what an attentiveness to sound has to offer not only film studies but also the humanities writ large.