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A giant explosion goes off, then - silence. In the eerie pause, we see the action continue but only hear a high pitched hum. Gradually fade in small arms fire, yelling, screaming... suddenly everything returns to full volume and the character scrambles to get back in the action.

Sometimes paired with a slow motion sequence, either to show off what's going on or to reflect the traumatized mindset of the main character. Sometimes the humming will be a ringing noise, like the onset of tinnitus.

An example of Truth in Television, as explosions and even prolonged gunfire can cause hearing loss.

Saving Private Ryan is arguably the Trope Codifier.

Compare Thousand-Yard Stare, the visual equivalent. See also Moment of Silence.

Contrast Steel Ear Drums. If it happens in a video game, it's an example of an Interface Screw.

Examples of Shell-Shock Silence include:


  • Used for great dramatic effect in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
  • The movie version of Master and Commander: Far Side of the World has this during the first attack of the phantom ship.
  • Children of Men has this occuring to the main character during a terrorist bombing: Theo witnesses a bomb go off in the street and we hear a sort of dull ringing in the background.

 Julian: Y'know that ringing in your ears? That 'eeeeeeeee'? That's the sound of the ear cells dying, like their swan song. Once it's gone you'll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  • The first Hellboy movie has this happen to Meyers right after Liz Sherman goes Person of Mass Destruction in Rasputin's clockwork funhouse.
  • Manny in Ice Age The Meltdown tries to cross a geyser field and is deafened when one goes off near him.
  • Happens in the movie Sherlock Holmes after a warehouse explodes.
  • Occurs during the Allied air attack at the beginning of Valkyrie.
  • Invoked in the BBC Docu Drama Krakatoa, during the moment of the famous loudest noise recorded in historic times. In the film, people kilometers away find themselves momentarily deafened with a ringing in their ears that gradually fades. In reality, the blast was heard as far away as Perth, Australia, 3500 km away. Dramatization.
  • Epically done in the 1985 Soviet war drama Come And See. After our protagonist gets caught in a bomb raid, everything gets drowned out in a howl of tinnitus; it gets better, but it takes a full half hour for the sound to come back completely.
  • Used in the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when a lightning strikes from the spire of Minas Morgul, everything goes quiet in the middle of the massive crack of thunder that accompanies it, indicating that it's so loud that the characters are briefly deafened by it.
  • In the 1970 version of The Out-of-Towners, Jack Lemmon's character experiences tinnitus after a manhole explodes and the cover crashes to the street right next to him.
  • Happens near the end of Tropic Thunder, just before they get to the bridge.
  • When Katniss blows up the Careers' stash in The Hunger Games, we're treated to this. Some variants also occur throughout the movie.

Live Action TV

  • The episode "Mayhem" of Criminal Minds starts out this way.
    • Unlike some of these examples, Hotch, who is close to the explosion, suffers significant hearing damage which stretches into the next episode.
  • The Season 6 premiere of Lost after a possible nuclear detonation.
  • In the premiere episode of The Walking Dead. The lead character fires a Magnum revolver at a zombie right next to him inside an enclosed tank, leading to this, in the form of a loud ringing.
  • Used on Fringe, when Olivia fires a gun right next to Peter's ears, so he wouldn't be susceptible to a sonically-induced brain melt.

Video Games

  • Happens to you in Uncharted and its sequel whenever an explosion goes off near you.
  • Happens in Mass Effect 2 if you're directly hit by a heavy weapon, like a rocket launcher.
  • Half Life 2 has this when the player takes damage from an explosion.
  • Saints Row 2 has this, along with a very annoying ringing noise whenever someone sets off an explosion right next to the player's character.
    • There's even a flashbang grenade that does minimal damage but stuns enemies/allies (or the player who throws it too close to themself) with this effect.
  • Happens in the first D-Day mission of Call of Duty 2 when a shell goes off near your boat, and for nearby artillery strikes in other missions as well.
    • Also during both Modern Warfare games and Black Ops, the effect of getting flash-banged.
    • In 3, whenever you get caught in a blast that doesn't send you into critical mode but still goes off close enough.
    • Standing near War Pig's turret as it's fired in the mission named after it in Call of Duty 4 has this effect.
  • In Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth this is invoked deliberately in the final battle, as you must deafen yourself from the final boss' song by blasting your BFG on a huge gong while standing next to it, but avoided at other times despite of having extremely realistic weapons in every other way, lacking an ammo counter and forcing the player to rely on the iron sights.
  • In Vietcong, firing a gun, getting shot or standing close to an explosion will result in some seconds of tinnitus. In the "Tunnel Rat" mission, your commanding officer even tells you to stick to using a pistol while in the tunnel, as anything else would make you go deaf.
  • Arm A, where you can be rendered temporarily deaf by loud sounds such as explosions and rockets be fired nearby (try it from a helicopter!) The ACE mod introduces ringing ears as well, as well as earplugs to counter those sounds.
  • Used extensively in the freeware game Soldat, where every close grenade explosion, even if it's not deadly, will mute the sound for a few seconds.
  • Battlefield 2 plays this pretty straight. Being near anything explosive, be it grenades, C4 or even artillery or tanks firing their barrels (plus high-caliber gunfire from attack choppers and jets), players will literally lose game audio and ring for a few seconds (complete with visual dazing).
    • A little awkwardly implemented in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, at a distance tanks will make the standard bang sound effect that most players are familiar with, but up close it simulates this trope by muting all sounds when the turret gun fires, its a deep bass thump, followed by a ringing sound that fades as sound slowly returns. This is all nice and realistic except for the fact that you can hear the metal scraping of the loading system cycling, and the fact that you hear the initial explosion as the bass thump, as if you were deafened just before the shell is fired. In the PC version before some of the early patches its possible to stand at certain distance from a tank and hear both the Shell-Shock Silence sound effect and muting as well as the sound effect used at a distance.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots started doing this with flashbangs, which will completely deafen players if they're caught in the blast. Averted with actual explosions, however.
    • Much as the Call of Duty example above, an explosion close to you will make you walk a lot slower and the only thing you will hear is a strong low-key tinnitus briefly overlayed by a high-pitched one.
  • In Resident Evil 5, if you throw down a flash grenade too close to where you're at, Chris will end up stunning himself as well, with a brief moment of Shell-Shock Silence accompanying it.
  • In Rift, getting stunned will blur your screen and muffle sounds briefly.
  • Flashbangs in Rainbow Six do this and temporarily blind the player, but not frag grenades, at least in the early games.
  • If you're too near an explosive enemy you kill in Hammerfight, the game will cut the sound and fade it back in, with a ringing noise.
  • F.E.A.R. does this with grenade explosions.

Western Animation

  • Happens in the South Park episode "Imaginationland", in a direct parody of the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan.
  • In the third episode of Transformers Prime, we are treated to such an eerie scene from the human kids' POV, as the Autobots and Decepticons wage battle over them.
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