In the film “Once Were Warriors,” Lee Tamahori, director of the film, achieves the traditional-modern binary through the usage of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, and thus derives the plot to its end. Tamahori uses diegetic sound effects, such as wind/traditional song/hakka, to convey Beth’s movement towards her culture, and also uses non-diegetic sound to conclude Beth’s inner dilemma, as opposed to using dialogues to weigh both sides of traditional-modern binary.
Therefore, through examination of these sounds, this essay will focus on how the plot is derived to the end, to where Beth and her children will keep their tradition while Jake remains trapped in his alienated urban existence. Tamahori uses diegetic sounds to emphasize tradition and thus allows Beth to make a smooth transition from the unstable and dangerous urbanized life to her culture. Tamahori conveys this transition with the usage of diegetic sounds “impl[ying] a visible onscreen source”1(pg. 86), like how he uses sound bridge to carry “sound… over a visual transition,” (pg. 187) to a woman singing a Maori traditional song from Beth’s close up to the woman (through scenes 1. b) to 2. b). Followed by Boogie’s classmates doing the Haka dance, it is evident that tradition dominates the modern society for everyone in the funeral. A short dialogue of “We’ve come home Grace, we’re home” (scene 5) terminates the transition, as it conveys that Beth has turned completely away from her ignorant past.
Therefore by using traditional sounds, Tamahori emphasizes the Maori culture and conveys to the viewers that Beth has now settled as a Maori. Modern binary is introduced with the scene where Jake and his friends are having a beer in a pub. Jake’s dialogue of “Am I never good enough? ” at scene 12 expresses Jake’s low self-esteem, possibly coming from his background as a slave, and his follow up dialogue, of denying to an offer to visit Grace’s funeral, tells the viewers that Jake still wants to remain parted from his Maori tradition.
Also, this dialogue points out his unwillingness to change his roots. This argument is made stronger with Jake’s next dialogue of worrying about Grace. He asks his friends if he was too hard on the kid (Grace), which portrays his possible feeling of guilt towards her suicide, but also portrays irresponsibility of not wanting to take part in the funeral. Overall, this scene portrays modernism by Jake’s dialogues of denial as well as showing his stubbornness of not going to the funeral, not wanting to be part of Maori culture, and to keep his stance in the urban society.
Tamahori also uses dialogues to keep focusing on the tradition, when Beth talks about her childhood at scenes 13 to 20. She shows, by her choice of words and breaking down after she finishes, that she is regretful and shameful for her past and is willing to turn back to her culture and change. The diegetic sounds of voice-off sniffing and mourning also adds tension and strength to Beth’s story. The usage of non-diegetic sound emphasizes tradition because it only appears when Beth is telling her story.
By being unique, it directs extra attention to the story and introduces the viewers once again to the Maori culture through hearing her story growing up as a Maori. This sound and Beth’s story creates a synergy and when Beth’s story is finished, Nig breaks down along with Beth, in which with his dialogue, the scene comes to a closure. It also plays a significant role because it imposes a stronger message of Beth’s willingness to return to her real home.
Therefore, through playing a traditional hymn as the background music with it being the only non-diegetic sound, Tamahori portrays the sense of belonging of Beth in her culture. Through the usage of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, Tamahori achieves the tradition-modern binary in the film “Once Were Warriors,” placing Beth as traditional and Jake as modern. This part of the movie is important because it shows the start of Beth and her children’s new life as a Maori, while Jake chooses to remain trapped in his alienated urban existence that causes his violence and alcoholism.