Categories and Functions of Sound — Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

For this week’s assignment on the categories and functions of sound, I’ve decided to discuss one of my favorite movies of all time. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, and was directed by the great Terry Gilliam. The film was released in 1998 and stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, with supporting roles by numerous stars such as Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Gary Busey, Cameron Diaz, and Ellen Barkin.
The three basic categories of sound are dialogue, sound effects, and music. Dialogue occurs when characters talk to each other or themselves. Sound effects are used to enhance films and add realism. The music of a film encompasses both its score and soundtrack. The score of a film is music that plays in the background of a scene and is usually composed specifically for the film, whereas the soundtrack is a collection of songs used in the film (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2014).
The sound used throughout this film heavily impacts the film’s themes of drugs, the end of 1960’s counter-culture, and the chasing of the “American dream”. All three categories of sound are used to portray these themes perfectly. In this scene at the beginning of the film, Johnny Depp’s narration and his character Hunter S. Thompson’s (also known as Raoul Duke) spoken dialogue are used interchangeably and sometimes simultaneously. This technique, along with his dialogue content containing a list of the plethora of drugs in his trunk, contributes to the theme of drugs and his own personal vices. The sound effects used in this scene also contribute to this theme; enhancing the viewer’s sense of Hunter’s drug-using personality by adding the screeching sounds of the bats Hunter is imagining from the drug use. The music in this scene is a rock and roll song from the counter-culture era, which completes the entire feel of the theme:

In this next clip, sound is relied upon to convey the erratic mood of the scene. The dialogue from Hunter’s attorney, Dr. Gonzo, becomes increasingly bizarre and frantic, while Hunter himself begins producing various random noises as he feels the effects of the drug he has just consumed. Both diegetic and non-diegetic sound effects are used to enhance this scene; the clanging diegetic sounds of objects in the hotel room and the increasingly louder whine of eerie non-diegetic sounds add to the fury.

The use of wacky sound effects and child-like music help to infer the comedy genre for this film, such as in the Bazooka Circus scene:

Much of the sounds used in this film are exaggerated and unexpected. This adds to the surreal feeling throughout the film. These scenes would all lose much of their impact and the over-the-top notion of the drug world and counter-culture without the crucial elements of sound. Removing any of the three categories of sound from these scenes would downplay the story and deplete the effectiveness of the cinematography.


basbastien [Screen name]. (2007, Febuary 3). Bazooko’s Circus [Video file]. Retrieved from

Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2014). Film: From Watching to Seeing (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgeport Education, Inc.

MOVIECLIPS [Screen name]. (2011, May 31). Somewhere Around Barstow – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1/10) Movie CLIP (1998) HD [Video file]. Retrieved from

MOVIECLIPS [Screen name]. (2011, June 1). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (10/10) Movie CLIP – Too Much Adrenochrome (1998) HD [Video file]. Retrieved from


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