I am looking for the name of a device used to tell a story. I'm sure it probably exists in literature, but I am only aware of it in film and T.V.

The device is a person. This person is not a central figure. He usually appears in few scenes. His presence, however, is apparent to everyone (in the audience). The defining characteristic is that he will say nothing the entire time he is on screen. Shortly before he exits the feature, he will have a very short and profound speaking part.

There are two examples that come to mind which I think most moviegoers will recognize:

  • Silent Bob in the Kevin smith universe
  • the character, Jerry, wearing a white suit and purple tie in Martin Sheen's mission briefing in Apocalypse Now; Jerry's only line is "Terminate, with extreme prejudice."

Are there any film students out there who know the name of this device?

  • 3
    Well, if you consider TVTropes a legitimate source, they call this kind of character The Voiceless.
    – Walt
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:02
  • @Walt - Would this trope not fit slightly better?
    – user7812
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:13
  • The monkey from Planet of the apes also fits the trope.
    – user7812
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:16
  • 1
    @Richard That doesn't sound like what the OP is looking for. The Voiceless seems to fit the description perfectly ["The character who, though able to speak, never does so on screen (except, perhaps, for that one really dramatic moment)[...] In movies, The Voiceless almost invariably says a line towards the end of the film — usually it's something complex and/or profound."] They have another one simply called The Silent Bob that's close. But the OP might be looking for something a bit more serious than that site.
    – Walt
    Dec 9, 2015 at 22:16
  • Hm. Those are close, as is a classic definition of The Stoic (another trope, although on that site the definition looks a little overloaded). This is a good site, but it caters more to pop culture than to definitions you would get in film school. Dec 9, 2015 at 22:27

1 Answer 1


In Apocalypse now, the 'actor' was the First Assistant Director, Jerry Zeismer. He was (no retired) very well-regarded, and, like most 1st A.D.s, a no-nonsense type. It was probably an inside joke from Mr. Coppola: "Have the A.D. say 'kill Brando'. Hell, Jerry wanted to do that to the whole Wardrobe Department after yesterdays' catastrophe!" [In an a priori defense against defamation: 1. Mr. Zeismer never actually WANTED to kill anyone; 2. ALL A.D.s say they want to 'kill' someone after something goes terribly wrong as often happens. Same as an exasperated adult says to another after something in everyday life turns out badly. Just words.]

That said, I don't know the name of 'the device' or even that the two examples constitute a device. In Jerry's case, it was a good line, said well by a powerful-looking, cold & emotionless speaker, that was funny in the context of the shooting company.

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