Toy Story 2 isn’t the only movie with a notable ASMR moment in it – here are ten examples of the phenomenon on the screen.
With ASMR – autonomous sensory meridian response – now a widespread phenomenon after years of gaining traction on Reddit and YouTube, it makes sense cinema is just as capable of eliciting these pleasing tingles. If you’re not familiar with ASMR, it’s a tingling sensation that not everybody experiences, that comes about as a result of gentle sounds. It’s not fruity, either. This isn’t one of those features.
Brought on by a whole host of stimuli – tapping, scratching, personal attention, the spray of a water bottle – sound designers have always aided storytelling by invoking feelings and moods, some of which have led to unintentional feelings of ASMR. Now approaching mainstream recognition, directors like Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, and Peter Strickland have begun to deliberately include ASMR-inducing sensations.
While every instance is inherently personal – what sounds delightful to some may horrify others – below are ten examples of films with scenes, moods, and aesthetics ripe for inducing ASMR.
Toy Story 2
One of the most recognisable instances of ‘unintentional ASMR’ is a short sequence from Toy Story 2 in which, having had his arm ripped off, Woody is repaired by the elderly Geri. Uploaded to YouTube, where it’s titled ‘The Most Satisfying Movie Scene Ever’ and has over 23 million views, the scene is universally adored by the ASMR community for its graceful close-ups of stitching and painting, accompanied by the light sound effects of Geri’s spray painting and cotton swab.
Battle of the Sexes
Perhaps the first time directors have knowingly tried to elicit an ASMR response, Battle Of The Sexes is as memorable for the love story between Billie Jean King and Marilyn Barnett as it is its central conflict. This is in large part thanks to their initial meeting which is shrouded in ASMR-inducing elements: as Marilyn cuts Billie Jean’s hair, both characters slow and soften their speech, while the hustle and bustle of the salon disappears around them. The tactile snips of scissors over Nicholas Britell’s ambient score makes for an intimate encounter between two women immediately drawn to one another, and we feel every shiver.
Wes Anderson films
The master of aesthetic, Anderson’s films have all the ingredients to put audiences at ease and elicit tingles. With everything ‘just so’, the visual precision to his filmography is reliably satisfying, and many of his plots involve peril which never really feels all that perilous. It gives a viewer permission to safely enjoy the glow his films often exude, and for me, it was Isle Of Dogs with its low-register vocal performances and physical sets that hit the spot.
The titular character at the heart of Tim Burton’s romantic fantasy may not scream relaxation, but its of-the-time production has led to audiences easing into the film’s world. So when Dianne Wiest’s Peg applies makeup to Scissorhands’ face, a combination of caring strokes and personal attention – a huge factor in bringing on the ASMR tingles – was enough to turn an unassuming little interaction into something memorable. One commenter on YouTube recalls telling their mum that the scene “made their hair tickle” when they were just four years old.
Although there’s no shortage of bonkers scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s World War II-set black comedy, there are a few extended passages which feature conversations between two characters, some of which have just the right conditions for ASMR tingles. Chief among these is the apple strudel scene between Hans Landa and Shoshanna Dreyfus, the latter hiding in plain sight from Landa.
It’s similar to ASMR role play videos by content creators on YouTube, in that most of the tingles come from the attention Landa gives Shoshanna, even if it does contain more than a hint of menace. The scoop of cream is a nice touch.
What a lovely film. Mundane in the best way possible, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson plods rather than sprints along, finding comfort in life’s small delights. Managing to make even the hum of a bus sound relaxing, it’s Adam Driver’s poetic voice overs, reciting poetry over dreamy visions of small town living, that brings on unintentional tingles, catching you off guard at just how much you’ve sunk into the film’s aura.
Kubo And The Two Strings
While all of Laika’s productions are absolutely magical, Kubo And The Two Strings took its level of presentation somewhere else entirely. As with Paterson, no specific scene stands out so much as its overall production. Stop-motion animation is inherently tactile and Laika is one of those at the top of the food chain here, with the love and attention given to each gorgeous character and set clearly visible. When grains of sand react to a character’s crawling, it’s so delicate you can almost feel it.
Amelie is a warm cuddle of a film, so it’s no surprise a few unintentional ASMR scenes pop up among its warmth. For me it’s when Amelie turns to the audience while sitting in a packed cinema and begins to whisper her internal monologue. There’s also the scene where she admits her own delight at dipping her hand in sacks of grain. There’s a particularly intimate instance of personal attention towards the end of the film involving a few kisses, but no spoilers…
One of the decade’s most graceful and tightly woven films, Phantom Thread is an ASMR sandbox. In particular, high ceilings in austere rooms juxtapose closeups of stitching and fabric, amplifying the latter’s delicacy.
Jonny Greenwood’s percussive piano, which often sounds like it’s tumbling out of control, takes you with it until it lands with virtuosity, creating an atmosphere that’s somewhere between haunting and familiar. Add in some fantastic interactions between Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps and Phantom Thread is a film to be felt as much as watched.
5 Centimeters per Second
Makoto Shinkai has gone on to bigger and better things with Your Name and Weathering With You, but it’s 5 Centimeters Per Second that has the space to invoke tingles. A more mature and considered story, its slower pace is highlighted by cherry blossom trees losing their leaves, lovingly hand-drawn as if you could reach out and touch them. There’s lots of quiet ruminating which leaves audiences hushing themselves so as not to disrupt a fragile atmosphere, which, while melancholy, is also quite cosy.
Found any further examples? Leave them in the comments…
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