An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Questions and Answers
by Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge book cover
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How can the sounds of the movie add to your interpretation of the story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"? Please give specific examples.

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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (La Rivière du hibou), written and directed by Robert Enrico, is a 1961 film adaption of the 1890 Ambrose Bierce short story by the same name.

Presented with an award at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is an excellent example of how film can employ music and visuals instead of dialogue to tell a story. A notable example of how sound guides viewer experience with the film is the soundtrack by Henri Lanoë including the song “A Livin’ Man” (performed by Kenny Clarke) which is heard four times throughout the film.

The film’s opening depicts Confederate civilian Peyton Farquhar (played by Roger Jacquet), captured for sabotage against a railroad bridge, as he is being prepared by Union soldiers for execution by hanging. The ominous drumbeats, ambient birdsong, and lack of dialogue combined with a long-distance shot of the bridge establish the sense of Farquhar’s fear and the film’s dream-like atmosphere.

At the Union officer’s command, a soldier confiscates and pockets Farquhar’s watch. The ticking of the watch and its subsequent muffling foreshadow Farquhar’s death. However, the film then depicts Farquhar’s apparent escape as he plunges into the river below, frees himself from the rope, and swims away.

“A Livin' Man” is first played after Farquhar’s head emerges from the water and he takes a series of deep breaths. The lyrics seem to be from his point of view and match with relevant images of the nearby forest. However, irony is employed through an image of a spider web. The symbolism of a spider with prey signals to the viewer that despite Farquhar’s celebration of his escape, he is still in the trap set by the Union soldiers. The distorted voices of the soldiers shouting at him and gun and cannon fire support this revelation.

“A Livin’ Man” plays a second and third time when Farquhar swims through the shallows of the river and arrives at the river bank, still believing he’s alive. Discordant drumming and sounds of the cannon indicate the urgency he feels as he runs through the forest.

The song alternating with ambient bird song plays a fourth time when Farquhar arrives at home and sees his wife—but without the lyrics. The scene ends abruptly when his wife places her hands around his neck. He freezes in place, his head snaps back, and the following scene shows his body hanging off the bridge. His escape is revealed as a hallucination.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was later featured as a season 5 episode of the television show The Twilight Zone with an added opening and closing monologue from show creator and host, Rod Serling.