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Matthew McConaughey's Whispering Sub

Burning questions about “U-571”

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Q. In U-571, Matthew McConaughey‘s submarine crew spends nearly the entire movie whispering. Did they actually think that enemy vessels—floating hundreds of feet away—could hear them?

A. The filmmakers went a tad overboard but weren’t all wet. ”Sound, to a certain degree, travels through the water,” explains Sherry Sontag, author of 1998’s Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. ”Does normal conversation travel through the water and a steel hull? That may be a little bit of a stretch.” But because everybody’s relying on sonar, listening for something in the water, WWII subs did sometimes ”go quiet—you’d turn off the ice machines, try not to drop anything, try not to scream.” And, note to Matthew: absolutely no bongo playing.