“Sound of Metal,” 2020, directed by Darius Marder — 4.5/5 Stars
We all have a fear of unexpected and dramatic change in our lives. We fear our body breaking; we fear losing the ones we love; we fear becoming inadequate. In a time filled with so much unexpected change, “Sound of Metal” has a powerful message and story to tell. Deafness is a uniquely complicated condition, and the film handles it with a care and understanding that most filmmakers can’t dream of. This review contains a full synopsis of the film.
The story follows Ruben — played by Riz Ahmed — a drummer in a two-piece band with his girlfriend, Lou — played by Olivia Cooke. One day, before playing a show, Ruben’s hearing rapidly begins fading. The following day, he visits a doctor, who explains to him that his hearing will continue to decline, and he won’t be getting it back. After Ruben pushes him for a solution, the doctor mentions that cochlear implants are an option, but can run up to $40,000 and aren’t covered by insurance. At this point, some viewers may be inclined to yell at the screen about the absurd cost of healthcare in the U.S., but the film teaches an entirely different message soon after.
Through a previous addiction center, Lou finds Ruben a community for deaf addicts. There, he meets Joe, — played by Paul Raci — a deaf man who lost his hearing after surviving an explosion in the Vietnam War. After an emotionally difficult goodbye from Lou, Ruben begins living with the small deaf community, disconnected from the world. There, he begins to learn sign language, working with children at a deaf school and making connections with the other residents. Despite his progress, he misses Lou and the outside world. Determined to raise the money for cochlear implants, Ruben sells his trailer and music equipment and gets the procedure. Joe is waiting for him when he returns from his surgery. Upon discovering what Ruben has done, Joe asks Ruben to pack his bags and leave. He explains that being deaf isn’t “something to be fixed” and that, while he hopes Ruben’s new implants bring him happiness, it does not send a positive message to the rest of the community. In this scene, which is perhaps one of the most important in the whole film, Joe also asks Ruben, “Have you found any moments of stillness?”
On Joe’s request, Ruben leaves, and has his implants activated. He quickly realizes that the implants have noisy feedback, and what he hears sounds robotic and tinny. Despite this, he flies to Belgium to stay with Lou and her wealthy parents. The day after he arrives, he attends a party, but cannot fully enjoy the experience due to the limitations of his implants. The following morning, he collects his things and leaves while Lou is still sleeping. He sits down in a park, and the sound of a church bell disturbs his implants yet again. In the final moments, he removes the implant processors and settles into the silence, finding a moment of stillness.
Ahmed’s performance as Ruben is absolutely Oscar-worthy, allowing the audience to join the character’s difficult journey. Ruben is the hearing world’s glimpse into the deaf experience, a vessel for the hearing world to attempt to imagine what they would do if they lost their hearing. This is augmented further by the film’s incredible sound design, artfully shifting between sound and silence. This brief glimpse into what it means to be deaf is revolutionary, eye-opening and will likely leave viewers thinking about not just their ability to hear but, also, how to adapt to a new, unprecedented world.
“Sound of Metal” is easily one of the best films of 2020. It is certainly not always easy to watch; Ruben is a complex, flawed character, but he is human. That humanity, not just from Ruben, but from all the characters in the film, allows the viewer to understand the world in a different way by the time the film is finished. That is the mark of filmmaking that goes above and beyond.
“Sound of Metal” can be watched right now with an Amazon Prime subscription.