Sound of Metal (2020)

"You have to understand, your first responsibility is to preserve the hearing you have.""You have to understand, your first responsibility is to preserve the hearing you have."

“You have to understand, your first responsibility is to preserve the hearing you have.”

Imagine going about your day and then suddenly you hear a faint ringing that only grows in volume until every other sound is blocked out. The normal tricks aren’t working – yawning, moving your jaw, etc.… like trying to get the tiny amount of water out of your ear from taking a shower or swimming in a pool. That ringing sound is called tinnitus which isn’t the actual condition itself more of a symptom of hearing loss. War movies portray tinnitus exceptionally well whenever a bomb goes off in close proximity to the protagonist – we as the audience hear the ringing from the first-person point of view. 

It’s an irritating sound, it’s meant to cause discomfort to those watching. Tinnitus can also be the result of too much loud music – playing or listening. Sound of Metal explores the loss of hearing from a musician’s perspective and how it affects his state of mind and everything that surrounds him. Its starts as a ringing but evolves rather quickly to full blown hearing loss and Deafness. The film opens on Ruben (Riz Ahmed) a drummer in a two-person band with his girlfriend LuLu (Olivia Cooke) who travel the country in an old decrepit cramped RV. 

The two metalheads make it work living life on the road. Ruben is four years sober and lives a healthier lifestyle – waking up early, making shakes and doing pushups while LuLu sleeps. Both have had a hard journey to get to this point – all we see of Lulu’s past is the cutting scars on her forearms. During one of their intimate shows, Ruben hears the ringing in his ears and makes the decision to get his ears checked out. Upon telling Lulu, the two seek out help from their manager who recommends a Deaf community to seek assistance. 

“The world does keep moving and it can be a damn cruel place, But for me those moments of stillness, that place, that’s the Kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you.”

Sound of Metal is an achievement in many different aspects of filmmaking, namely sound design and sound editing. Hearing or not hearing from Ruben’s point of view is the strongest part of the film. It drives Ruben emotionally to seek out a cure. The sound design makes Ruben feel claustrophobic which in turn makes the audience have that same feeling of helplessness. Every time the sound cuts out there is a brief moment of panic and anger from Ruben while Lulu attempts to understand how to now communicate. Music is everything to Ruben – he’s nothing without it. 

What do you do when you hear that ringing in your ears? The logical, scientific thing to do is to preserve the remaining hearing you have in your ears. Ruben does the complete opposite. He plays a show using different cues for timing his rhythm and how to play. It’s heartbreaking to see Ruben experience such a grave loss in his life but he’s too proud to seek out the necessary steps toward accepting his newfound Deafness. As reluctant as Ruben is, he decides to join a Deaf community ran by Joe (Paul Raci). 

With its smaller cast, Sound of Metal has some of the best performances of the year by Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci. Riz brings a rawness, a relentless and an emotionally driven performance. He has the total command of the spotlight and he never takes it for granted. Being forced to give up your dream can be shattering to someone based on circumstances out of your control. For the performance Riz learns American Sign Language and how to drum – in a way he went method for this role. Ruben’s relationship with Joe is difficult because of each character’s views on the Deaf community and what it truly means to have hearing loss. 

“Everybody here shares in the belief that being deaf is not a handicap. Not something to fix.”

Ruben sees Deafness as a disease – something to cure, which, it’s not. Joe musters all his strength to prove that point but can never seem to make it stick in Rubens head. Sound of Metal explores the five stages of grief while never fully committing to the last stage of acceptance. Ruben sells all his possessions to be cured of his Deafness but even the surgery is costly and may not work. Change is difficult especially when it’s unpredictable. As much as Ruben adapts to his new lifestyle while embracing others with hearing loss, he will never be satisfied with having absolutely no hearing; it’s absolutely tragic. 

Darius Marder’s direction and writing allows for conversation to be had about this community and what it means to them. Darius, along with his writing partner Abraham Marder write a grounded in reality story that focuses on the people themselves not their circumstances. Having the choice for a former addict to be the center makes the story even more heartfelt and compelling because Ruben looks at Deafness as something to overcome instead of embracing the silence. 

Sound of Metal opens eyes and ears to the Deaf Community. It explains how isolated someone can feel but does it with compassion and understanding. Sound of Metal is powered by its lead performance by Riz Ahmed and its luscious and experimental sound design. Sound of Metal showcases how welcoming the Deaf community is while treating individuals as human beings. There is no doubt that Riz and Paul should be nominated for best actor / best supporting actor at the next Academy Awards; both put their hearts on their sleeves in their respective performances. If I were to rate Sound of Metal, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5. 

So, tell me, have you seen Sound of Metal and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

Sound of Metal is written by Darius Marder & Abraham Marder and directed by Darius Marder is Rated R and has an 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Sound of Metal was released on November 20, 2020 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 10 minutes. Sound of Metal can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

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