The ‘Sound of Metal’ is remarkable storytelling. The situation is presented to the audience, so they feel empathy toward someone else while at the same time feeling pity for themselves.
The main character, Ruben, played by ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ actor Riz Ahmed, plays the drums in a hard rock duo. The band is called ‘Blackgammon’ and is made up of him and his lead singer girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), who, for the most part, spends her time on stage screaming into the microphone. They are adored and have fans and tour dates aplenty. During the opening scene, we watch Ruben pound away on his cymbals, over and over and over again, faster and faster. He’s not only keeping up with her but taking over. After the scene, you check to see if there’s a buzzing in your ears. Writer/Director Darius Marder shows us the pair going from town to town doing the same thing, night after night, and begging you to ask the question, ‘how much can an eardrum go through before raising its arms in defeat?’
Quickly, there are little hints that Ruben’s ears are taking a beating. These signs become more apparent to you and to Ruben. How this is done is practical and disciplined and beyond terrifying. Imagine having a conversation with someone, and suddenly, without doing so, it sounds as if they’ve put their hand tightly over their mouth and are still speaking to you. Can you understand them? You barely hear the conversation you heard perfectly only a moment ago.
Not only does Marder use these muffled sounds to bring you along for what Ruben is currently enduring, but adds subtitles, often removing some conversation entirely, just as it has been taken away from Ruben. No street noises in the background, no birds chirping, no wind blowing through the tall grass. Throughout the film, images of what we hear every day without thinking about it are displayed to boost the feeling of what is now being missed. He also adds piercing sounds that fade away and loud distortion to increase confusion. Well done, I say!
On stage, it becomes obvious to Ruben that this is not in his head. He can no longer hear. He goes to the doctors and is told that he has lost over seventy percent of his hearing. Naively, he thinks he can get it back somehow. The doctor tells him about implants that he can get, but they’re very costly and not covered through insurance. Ruben breaks this news to Lou, the love of his life, and breaks down, unable to believe what he’s saying to her. Though interested in implants, they know they can’t afford them. Lou gets Ruben into a program at a home that helps deaf and hard of hearing individuals. They can help him cope with what he’s going through and help him learn how to live with his new condition. However, for this to succeed, she must briefly leave him behind. He’s angry. He’s heartbroken. He feels discarded.
What comes next is phenomenal.
The program leader, Joe, is played by Paul Raci, who’s a CODA, or Child of Deaf Adults. Raci is a Court Certified American Sign Language interpreter, which is glaringly evident in his performance. He’s also a musician and lead singer for the Hands of Doom, a band that performs in American Sign Language. Raci’s Joe does an excellent job of keeping up with Ahmed’s frustrated and disoriented Ruben. His first scene at the dinner table is magnificent. It’s amusing and authentic as you see that vibration through pounding on the table is the best way to get a deaf person’s attention. Wide-eyed, Ruben watches and ponders his situation. Joe takes him in, and Ruben slowly begins to become a part of something again. Improvements are made through classes with young deaf students and studying sign language. Soon, Ruben accepts his limitations, as he can’t grow until he realizes this is not something he can physically overcome. Joe has him sit alone in a room and write. Writing is where he will find the ‘stillness’ he needs. It’s to calm Ruben’s mind and have him focus on something other than trying to change something he cannot. This ‘stillness’ is referenced again magnificently during the very last shot of the film. I so want to tell you more, but I cannot so I beg of you to watch this superb piece of work. I can’t say I’ve seen a better film this year.
‘Sound of Metal’ is now at a theatre near you and will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime 12/4.
Sound of Metal
Director: Darius Marder
Writers: Darius Marder
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, and Paul Raci
Running Time: 2h 10m
Genres: Drama, Music