Sound of Metal is a real revelation, an exploration of loss, addiction, and the defiant human spirit
Imagine for just one moment you woke up this morning and couldn’t hear anything. The idea alone is so removed from reality for most of us that we very quickly dismiss it and move on, much like closing your eyes and trying to walk more than a few steps. Yet for thousands of people around the world, deafness and sudden hearing loss are very much a reality
Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as a recovering drug addict and the drummer in a metal band alongside his girlfriend Lou played by Olivia Cooke. Lou thrashes out the melodies and screams vocals at small capacity venues while Ruben hammers down with thunderous fury on the drums, all the time his gaze fixated on Lou’s every move.
This is a Story of Love
Ruben and Lou live an almost storied existence, travelling across the country in their RV, listening to soul music in the day and rocking out at their metal shows at night. All seems perfect until Ruben suddenly starts to lose his hearing. In a matter of days, he is deaf.
This is a Story of Loss
From this point, Director Darius Marder does his best to place us in Ruben’s shoes, making the unimaginable a reality. We feel every awkward moment, the frustration and helplessness of being able to see but not hear what was going on around us. From the simplicity of not being able to perform a mundane task like answer a phone call to the massive loss of self-identity. Ruben has attached his entire self-worth to being Lou’s drummer. If he can no longer perform this task for his love, then what is his purpose?
This is a story of addiction and the defiant human spirit
When we think of someone deaf or with loss of hearing, we may imagine their biggest concern in life must be that they can’t hear. Our innocent ignorance is corrected here as they are not purely defined by their inability to hear. They have stress with jobs, bills, families and like everyone else, some succumb to various addictions.
The half-way house Ruben stays at is run by Joe (Paul Raci). It not only makes him understand he had replaced his drug addiction with an addiction for Lou but also that in this community, they didn’t consider deafness to be a disability or something to be ‘fixed’. It’s a rich and celebrated part of who there are now. It’s this new reality that Ruben has most difficulty accepting as he sees that as giving up the drums and by proximity, losing Lou.
See the review for Riz Ahmed’s previous release, Mogul Mowgli here
The transition period from hearing to deafness is scary. While the scenes were beautifully captured, there must be acknowledgement for the ‘sound of silence’, those moments of nothingness truly do the job of reflecting Ruben’s sense of loss and despair on to us watching. There are moments when he is in a room full of people laughing when he hears nothing and another later when he is in a room of people communicating through sign language and he doesn’t yet understand how to sign.
The sense of isolation is frightening. The feeling of being an outcast, not belonging and being unable to communicate is something most of us never consider. You don’t go deaf and immediately know how to sign. The transition period is rarely shown.
In contrast, we also see a school of deaf children who are energetic, intelligent, and joyful, not defined by being unable to hear. This condition isn’t an end but full of new possibilities for those strong of will and spirit. It’s an opportunity to redefine and even emerge better. It’s this sense of optimism and hope they attempt to pass on to Ruben.
The film is packed full of powerful yet delicate performances, with a special mention for Paul Raci as Joe, the halfway house mentor. He delivered a sense of believability and firmness while remaining vulnerable. But this is another Riz Ahmed showcase. He is adept at putting himself in uncomfortable roles and baring his soul on screen with an honesty which somehow goes beyond simply acting.
Sound of Metal is a fantastic film with an empowering message. If you haven’t experienced deafness or loss of hearing, this may be the closet you get to understanding what life might be like for a deaf person. I fear that due to the uncomfortable subject matter, this may not garner as much commercial success or attention (no one likes to imagine something ‘so devastating’ happening to them). But those that do will find an incredible, insightful, and satisfying experience they won’t soon forget
Amazon Studios will release SOUND OF METAL in theatre’s May 17th, 2021 and on Prime Video April 12th, 2021
See the full trailer here