FILM REVIEW: Sound of Metal
It’s the sound of silence that makes not Simon and Garfunkel but Sound of Metal (2019) deafening in its impact. So very fitting it is that it nabbed the 2020 Academy Award for Best Sound, as well as Best Film Editing and four other highly deserved nominations. It’s the stillness, the patience, the sign language – all of these audio-visual aspects combine perfectly in Darius Marder’s feature to create a true piece of art, vibrated sensationally by a drum we should all march to the beat of.
When heavy metal drummer Ruben becomes burdened by sudden hearing loss, his singer girlfriend Lou demands he seek support over his desires to continue performing. With her dramatic departure, Ruben is cooped up in a deaf refuge, igniting a journey of reinvention and rediscovery as his worsening ailment exposes him to an eerie new reality of remarkable stillness.
To start where it is most appropriate, this film comments almost too well on the vastness of deafness and how eye-opening it can be.
Those of us lucky enough to have satisfactory sight and hearing have all had moments in life where we’d imagine the safer ‘would You rather?’ option between deafness or blindness. We’ve all had an idea of what sign language would be like based on COVID or bushfire press conferences where interpreters on the sideline rollercoaster their hands and fingers in tandem with politician specking. We’re aware of public figures like Helen Keller and Marlee Matlin, who were renowned for their accomplishments despite their adversities. We’ve all probably wondered if we have hearing loss after a hard night out on Chapel Street and, if you were ever as fortunate as me, some of you had school peers who openly discussed their hearing loss experiences – often while mastering musical instruments in spite of it.
As we age as adults in this crazy world, sometimes we forget about other perspectives; the day-to-day realities experienced by those beyond our frames of normal. That’s why artwork – which captures those ‘others’ – is so beneficial for the ongoing education of us humans. In his direction, Marder thoroughly embodied the difficulties associated with not just the deafness of others but also the listening of us all.
It has been pretty rare of pop-culture screen texts to portray the moment-to-moment existences of those with hearing loss. This is what is so appealing about the film. It envisions a mesmerising microcosm of this world, with former drug addict Ruben’s diagnosis occurring in his mid-adulthood – where sound is not just a privilege or passion but his source of income. The protagonist is brought passionately to life by Oscar-nominated Riz Ahmed, who’s Method performance is a privilege to behold. His every blink and breakdown tighten your throat and heartstrings, fully immersing your attention into its presence.
The supporting casts’ ability to inhabit their characters is likewise superb. Up-and-comer Olivia Cooke brands herself with an eclectic spark as Ruben’s romantic interest, but the rendering of Joe, the deaf community’s director, by Paul Raci is sensational. The veteran stage actor’s onscreen presence is commanding and delicate, especially considering it is a fairly brief appearance. As Raci himself is the son of deaf parents, his involvement to the subject matter is as strong as his capacity to steal the screen from Ahmed. One particular sequence towards the film’s end shared between the two stars was mesmerising, masterful, soulful and profound – the essence of duality and gut-wrenching cinematic drama which should be explored in screenwriting classes.
Thus, the designation of this film into one genre is difficult as it is so strong in its versatility. You could tie it with Whiplash (2014) as the exemplar drumming film, or at the top of any 2019 Best Drama Films list, but I would argue the most suitable allocation for Sound of Metal would be for it as a spiritual property. Ahmed and Raci’s acting unconsidered, Marder managed to balance intimate and thoughtful cinematography with first-rate sound design, creating a sensory experience that should have viewers feeling as though their floating peacefully come the final credits. The fear and fury of Ruben in his plight strip us of our own expectations, and carry us into his orbit of spiritual enlightenment. This transcendence is signed and spoken so eloquently by Joe’s passage:
“Because you’re right, Ruben. 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 God, should we remember that. And God, he was right.
Motion pictures are able to both test and revolutionise our awareness of communication, language and understanding via their storytelling. Sound of Metal artfully revolutionises the under-spoken underrepresentation of an essential community in society, serving a fresh slice of didactic and nuanced filmmaking. It should be broadcast and studied – with closed-captions – in schools for the hearing impaired as well as the mainstream. Brava!
Sound of Metal streams exclusively on Amazon Prime Video