“Sound of Metal” follows the journey of Ruben, a punk drummer who starts losing his hearing and has to adapt to a new reality. Although the premise might come off as a sob story at first, the movie presents a multi-faceted portrait of somebody navigating through his passion being taken away. Reaching beyond the experience of disability, “Sound of Metal” tells the story of searching for meaning in life and fighting through turmoil and addiction.
“Sound of Metal” is directed by Darius Marder and features masterful acting performances from Riz Ahmed as Ruben, Olivia Cooke as Ruben’s girlfriend Lou and Paul Raci as Ruben’s mentor and addiction counselor Joe. The movie releases on Nov. 19 in select U.S. theaters, shortly after September’s International Deaf Awareness Month, and on-demand on Dec. 4 through Amazon Prime Video.
In “Sound of Metal,” Ruben’s reaction to losing his hearing follows the familiar route of the stages of grief, as he tries to come to terms with the tragic turn of events he experiences. Ruben’s denial of his condition is portrayed in powerful silent scenes of terror. Watching Ruben let his rage out with only the sound of faint ringing lets the audience feel the kind of isolation and helplessness he suddenly finds himself in. On the other hand, his moments of acceptance are displayed more subtly in scenes where he finds himself in peace with his state or bonds with deaf people around him through their common condition.
This arc also extends to other characters in the movie, who are in various stages of their own grief. The way these personal tragedies are casually introduced in a passing interaction with Ruben makes them deeply impactful. Joe’s personal tragedy that led him to a path of mentoring and nurturing addicts reveals a similar transformation to Ruben’s, despite very different circumstances. Additionally, the theme of addiction lurks in the subtext throughout the movie. Characters become intoxicated with hope, expectations and longings for the past. Similarly, Lou’s way of dealing with her own issues echoes in the coping mechanisms that Ruben is using. The perspectives of these people at different stages of grief serve as a reminder of how common the human traits of mourning and adapting to loss are, no matter how diverse the stories and realities.
The narration of the movie relies more on visual communication than spoken word, which feeds into the general essence of the movie. Intentional shots that focus on a character’s tattoos or their self-harm scars reveal more about them than any of their dialogue. The stage lights in the opening shot highlight Ruben’s chest tattoo reading “PLEASE KILL ME.” This scene serves as a foreshadowing of the mental state Ruben soon finds himself in when he learns of his condition. As if poetically written by Raymond Carver, the conversations in “Sound of Metal” relay more information in unspoken pauses. The most intimate scene, marking the film’s resolution, comes in the form of an exchange the characters have with their gestures and looks while talking about something else entirely with their words. Fleshing out characters in this implicit manner, the same way we learn about people in the real world, makes the movie feel more like witnessing the events as they happen instead of a concentrated script spoon-fed to the audience.
Driving the narrative using visual cues also ties in with the theme of hearing loss that “Sound of Metal” embraces in multiple ways, which is portrayed as more than just a plot point. The masterful sound design turns the movie into an immersive experience by letting the audience hear the scenes from different perspectives. Some of the most impactful moments come in the form of unassuming dialogue that features muffled and distorted audio in the way Ruben experiences things, before cutting to the way the people around him hear it. The stark contrast of these two experiences within the same scene lets the audience experience firsthand the isolation and loss Ruben is going through instead of trying to portray it through actions or words.
Impressively, “Sound of Metal” attempts to touch on a wide range of emotions and experiences at once and manages to do so with an enticing storyline that lets the audience feel like a fly on the wall of a real-life story. For as much credit as Riz Ahmed’s masterful acting deserves, the real star of the show is the unique artistic vision. As a story tied together through hearing loss, what’s conveyed through visual cues and silences in the pauses of a conversation turns the film’s message into an authentic experience.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Altug Karakurt at firstname.lastname@example.org.