Sound of Metal is a beautifully haunting look into the world of addiction and deafness. Played with an astute realism, Riz Ahmed’s metal drummer, Ruben Stone is forced to reassess his life when he is suddenly struck down by deafness. At first seeing it as a curse that needs to be lifted, Ruben slowly finds solace in his condition and embraces the support the deaf community offers.
It feels rare to find a film that is this truly heartfelt. And yet, in among all the popcorn entertainment – 2021 has given us both Nomadland and Sound of Metal. Both films are comparable in their visions of America, while also showing us what it is like for someone to have something happen in their life that brings about monumental change. Much like Frances McDormand’s Fern, Ruben feels like a lost soul – a man whose life and career is thrown into disarray upon losing his ability to hear. His band mate, and girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke) is equally frustrated. Lou is concerned both by Rubens deafness, and his reaction to it. While Ruben free rolls through it in the hope his hearing will somehow return, Lou sees the danger and contacts their manager in the hope of finding someone to help Ruben. Here, they come across Joe – a powerhouse turn by Paul Raci – a Vietnam War veteran who lost his hearing when a bomb exploded next to him. Joe runs a shelter for deaf, recovering addicts and the two begin a journey of honesty and exploration.
Director Darius Marder lends the film a documentary type feel. Filmed with deaf actors, in drastically real scenarios, the film has a whole other feel to it once Ruben begins to embrace his new community and what it is to be deaf. His new found allies do not take deafness to be a disability, and Ruben learns this. In scenes with Joe, or school teacher Diane (Lauren Ridloff) you watch and listen as he adapts to what may actually be a gift. Attending AA meetings to grasp an insight into being an addict, Ruben is a former heroin user, or learning American Sign Language – Ahmed has taken both the film and deaf people extremely seriously, and proves that his Oscar nomination for best actor was no fluke.
While visually appealing, the real highlight here is Nicolas Becker’s sound design. The opening scene where Ruben violently thrashes the drums and looks to Lou for cues show the bond between them. While the scenes later in the film, when Ruben has lost his hearing, indicate the stillness of the world, they then thrus us back into the noise and blurred confusion it possesses. Early in the film, Ruben is desperate to restore his hearing, believing a medical procedure will be the cure he so hopelessly desires. Sound of Metal rides a wave of emotion, at one point dire, the next almost nihilistic but ultimately hopeful. Some films are unsure of themselves and their ultimate role in the history of cinema. But this isn’t. It plays out beautifully and in a way that could be argued to be life affirming. Watch this film, and the next time you have a conversation you will approach and appreciate it on a different level. Life affirming indeed.
Sound of Metal is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray now.