I first watched Sound of Metal a few weeks before correcting my vision with laser eye surgery. Anything more than a few inches from my face was an intangible blur without glasses. After the movie, I started to question my choice to get LASIK. I worried how my vision would be after surgery. Would it be worth it? What if my vision was only worse, too bad for glasses or what if I lost color? Maybe I should just live my life correcting my vision with glasses and be thankful for what I have. Even though this film got into my head and made me overly empathetic, I still went through with the procedure and as of 6 weeks later, am very happy with the results of my vision. But Sound of Metal isn’t about sight, but exploring and accepting a new world without sound. For a musician and former addict, that is easier said than done.
Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer and former heroin addict. Music and his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke) has been keeping him clean and happy for the past four years. But suddenly Ruben starts to lose his hearing, at a rapid rate. Doctors tell him the hearing he’s lost won’t come back, but he could hear with implants and that he has a responsibility to protect and preserve what little hearing he has left. In response, and probably in denial, Ruben plays a show that night. When he tells Lou what’s happening, she knows this life altering moment could send him spiraling down darker paths, so she finds him help. They meet Joe (Paul Raci) who runs a rehab center for the deaf and tries to help Ruben. Reluctant at first, Ruben adjusts to his hearing loss, learns sign language and finds his feet in this new home. But thinking it will bring his life back to the way it was, Ruben desperately wants to get the implant surgery, even if it means selling everything he owns and rejecting the help of his new friends.
The sound in this film is phenomenal and helps the audience understand Ruben’s sudden hearing loss. We hear his morning routine once, the buzz of a blender, coffee percolating, then the next morning we hear it as Ruben suddenly does, muffled so it is nearly inaudible. These audio details and lack there of help us empathize with Ruben, understand his frustrations and brings the world of the deaf community to life. I especially love the scene with Ruben drumming on the slide, how we hear what he and the kid hears, and then it cuts to far away to how an onlooker might hear their interaction. Later in the film we hear how the world is after the implant is activated and that is one of the most eye-opening sounds of my life. The sound of that church bell nearly made me cry. It’s what made me question whether lasik was worth the risk, which I realize is completely different, but I knew I’d rather be dependent on glasses rather than seriously ruin what was left of my vision.
The acting in this film has few big, dramatic or explosive moments. Ruben violently smashing things the morning after his hearing loss worsens is powerful, but not nearly as moving as the tortured control Ahmed brings to calmer scenes. There are so many great moments of frustration and rebellion that are expressed stoically, drawn inward so as to not to raise alarm. Raci’s Joe is a very placid, yet no-nonsense character. He has the feel of an authoritative hippie. And as Raci throws sign language on top of his dialogue, a skill he’s acquired in real life, it often provides extra emotion to his character. It’s wonderful to see these actors nominated for such deserving roles.
Sound of Metal has been nominated for six academy Awards, including Best Picture. Riz Ahmed is nominated for best lead actor in his role as Ruben. Paul Raci is nominated for best supporting actor for his role as Joe. The other awards include best sound, original screenplay and film editing. All in all, this is all very prestigious, especially considering this is Darius Marder’s directorial debut.
There’s so many wonderful things going on in Sound of Metal, from the compelling story, great acting and masterful use of sound, I could go on all day. I keep coming back to Ruben’s obsession with wanting to hear again and I get it, it must be incredibly hard to move on and live a life suddenly without one of your major senses. The grief can be too much to accept. But on the other side of that coin, I hear Joe reminding Ruben that being deaf isn’t the end of the world. And this movie helps those outside of the deaf community understand it a little better and appreciate our all too delicate gift of hearing.
“As you know, everybody here shares in the belief that being deaf is not a handicap. Not something to fix. It’s pretty important around here. All these kids… all of us, need to be reminded of it every day.”