Losing your hearing as a musician equals losing all the joy and meaning of life, at least if one is to believe the beginning of Sound of Metal – Darius Marder’s beautiful, heart wrenching story about a metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) who faces sudden hearing loss. Music really is everything for Ruben: his band consists of him and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), and they live in their tour van – which also doubles as their recording studio.
Whilst all aspects of the film deserve praise, it is the sound that shines throughout the movie. Ironically, in a film about deafness, sound plays an incredibly important role; yet director Darius Marder stressed in an interview with Filmmaker how important it was for the film to work without any sound (to allow more people to watch it). The film’s sound design was met with critical acclaim, winning the Academy Award for Best Sound (as well as Best Film Editing), BAFTA for Best Sound (among others), and the Live Action category in the Cinema Audio Society Awards. Reflecting on this award, foley sound artist Heikki Kossi explained how in the scenes without audible dialogue, only American Sign Language, small details like the swishing of clothing and sound from hand movements were heightened to create a realistic experience – whilst simultaneously embracing the stillness and quiet.
Watching the scenes without dialogue, loud sounds, or any of the usual noises I’m used to hearing in everyday life was jarring. I have no experience with hearing loss, apart from the fact that both my grandparents have lost most of their hearing. Ahmed’s performance in scenes with loud environments – especially the party at the end of the film – reminded me of their uneasiness and the feeling of being on the outside in similar situations. Ahmed does a fantastic job of channelling the frustration, anger and stubbornness of Ruben, especially when he wrestles between his will to get hearing implants and the encouragement of the community to adapt to life with hearing loss.
Ruben’s strongest advocate is Joe (Paul Raci), the leader of a rural deaf community who lost his hearing in the Vietnam war. Raci excels as the supporting mentor who tries to make Ruben see that deafness is not a disability. In my opinion, Raci’s performance is the best one in the film. The scenes featuring both Joe and Ruben as they try to understand each other were wonderful.
Other highlights include the scenes where Ruben interacts with the kids; teaching them drumming, learning sign language with them, experiencing music by touching a piano. These are the scenes which – contrasted with his wish to get implants and hear again – create the tension that colours the whole film and give the viewer food for thought for days or weeks.
Sound of Metal is a film which forces you to consider several jarring questions: What is life without sound? What if you lose the one thing you feel is your purpose in life? Does it change you, and if yes, can you be that changed person?
Sound of Metal is available to stream on Amazon Prime now.
[Elsa Lindström – she/her – @elsary (instagram)]
[Photo credits: Amy Johnson]