Sound of Metal (dir. Darius Marder, 2021) – A metal drummer finds himself spiralling into crisis when he begins to lose his hearing.
Music saved Ruben (Riz Ahmed). Through heavy metal, he found his partner in Lou (Olivia Cooke), formed one half of successful band, and found his reason to quit heroin. But one night changes everything. Terror grips him when he starts to lose his hearing and is forced to give up the biggest part of his life.
Still, he clings onto hope that he can still play on Lou’s cue and eventually, get cochlear implants. Even then, Lou hears between the lines – him spiralling into a relapse, having traded one addiction for another.
In Sound of Metal, Ruben’s addiction goes beyond most forms that we tend to see in cinema. He gives up drugs but starts to live for his relationship and his music, the impermanent things that are easily devastated in a single second. When he loses his only crutch in life, so are we reminded of just how vulnerable the things we hold onto are.
In a film about silence, sound takes precedence. It brings us into the world of Ruben, allowing us to experience his hearing loss through all that is happening around him. It isn’t the mere replication of tinnitus that many filmmakers tend to rely on to portray deafness, but the careful design of muffled conversations and grating spikes of static.
Discomfort takes over when our senses are forcibly closed off or attacked by unnatural echoes, just as Ruben’s are. Silence has more to say than the sounds do. In the intermittent moments where the audience is allowed to hear again, the respite evokes every bit of empathy for what he has lost. Beyond a technical achievement, it is an indescribably powerful experience.
The intimate perspective of able actor Riz Ahmed is coupled with that of the real-world deaf community. Among which, Paul Raci plays recovering alcoholic Joe, who guides Ruben to adapt to his new circumstances without falling back into old habits. Raci is a long-time advocate for the community and vocalist of ASL Black Sabbath tribute band Hands of Doom, which is as cool as it sounds.
To think that Sound of Metal might have never seen the day of light. Director Derek Cianfrance, who is himself a metal fan and had experienced hearing loss as a drummer, had once been ready to give up on his passion project. But his long-time co-writer Darius Marder saw what could be and chose to persist. He resumed director duties and took 12 years to get the film off the ground.
Fortunately for the love of cinema, he did. As with their masterwork The Place Beyond The Pines, Marder reaches deep into the heart of his characters and opens a window to a world we seldom truly see. Aiming for authenticity, he involves the deaf community and never overpowers their voices in the story.
Above all, he captures the complexities of relationships and the ambivalence of acceptance through Ruben’s resonant experience of loss. Everything comes together in perfect harmony with Ahmed and Cooke hitting every note intended.
Turn up the volume for the moments of silence that will stay with you in the immaculate cinematic experience of Sound of Metal.