Sound of Metal (2019)
Dir: Darius Marder
Who is this film focused on?
Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer in a metal duo with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), whose hearing suddenly declines, changing his life completely.
How does he lose his hearing?
It’s certainly implied that it might be from the loud music he’s immersed in at gigs, though, the rest of his life is shown as quite gentle and quiet. Making clever use of contrasts, the changes he’s experiencing with his hearing are key features of the film, with an incredible, at times intense and difficult sound mix. Sharply switching between hearing the tiniest little things while making breakfast, to the loudest cacophonies of heavy metal, or internal body sounds to artificial noises, and at times, complete silence, we are vividly immersed in what the character is experiencing, then often our perspective is shifted to one of hearing all he’s missing.
Where does he go?
After seeing a doctor who explains how bad the hearing loss is and that his options are limited by cost and health insurance exemptions, something Ruben soon spins when telling Lou, the rapid change in his circumstances seems bleak and he’s at the precipice of a dark place. Mercifully, he’s referred to a deaf community that’s almost like a rural retreat, run by Joe, excellently played by Paul Raci whose native language is ASL as he’s a child of deaf parents. Ruben’s also in need of support with addiction, so this place and the people have to serve a dual purpose, supporting him with learning to be deaf, while also avoiding relapsing into addiction. Sadly he has to stay here alone, so for a large part of the film he’s without his girlfriend Lou, whose excellent performance seems to be getting overlooked at awards, but her character is detailed, complex and nuanced too, adding rich layers of subtext and history to their lives and relationship that made me feel even more invested in the plight of the characters.
What is the ‘Sound of Metal’?
It could be referring to many things through the film. At first, you might think it’s the heavy metal music that Ruben plays, later on however it equally applies to a beautiful moment he shares with a young boy, and then something in the last third that I will completely avoid discussing. Each one of these options is tied in with a different phase in his life, and how he thinks about his situation. The third option I won’t go into, though I will say it’s very well handled, bringing to the fore some themes that were set up earlier, building on the idea that Ruben has been going through the stages of grief over the loss of his hearing.
Why is there sometimes writing on my screen?
It was a deliberate choice to have full captioning included in the theatrical presentation to make the film equally (though differently) accessible to deaf viewers, though I imagine deaf viewers will have a completely different perspective on some scenes. To experience the film in its fullest sense you may want to turn the captioning on, it may depend on how Amazon Prime Video works on your device. Some may consider it a distraction, the captioning adds to the storytelling, clarifying what sounds are of importance or what’s currently clear or indistinct to Ruben, but also changing their use throughout to help the hearing audience too. Some are like forced subtitles, they’re part of the film and can’t be turned off, so we see how the film only translates sign language when Ruben is able to understand it, we understand how he feels, that until then he’s not fully part of the conversation, missing out on something.
When is this available to watch?
It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and though it’s been there since December in the US, it’s only just been added in the U.K. I’m not sure why we’ve had to wait so long, until the day after it won a couple of BAFTAs, but hey, better late than never and it’s just in time for us to watch the film before it wins a couple of Oscars later this month. It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking, engaging the senses and emotions, a powerful depiction of the grieving and reluctant adaptation that often go along with disability.
Nominated for 4 BAFTAs, it won for both Editing and Sound, very deservedly so. The film’s also up for these categories at the Academy Awards, as well as ‘Lead Actor’, ‘Supporting Actor’, ‘Original Screenplay’ and the big one, ‘Best Picture’. I think it’s likely to win ‘Best Sound’ and possibly ‘Best Editing’ again, though the other categories are much harder to see this triumphing at the Oscars because of the intense competition.