The existential issues of disability are explored once more in Hollywood through the untouched surfaces of deaf culture. As there have been media where the narrative navigates aspects of deaf culture such as “Switched at Birth” and “A Quiet Place,” they explore the characters who grew up deaf or hard of hearing for most, if not all, of their lives.
“Sound of Metal” traverses through a different direction by immersing their audience with its sound mixing and editing choices throughout the film’s runtime, having the audience experience to some level the waning of the main character’s hearing.
The use of sound in film has always been integral to the movie-going experience, or due to the current pandemic a part of the streaming comforts. With the lush creativeness of an orchestra blaring out through the speakers once the protagonist hits the zenith of their story or when a beloved character dies, sound amplifies what the story and characters are going through.
But if there’s no sound, would it make the film less impactful? Is sound critical to the point where no sound at all makes the film feel empty?
“Sound of Metal” proves these assumptions wrong as both a somber reminder that sound isn’t always necessary to convey an addicting story. The film follows Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a drummer from a heavy metal duo band who built his life to revolve around two things: his music and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke).
Traveling in an old Airstream camper, the duo live a simple life as they go from gig to gig. One morning after an intense performance, Ruben realized that the majority of his hearing is now gone. It’s this first moment when the audience’s ears are in Ruben’s perspective. The world is now full of muffled thuds and incoherent numbness.
Throughout the film, the sound switches in and out of Ruben’s perspective, reminding the audience how definite and astonishing the severity of his hearing loss is.
Desperate for answers and restless from being separated from his self-fundamentals, Ruben finds his “answer” in the form of a cochlear implant his doctor mentioned when examining; his mind fixated that his deafness is only a temporary obstacle for him to go back to his normalcy.
Lou senses tensions similar to an addict’s mindset as she knows him for four years of sobriety. She takes him to a shelter for deaf addicts run by Vietnam War veteran, Joe (Paul Raci) who lost his hearing and reconciled with it, as a means to help Ruben.
Ruben’s and Joe’s beliefs are at odds at times as one believes quick solutions towards re-assimilation while the other, which coincides with the film’s message, that deafness is not something that needs to be fixed. Deafness is just another way to move along in the world.
In addition to being a film about deaf culture awareness, “Sound of Metal” is also a film about identity and inner change. All through the film, Ruben fights for the things he believes define him: his music, his life on the road, and Lou.
What makes the film unique is its somber, gray, and open-ended Ruben’s journey ends. He failed to catch the epiphany he wanted: coming back on top and becoming a successful musician. He doesn’t get the fairytale ending that Hollywood typically tries to encapsulate towards his audience, but he is still optimistic about finding what’s his identity in the strange new distorted world.
The film proves itself to be a worthy contender for all six nominations for this year’s Academy Awards. Like “Minari,” “Sound of Metal” makes Oscar history through the form of Ahmed as he is the first Muslim to be nominated for Best Lead Actor.
Ahemd’s performance is what makes the film captivating. As Ruben, Ahmed is deeply connected to the surroundings as he’s under a denial of body and reality throughout the film. With the energy of unconsumed panic and desperation of familiarity, Ruben is a well-rounded character that is truly a fish out of water.
Raci, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, also has a performance that is both memorable and enlightening. Growing up with deaf parents, he shows comfort in the world and is genuine as a man who wants to help others who went through similar experiences of hearing loss and belonging as he once did.
With complex storytelling embedded in its runtime, it would not be surprising if “Sound of Metal” graces its way into winning the high honors at the Oscars.
Editor’s Note: Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone in “Sound of Metal.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.