Sound of Metal (2019)

Sound of Metal by Darius Marder, starring Riz Ahmed, is the sensitively told and brilliantly acted story of every musician’s worst nightmare – going deaf.

Cultures Clashing

by Alexa Dalby

Sound of Metal

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Riz Ahmed is electrifying as Reuben Stone, a tattooed, peroxided, heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. As the film starts he’s half of Blackgammon, a full-on, volume dialled up to 11, duo with his girlfriend, raucous singer-guitarist Lou (Olivia Cooke). Permanently on tour on the road, they also live together in an immaculate Airstream mobile home set up as a recording studio.

Co-screenwriter/director Darius Marber’s personal knowledge of deafness and the brilliant sound design by Oscar-nominated Nicolas Becker give the illusion of Reuben’s hearing, all seen and heard from his point of view, becoming intermittent, muffled at times and finally going silent completely, as his life unravels with it. Reuben faces losing everything and he has to come to terms with a traumatic change in his life.

His sponsor sends him to a community for deaf people led by messianically therapeutic Joe (Paul Raci), deafened in Vietnam. Joe’s belief is that Reuben needs to learn how to be deaf. He must accept this as a valid alternative existence (Children of a Lesser God?) and find the stillness inside himself. Learning that deafness is not an illness that has to be cured is a painful process for Reuben, who has his hopes pinned on regaining his hearing by paying for a hugely expensive cochlear implant.

This central section of the film shows Reuben leaning sign language, which means communicating with the whole body, not words. He builds a rapport with the young deaf schoolchildren in the community. It seems that he is starting to adapt to deafness and his changed life, but has his time in the deaf community just been a detour in his dream of being able to hear again? And will achieving his dream actually be the right answer?

Sound of Metal is a must-see. Ahmed 100% deserved his 2021 Oscar-nomination for Best Actor. Like his role as a rapper in Mogul Mowgli, he plays an artist at the top of his game struck down by illness, but the situation and outcome is otherwise very different. Marber’s moving film conveys accuracy in every detail, even though his film is a drama not a docudrama. It has amazing sensitivity towards what deafness means in practice for an individual. Possibly Marber complicates it unnecessarily by making Reuben also a recovering heroin addict, as this only seems an undercurrent, and with the subplot involving Lou and her father (a cameo by Mathieu Almaric), which added another layer of complexity that needed exploration in its own right.

Sound of Metal is screened with subtitles so that both deaf and hearing people can watch it together.

Sound of Metal is released in cinemas on 17 May 2021 in the UK. It is also available on demand on Amazon Prime video.

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