Sound of Metal Movie Review: A thought-provoking film that asks some tough questions
The treatment of its theme of acceptance and coming to terms with one’s circumstances is central to the film’s brilliance
Of all the senses, the ability to discern through one’s hearing is key to a musician’s existence. To lose it would mean curtains for most. And that’s exactly what happens to lead character Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a drummer in a touring rock band. The premise is simple. The treatment, however, a bit more complex.
A former addict now clean for years, begins to inexplicably lose his sense of hearing in the middle of a show. Unable to come to terms with his unreal situation, he goes through what one would call the five stages of grief. Ruben plays the hand he’s dealt in the most human of ways, making Sound of Metal a narrative that encapsulates the human condition so well. The eternal questions of why and what now are witnessed so clearly in the disconcerted face of Riz Ahmed’s character. It is in the extended moments of silence and contemplation that are interspersed through the story that we begin to perhaps comprehend where the man is psychologically. His face and eyes tell a story his raised voice fails to.
Director – Darius Marder
Cast – Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Sound of Metal is an interior monologue kind of film. Except, there is no voiceover here; only a multitude of unexpressed thoughts running through the central character’s head. There’s the issue of money and the exorbitant cost of cochlear implants (he lives with his lead singer girlfriend Lou in a trailer they tour on). But the immediate concern is whether his supportive partner will stick by him. Then there’s the very real possibility of a relapse. His sobriety has lasted four years. Even a solitary stress-busting cigarette has Lou’s guard up. His sponsor recommends a support group for the hearing-impaired.
The film is an often-subtle exploration of acceptance and shows you precisely why that is the hardest of all stages to attain. What you can't hear or put into words, you’re able to see on Ruben's face. The man’s angry vocalisations mask the fear emanating from his eyes. The coming to terms with the immediacy of his situation happens gradually, one frame at a time, in mostly silent, contemplative montages. The stray sound is but a filler to all that is being conjured inside the mind.
Sometimes it feels as if very little is going on in the narrative. The film can be deceptively slow, but rest assured it is leading up to something — something revelatory. It is the stillness and silence that get to you – a powerful device used by Darius Marder to immerse his audience, to make them experience what Ruben is. This immersive experience is hard to put into words. I would describe it as slightly unsettling with enough intrigue thrown in.
The primary segment of Sound of Metal has Ruben reluctantly joining a support group for the deaf. Joe (Paul Raci), who runs the monastic place that doubles as a home, breaks it down for Ruben. “We don’t view the inability to hear as something that needs fixing.” And this strikes at the core of Ruben’s philosophy up until that point. His sole purpose is to make enough money to afford the implants and start life over. Though initially sceptical, he begins to gradually fraternise with his fellow-inmates, picks up the basics of sign language, and so on. Joe counsels him to be comfortable with only the silence of his thoughts, to just sit and not do anything. A room is provided to Ruben every morning, just for him to sit, write, and be alone with himself. Through the entire length of the film, these scenes are the most telling. And yet, despite his best efforts at being comfortable in his new skin, there is a noticeable disenchantment that can be discerned from Ruben.
Sound of Metal asks more questions of the viewer than it provides answers. But above all, it makes one think, and think deeply. Riz Ahmed’s excellent central performance lends credence to a serious film that speaks of confronting equally real possibilities. Acceptance is the overwhelming theme here, but the exploration of that winding and tricky road is what draws you in. Every bit of incredulity Ruben feels at his circumstances is passed seamlessly from the screen to the viewer. Darius Marder’s writing and direction are sure to put you in a contemplative mood after this one.