HOLLYWOOD—Wow, that is all I can say about the movie “Sound of Metal.” It leaves you speechless as a spectator. On top of being a powerful movie, it is a career defining performance from actor Riz Ahmed. He enamors himself with this character to such a degree you absolutely forget Riz, you only see Ruben Stone. This movie works so well because it teeters with the notion of being deaf. The audience doesn’t just see someone who can hear have to come to grips with no longer hearing, we actually see it play out as well.
When Ruben is unable to hear the audience gets that first-hand account, because we hear nothing as well; pure silence. The silence around him is the same silence the viewer experiences. It seems jarring at first, but it is the testament of a great director, Darius Marder, forcing the audience to have a taste, and it’s a small one at that of what it would be like to be deaf. It is haunting and it actually sends chills down the spine.
Ruben (Ahmed), when we first meet him seems like anyone else, a drummer, who loves music, but he has these moments where things go silent. He thinks it is just a minor hiccup, but it soon becomes a larger problem as time progresses. When his hearing completely goes out it sends Ruben in a tailspin, so much to the point that his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) is at a loss for words. Cooke delivers a stirring performance here, attempting to grapple with her boyfriend’s debilitating diagnosis and concerns that he might spiral back into a bad drug habit: heroin. That scene between Ruben and Lou where she forces him to face the fact that he needs help is heartbreaking to watch; it ripped my soul apart.
This movie really plays with your emotions in an interesting way. You understand Ruben’s frustration, Lou’s compassion, but at the same time facing a tough reality here you go from having a sense that has dictated so much of your life and with the snap of a finger, you no longer have it. I think the movie really hit me in a powerful way because I have indeed been grappling with some hearing issues in my left ear as of late that has been of major concern. And the thought of not being able to fully hear in that ear is terrifying, but it sheds light that it’s not the end of the world if it happens.
Ruben learns he can still communicate, but it will be an adjustment, rather its writing or learning American Sign Language (ASL) courtesy of Joe (Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who has lost his hearing as a result of the Vietnam War. Raci is terrific in this role and it is such a treat to see Hollywood not be afraid to place members of the deaf community or those who know ASL fluently in film. Raci is the hearing son of deaf parents and you can sense that real life battle play out in this film.
We have members of the deaf community like “Walking Dead” alum Lauren Ridloff as Diane, the teacher that helps Ruben learn ASL and bond with the children in her classroom. Raci delivers a tour-de-force performance and if he doesn’t deserve some supporting actor accolades I will be flabbergasted. The acting from everyone in this movie is tremendous, the directing is top tier, the script is compassionate, complex and gut-punching.
“Sound of Metal” is a piece of cinema that just opened my eyes to something that I think not many people who haven’t lost one of their five senses fully understands. Do not look at someone who is deaf as being disabled. They don’t see it as a disability. The cope with it, they adjust to being unable to hear and they embrace their new normal without any regrets. That is something Ruben has to learn throughout the movie and I don’t want to spoil anything, but that final moment in the movie speaks wonders.
There are moments in this movie that are tough to watch, ones that make you think, ones that make you be a more compassionate and understanding individual. “Sound of Metal” taught me something: being able to hear is a privilege, but at the same time with the snap of a finger I can lose it, but it’s not the end of the world if it happens: it’s not a disability it is an adjustment to a new normal in life.