Sound of Metal – 2020

Director Darius Marder
Screenplay Darius Marder, Abraham Marder story by Derek Cianfrance, Darius Marder
Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric

I have a friend who we used to share game nights with when we all lived in the same state. Once in a while, we would turn music up for ambiance and we’d be politely asked to turn it down, as it made it hard for our friend to concentrate on what people were saying. Of course we turned it down, but I never comprehended his experience. Now, thanks to Darius Marder and Riz Ahmed, I understand and won’t ever forget.

Ruben (Ahmed) is a drummer for an awful (by my humble estimation) metal duo called Blackgammon. Night after night he wails away on the drums as some truly forgettable guitar and wailing of his lead singer girlfriend Lou (Cooke). Its a music that is enjoyable enough for the two to record albums and tour to with their equipment and small tour bus. Several nights into the tour, Ruben’s hearing just stops.

After a few days, he reports to a doctor who gives him some awful news. His hearing is down to approximately 25-27% with no chance of improving. All of the sudden, Ruben and Olivia’s world stops. Lou wants the tour to stop and he wants to continue touring, but with her playing off his memory of the cues. His history of addiction (sober for 4 years) and even his very life are in peril.

They call his sponsor Hector who points them to a rural shelter that allows recovering addicts to learn to live with the condition. He would not be allowed to get coclear implants (an expensive option not covered by insurance) and Lou would not be allowed to live there with him. Ruben rejects this at first. He is angry, frustrated and lost. His options feel like death.

Lou is desperate for Ruben to not surrender to his fear. She convinces him to return to the shelter as she returns home to live with her father.

The most intriguing and accurate feeling we get from Sound of Metal is the actual experience Ruben is going through. This is done through Ahmed’s (as usual) incredible acting and Marder’s intelligent usage of sound. At first, the lack of sound feels like suffocation. The viewer is submerged with Ruben. The combination pushes us to hope for sound as soon as possible in order to breathe, so to speak, or just feel normal.

This is particularly effective in showing his disorientation with the shelter at first. We get to see his fellow housemates enjoying life complete with sound that they are not hearing with their ears, but completely understand via their eyes. When we see Ruben’s sad eyes, the sound disappears. Its clear to understand why this is so, but the full effect does not hit us until the last scene.

Even more, we get the experience of Ruben’s path as he gets cochlear implants. The experience is one that we’re hoping will be a miracle. By the time it happens, we truly do hear the Sound of Metal in the title. Ruben’s disappointment matches our own in many ways in the last act. From the time he leaves the doctor’s office. The sound brought by the implants is anything but clear if there is any multitude of sounds competing for his attention. It is most prevalent when we see his Louisa sing what is a gentle, beautiful and soft song with her father playing piano.

As tough as most of this film is, the story is absolutely essential in the quest for understanding the beauty of life. That happiness is found from within is hard to deny when we see how Ruben slips in and out of it as expectations fail to meet reality. This is understood by Ruben’s mentor Joe (Raci) encourages him to look inward by writing his thoughts every morning. This helps Ruben make leaps, but it takes other events to bring the picture of mental health full circle.

The acting in Sound of Metal is phenomenal. Ahmed, Cooke and Raci all elevate Marder’s great material to another level. Cooke and Raci in particular express much with very little. Their human reactions to very real circumstances push the drama to an incredibly artistic degree. We are witnessing humanity reaching to get beyond its depths and move on to something better.

Ahmed is an incredible actor. Every acting performance he gives fills the screen with gravity. He can take all of the air out of the room, or fill it with joy with subtle movements, expressions and carefully considered words. His performance here is aided by Marder’s direction and use of sound. Even more, Marder’s work is aided by Ahmed.

It takes a special collection of people to open up doors through storytelling. This film provides the viewer with a new sense for the world that many might take for granted. What was just a courtesy of response to me for a friend earlier now has an experience behind it that has added colors my world. Let it color yours, too.

(***** out of *****)

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