Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★

Riz Ahmed bugs me. Maybe because he raps. Probably because he's too cool for school. This has less to do with Riz Ahmed than it has to do with "Riz Ahmed" and my own insecurities about being too lame for school. Where is this school, by the way? And why is it governing my life?

That said, there's no denying Riz can act circles around your average schmo. He really gives it all in Sound of Metal.

When I say he gives it all, you might picture something ostentatious—like Oldman in Leon—but what I really mean is simply that he closes the gap so narrowly between "Riz Ahmed" and his character that you (meaning me) can't really be bugged by him anymore. Those great big eyes lure you into the water and then the undercurrent just takes you.

Ahmed plays Ruben, a drummer who suddenly loses his hearing. Perhaps it's offensive to deaf people to say that early scenes played like a psychological horror film to me. It's one thing, of course, to be born deaf, but it's another thing to find yourself abruptly lost to the world, stranded in a cocoon of dim, shapeless noise.

As expected, Ruben has a hard time accepting and adjusting to his new reality. Fortunately the film elides many of the mundane beats in favor of illustrative moments here and there. It trusts the viewer to understand the general psychology of denial and creeping, begrudging transformation enough not to trot out all the malady-of-the-week tropes. Occasionally, when Ruben is living in a sort of deaf commune, learning to speak sign language and to relate to other people like him, a few pivotal moments seem lost. Banging on a playground slide like a drum isn't enough; it doesn't evoke the ellipsis between the Ruben who's alternately shut-off or raging and the Ruben who's smiling and playing games with deaf kids. But then you realize that Ruben hasn't arrived yet. He's still stuck and just going through the motions. Maybe now and again he forgets himself, gets lost in the moment, but he's still holding on tightly to the life he used to lead.

This movie was cathartic. That, I think, is one of the most powerful things that art can do for you. It can give you some release from bottled-up emotions or validate your pain or experience. I'm not trying to co-opt a story about deafness and make it all about me, but the greatness of Sound of Metal resides in the universal—in the terrifying struggle to give up who you once were when it's no longer useful and to become something new.

David liked this review