Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★½

Such a hard film to talk about without talking about myself, so I guess I'll start with that. My hearing, as the years go on, has decreased in quality: the constant static noise that resides in my hearing seems to get louder after every birthday. The difficulty in understanding people even when they talk at a regular voice, the inability to distinguish if someone’s calling me at work, the fact that I cannot register my parents, friends, or family’s voice on the first go. Listening to music was one of the only outlets I had to drone out the life I lived – the headphones blasting Billy Joel or Electric Light Orchestra as I walked the halls in high school or the car that has several CDs stacked high as I blast them at full volume. I was reckless with my hearing and now, I will have to face the consequences – it's so easy thinking that when you’re young, you’re undamageable: how wrong we all are. Now, I have my volume on my music up high because I can’t hear it otherwise and I have to be on speaker phone mode whenever I make calls because I can’t hear it. My hearing is slipping away and I will have to adjust to it.

I knew that “Sound of Metal” would impact me because I am in this predicament where my tinnitus is consuming my hearing as I get older (and even as I write this, the static is present). Minus the fact I am not as musically inclined as Ruben, I knew it’d affect me – it not only affected me, it broke me. I don’t think I've ever been more afraid to lose my hearing more than once the credits rolled up on “Sound of Metal:” the quiet crawl of names and the static that keeps me company. It deliberately made me more aware of my situation than I could’ve possibly ever imagined; the sound design of the film is the absolute best of the year because it’s neither gimmicky or indulgent with exploring Ruben’s battle – there's several distorted voices, moments of absolute silence, and that static, that fucking static and each moment brings us to that realization that Ruben isn’t going to regain anything. But maybe more, the sound design reminded me of the future I will most likely have – with it, I had never felt as alone as I did watching images with nothing but that static. It was punch in the gut.

What makes the film work so well is Riz Ahmed’s performance: if not close to being the best performance of the year, it’s inarguable that it may be the most vulnerable. So much of the film lingers on his reactions and his believability to sell us the idea that he’s extremely affected by the loss of his hearing – from the opening scene, we get that this almost horrific journey will be so detrimental and life-changing for him, especially since he’s a musician: what happens when he loses his hearing and can no longer play? The fear in not knowing your future when you’ve so carefully planned out your life just for it to take a complete turn and lose everything you’ve got. I think the moment that really hurt me the most was when he was pleading with Lulu to wait for him and that he’d get better: she knows that his hearing is going away, so she can only look at him and nod her head and cry and Ruben can only give her false hope that everything will return – we are outside, unable to see Ruben hide behind his drums or his RV, and this little plea is the most vulnerable we see him: he wants nothing to change when he simply won’t acknowledge that everything will change.

But “Sound of Metal” isn’t a film that makes tinnitus and hearing loss a thing to be ashamed about – it is effective in its presentation in taking us into the mind of someone who’s hearing is slipping away, but the goal of the film is to highlight the struggles and the pain that those who do lose their hearing go through and in those moments of feeling low, alienated, broken, and alone, the film chooses to linger on the beauty in accepting that loss and live your live. Of course, Ruben isn’t welcoming to the idea of losing his hearing at all: he’s afraid of it, he believes he’s abnormal because of it, and he goes to great lengths to avoid living like this and instead live as “normally” as possible with implants. But the moment when he realizes that things won’t go back to normal – the moment when he realizes that his ideas of returning back to normal are upsetting Lulu – he realizes to embrace himself as something new: he doesn’t need to live in that past anymore because there’s no use running towards it. He sits in the silence, finally realizing how beautiful this new life can be for him.

Much more to say, but I’ll leave it at this: if I am to live this life of silence when I'm older, I will need to accept it rather than hide from it. The ringing in my ears hasn’t stopped throughout this review – it won’t stop after I publish it, it won’t stop when I go to work or school, it won’t stop when I eat, it won’t stop when I meet the love of my life, and it won’t stop until I lose what remains of my hearing: that is something I will have to deal with but oddly enough, I feel more comfortable with it now than I would’ve felt before.

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