Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★½

I assumed this would be more music-based, Whiplash-adjacent, but I’m thrilled that it actually revolves around a fascinating arc of climbing out of a hole and learning to accept help, is about kindness and generosity, and filled with supportive people trying to help Ruben on his new journey. But it does begin with the terrifying realisation that everything can change so quickly. To see Ruben’s hearing just go like that, life snapping its fingers, flipping the switch on the train-tracks and telling you no, you’re going this way now, is pretty scary. The future Ruben thought he was going to have dissolving like a polaroid moving in reverse, and a new uncertain outline of an image taking its place. I’ve always found it kind of liberating to know I could die at any moment because it allows me to live in the now, but I find it quite scary to think that I could continue to live but suddenly be unable to do the things I love without warning. I guess the parallel to Ruben’s predicament for film fans is going blind, because sure Ruben can still physically play the drums, just like we’d still be able to hear a film and consume it that way, but he and us are still robbed of something we cherished, something that gave us comfort, and realising that we’ll never be able to return to it in that form would be devastating.

Ruben’s integration into the deaf community is well told. I really like how much of the sign language is not subtitled, highlighting the significance and protective seclusion of the community to the people within it and how being deaf is not something to be pitied, but to be embraced. And I love the quiet, patient performance by Paul Raci as Joe, who’s probably seen various people in Ruben’s position go through the same stages of grief hundreds of times, but it’s also nice that he seems to see something special in Ruben, a kind heart beneath a rougher exterior that he knows could probably do with some quiet time to escape his own head and open his eyes to the world around him.

I guess this film probably had the upper hand on me from the get go as my dad lost a lot of his hearing years ago. Not quite to the extent that Ruben loses his, but pretty close. He wears hearing aids and literally only takes them off to shower and sleep, so I practically never interact with him without them, but on the rare times that I have it’s clear that even a few words between us is a struggle, pretty similar to Ruben here. As soon as I finished this film I told him to watch it for the obvious reasons that he would likely relate to Ruben and his plight pretty dramatically. The way I remember it, my dad’s hearing just went like that, the majority of it gone overnight. He’d been a bit ill for a few days but it was nothing serious, and then one day he woke up and couldn’t hear well at all. And that was it, he had tests done and everything but we never really figured out why it just happened like that. He got the hearing aids not long after, which helped dramatically, but I’d say it without them he hears about 15%, with them it’s about 50%? And maybe that’s even a bit high.

I guess he’s in a slightly different position to Ruben though, because my dad’s hearing aids allow him to hear well enough, although still not perfectly, and he’s also not a musician. Ruben on the other hand has the choice between not hearing at all, or hearing in a distorted manner, neither of which is going to allow him back to his previous drumming life. So that ending is extremely powerful because, as I said, the film has never portrayed the deaf people in the film as people to be pitied, and they don’t see deafness as something to be overcome or fixed, which Ruben takes time to realise. And through the smart filmmaking of seeing the group interact with one another and forge deep friendships, it allows Ruben to let go of his old self and realise the benefits of his new life. The ability to shut out the noise and embrace the silence, which is a nice metaphor for what he’s been doing throughout the runtime: shutting down the noise of his addictions and absorbing the silence, which has allowed him to discover more things about himself and grow as a person. He's finally making the step over to the other side, to a new version of himself that may be lacking aspects of the old, but also has benefits he could have never foreseen. Stepping out of the past and into a new future, the outline of the new image beginning to be filled in.

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