“The Sound of Metal” captivates audiences

Topics of disability and drug abuse are highlighted in last year’s hit drama


Cooper Sullivan, Staff Writer

The postponement of the Oscars, BAFTA and SAG award ceremonies has allowed snooty cinephiles and bored college students alike more time to watch and debate 2020’s best movie before the all-knowing Academy announces the ‘definitively correct’ answer on April 25. One of the films competing for six of this year’s Oscar statuettes, including Best Picture, is “Sound of Metal”.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, “Sound of Metal” tells the story of Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a punk-rock drummer who loses his hearing mid-set, and his journey as he adjusts to his new deaf lifestyle. Ruben is a former heroin addict, who — with the help of his girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke) — has been able to stay clean and find purpose in life beyond slow highs. Out of love for Lou and fear of relapse, Ruben is willing to risk further hearing damage by remaining on tour. The duo continue to pursue their music dreams to earn money to pay for daily expenses and eventually auditory implants. Lou, however,  does not allow the touring to continue and finds a rehabilitation community for the deaf in rural Missouri.

At first, the program seems like it could be extremely beneficial for Ruben to not only maintain his sobriety but to learn “how to be deaf.” Soon thereafter, however, the lip-reading director Joe (Paul Raci) reveals a gut-wrenching twist. In order to be a part of the community, Ruben would have to be removed from the hearing world and not be allowed any outside contact, essentially cutting Lou out when he needs her the most. Grudgingly, the two-part ways and Ruben joins the open-armed Joe and other deaf people in the community, forcing him to leave his past life behind.

Because most of the film shows a deaf character on screen, director Darius Marder is very meticulous about the soundscape of each scene. Throughout the movie, the sound switches from a third-person aural vantage point to Ruben’s specific auditory experience. Whatever sounds Ruben hears are the sounds that the audience hears. When his hearing goes in and out at the beginning, everything becomes muffled and soft — when he is at the audiologist, everything sounds tinny and artificial.

Before Ruben is taught how to sign and ASL dialogue picks up, there are no subtitles. The viewer is left staring at the screen hopelessly confused, in an attempt by the filmmakers to encourage the audience to recognize the ways the deaf and hard-of-hearing community has both literally and figuratively been left out of the conversation in the hearing world.

Not only does this film do a good job addressing the invisibility the deaf and hard-of-hearing community faces, but the feeling of abandonment former addicts experience when they are struggling and trying to change is also intricately explored. One of Ruben’s first interactions as a member of the program occurs within a circle when everyone goes around signing their name and then making their right index finger resemble a fishing hook while tugging their lip. Multiple times Ruben and Joe have heartbreaking conversations about how their former addictions have caused them to lose relationships and forgo past dreams.

One theme shines true through the pain: addiction is not a disability. Being an addict, like being deaf, is only one part of who each person is. As such, it is unfair to label or treat them as such a singular entity. The deaf community allows each person within to not only have a support system, but also to be in a place that reaffirms the belief that there is nothing bad about being deaf.

Both Ahmed and Raci were nominated for Best Actor Oscar awards because of their emotional and brilliant performances as the lead and supporting roles, respectively. This year’s Best Actor nominees are filled with strong performances including the late Chadwick Boseman in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”. With a win, Ahmed would become the first Muslim Best Actor in a Leading Role Award winner — he is already the first Muslim nominee.

Besides the three previously mentioned nominations, “Sound of Metal” is in the running for Best Sound (99.9999% a lock to win), Best Original Screenplay and Best Achievement in Film Editing. Do not be surprised if you hear “Sound of Metal’s” name multiple times come April 25.