Sound of Metal accurately depicts addiction

Critically-acclaimed film shatters cinema’s inaccurate perception of addiction and recovery

Sound of Metal accurately depicts addiction

Conor Metzger, Contributing Columnist

Lately, it seems that Hollywood has acquired a taste for addiction stories. And almost any actor who takes the role of an addict is automatically considered to be in the running for prestigious awards like the Oscars. But do these impressive honors mean that they are truly capturing the complexity of the disease?

I have a complicated answer — but to summarize, I would say no. While most films can understand the difficulty of realizing you have a problem, “Beautiful Boy”, takes a different approach entirely to recognize that addiction is more than just substances. Alcohol, drugs, porn, gambling and others are only the outlets through which addiction reveals itself. 

To realize that you have a problem and to take steps to reduce your identified substance dependency is the method that should be commended. But what 2019’s “Sound of Metal” showed is that there is more than just effort required.

In the film we meet the character Ruben, played by British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed. Ruben is a heavy metal drummer who lives out of an RV with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) as they travel between the different locations on their tour. It is implied that Lou is why Ruben has remained clean through his four years and that Ruben has helped Lou through depression and suicidal thoughts in return. This creates a dependency model between the two that helps them on their respective journeys toward recovery. But, what they don’t realize is that this dependency has blocked them from going further.

To explain this, I will use a metaphor. Imagine you are drowning and the water is continuously pushing you down. Then, a piece of driftwood comes by. You latch on and are no longer drowning, but you are still stuck in the middle of the ocean. You refuse to acknowledge the passing ships or helicopters because you appreciate your piece of driftwood or maybe because those sources of help are so far away that you don’t think you could make it.

Ruben and Lou appear to have both been drowning four years ago, and when they met, they latched onto each other and formed a bond that kept them stable. But this bond stopped them from actually healing. They live out of their RV, traveling across the country, running. Ruben and Lou ignore the solution that’s right in front of their faces — they need to go their separate ways to find out how to truly heal themselves.

This is the answer that Ruben has to come to terms with when he loses his hearing. While he never uses drugs again at any point in the film, he and Lou realize that this life-changing event could cause him to drown again. As Lou helps Ruben get to a center for people in recovery who are deaf, they consider their inevitable separation. Once in this community, while learning how to live life as a deaf person, Ruben is also instructed to try and sit in the quiet. A crucial part of the disease of addiction is this insatiable desire to keep moving, to get the next high, to bet on the next horse. People in recovery learn how to be still and enjoy the peace without feeling like they have to keep going. This is a struggle for Ruben, as he is constantly worrying about Lou, and wondering if there is any way for him to ever regain his hearing.

Eventually, Ruben leaves the recovery house and finds Lou living a much more healthy and peaceful life. It is as if Lou is able to do what Ruben is not, to realize that her previous life on the road was not allowing her to get better and that while Ruben helped her begin her recovery, she had to move past him and find her own path at the end of the day.  Ruben sees this and understands that asking Lou to return to their old life would be sending them both backward on their journeys. After realizing the peace Lou has found, Ruben leaves and starts to enjoy the silence and stillness.

This is a very different type of story than the one that we are used to seeing in addiction films. The viewer does not have to watch the character act out his addiction to realize that they have a disease. For audiences to gain a better view of addiction, they need to see past the generic scene of a character’s first 12-step meeting. This trope makes it seem as if recovery begins and ends there, but that could not be further from the truth. What Hollywood and audiences alike need to realize is that recovery can take a plethora of different pathways. The goal should be finding your inner self through the quiet and stillness of a clear head, not just by forgoing your identified form of addiction.

If you or anybody you know is struggling with addiction in any form, Wake Forest offers a community of students in recovery who are there to help. Do not hesitate to reach out at [email protected].