I have a confession to make… I’m a very bad film student, and I’ll tell you why: I haven’t seen many of the classics, and many modern films that will surely become classics just escape my radar or I procrastinate to watch. The Godfather? Never seen it. Parasite? It took me like a year to watch. But, with my graduation looming on the horizon, I say no more! No longer will I be a cinematic pariah! Today’s review is proof that I intend to change my ways. I was told about this film about a week ago after I watched Minari and spoke with my professor about it. Contrary to how much I liked it, he did not, and instead recommended I watch Sound of Metal. So I did! I didn’t put it off a year or forget about it altogether! Now I know, I know, this movie came out in 2019 but I just heard about it a week ago, so it’s new to me and I watched it as soon as I was told to, so that count’s for something, right? Anyway, while I don’t agree with my professor on the subject of Minari, I’m in complete agreement that Sound of Metal is amazing. Step into my office, let’s talk about it.
*** Spoilers Ahead ***
Sound of Metal follows Ruben, a super healthy, somewhat brash drummer who plays heavy-metal on tour across the US with his manager/singer/guitarist/girlfriend. Most mornings he wakes up before Lou, makes them healthy smoothies and fruit bowls for breakfast, and works out; But, one day, he wakes up barely able to hear and then before long… going completely deaf. The film sees Ruben have his entire life flipped upside down and while taking the path to acceptance of his condition.
I found this film heartbreaking. As someone who used to play in a hardcore band, and for quite awhile didn’t protect his ears until tinnitus crept in, it felt close to home. For Ruben there was no indication of a creeping damage to his hearing, he simply lost 75% of it and then all of it. His backstory felt all too familiar as well: Many of the friends I made within the heavy music scene were tattooed, vegetarian, past-addicts who found salvation through music rather than the typical means found in rehabilitation. I knew several Ruben’s, he felt real to me and Riz Ahmed brought him to life in such a dynamic and yet genuine way.
The thing about many films is they tell a story and you watch it, but with Sound of Metal you are living with Ruben over the course of this time. I felt like a ghost just hovering inches away and observing his life unfold because of several factors: The writing, the acting, and the sound.
The characterizations are completely genuine and the acting leans into this, never over the top but never muted or flat. Dialogue is human regardless of what facet of humanity that is. Ruben says what anyone would given his situation, it isn’t a dramatic monologue, it’s rage and expletives and screaming for help. He wants a particular solution and outcome but when that isn’t the option given he denies what help is available. As people, when we lose communication, we also lose a great deal of what makes us who we are. This happens to Ruben as he enters a community in which he cannot communicate or be communicated with. But something lovely and natural happens: As Ruben learns sign, he becomes himself again. Poetry is great and beautiful, but so is the rawness of real life and this film feels like the poetry you pull from that rawness without ever trying to stifle it.
The sound! The sound design of the film is incredible and makes you feel as though you’re going through the stages of hearing loss as well. When Ruben first loses his hearing and joins the rehab/deaf community, there are no subtitles or sound as the people around him speak in ASL (American Sign Language). You feel isolated, confused, alone and then realize… That is what it would be like and that IS what it is like for Ruben. When he gets his hearing implant we, the audience, and Ruben himself expect to be able to hear like normal or close to it. Instead, voices sound like a very low-volume, bad quality drive-thru speaker and some sounds are disjointed, fuzzy, or jarringly loud. Finally, when a church bell sounds like an overwhelming, multi-layered apartment buzzer… he takes off the implants he’s sold all of his belongings to afford… and there is no sound, but it’s peaceful, the silence is that of acceptance.
While the sound was given above-and-beyond treatment, the cinematography was by no means slacking. This movie is beautiful and while acting and writing provide intimate situations, the shots are just as important in providing the connection we feel to all the characters. There is a fine line between a shot feeling cozy and feeling claustrophobic, and these two subtle differences are used so effectively to also relate Ruben’s isolation. We’re close and surroundings fly by when he is just going deaf, and also when he gets his implants. In contrast, as he adapts to his life in the deaf community, there is a sense of coziness in the spaces as he connects with his peers and the youth in which he learns sign alongside. Beyond just positioning, however, everything is shot beautifully. Scenes aren’t just well lit, they’re lit intentionally and with intimacy which just brings every moment of the film to life.
Sound of Metal was a true delight to watch and like Minari it gave me what felt like a realistic peek into an experience or set of experiences in which I may never know nor fully understand. There is something so beautiful about that and it is something I believe only movies can provide us to such an extent. As humans, the more we understand each other’s unique experiences, the closer we become and that has never been more important. I know this review was short, but that is because this film is really an experience in itself and descriptions don’t do it justice; So go watch it!
BanditTree Rating: 9 out of 10 drum sticks