REEL Review – Sound of Metal (2020)

Director: Darius Marder | 2h | Drama

Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer in a Heavy Metal band, must deal with his new life when he loses his hearing. After spending time at a centre for Deaf People, he must decide whether or not to have a surgery in order to get his life back to normal.

Some things in life we take for granted, the ability to walk, to see and also to hear. They are a part of the human function, but what’s so abrupt about Marder’s Drama is how instantaneous it takes that away from it’s central character. It’s not about the gradual decline or the search to retain it, but the harsh reality of coming to grips with the new life thrust upon you, and how to adjust yourself when the music stops.

The film opens on Ruben in the zone behind his drum kit as him and his girlfriend rile up a modest-sized crowd. They’re clearly a group on the up and up but haven’t quite reached the pinnacle of success yet. As Ruben is setting out merch for the next show on their tour his hearing becomes blocked, as if everything is being listened to through a glass on the wall. Marder makes such a wonderful distinction between Ruben’s thought-process and the world he’s lost, and it’s performed beautifully by Riz Ahmed.

As an actor Ahmed is a very reserved performer, he doesn’t allow himself to go for big bursts of emotion (except for in the most desperate of scenes) and his performances benefit from it. Interestingly it’s not the only performance of his this year about a musician losing his ability to function (the other is Mogul Mowgli) and what’s abundantly clear is that Ahmed is endlessly passionate about his roles, and he’s the driving force behind Sound of Metal‘s heartbreaking core.

The sound work is crucial in the films storytelling, it drifts fluidly from crisp to impaired, really emphasising the difference in both.

After a few days of intense frustration for Ruben, even causing him to consider relapsing into drugs again, he has to stay at a rehabilitation of sorts. It’s a place for Deaf people to become accustom to the world they now live in, and it’s such an intriguing part to the film because for the most part, it’s done in silence. These are people that communicate through sign language, and silence isn’t something that affects them. But a stroke of genius is that Marder allows us to channel the experience through Ruben’s eyes, allowing us to really exist in his shoes all the way through the process of learning sign language and being able to create a sense of purpose in the new world in front of him.

The sound work is crucial in the films storytelling, it drifts fluidly from crisp to impaired, really emphasising the difference in both. It’s essential to bringing us into the story, using it is a divide between Ruben and the world he was once flourishing in. But the crucial part of the film is when Ruben is forced to make a choice, to accept the new world around him or to chase after the world that’s about to leave him behind.

He decides to have a surgery that allows sound to bypass his eardrums in order to hear again. Despite his new life having meaning in the form of community and teaching, he can’t escape the fact that he’s left his girlfriend behind and can’t return to his life, but when the implants create a barbaric canned noise to everything there is a sense that a mistake has been made. But Marder is much more about the personal relationships in Rubens life, and it leads to a devastating ending that’s both heartbreaking and serene.

There is an argument that the film misses the odd opportunity to create even more reality using it’s sound, but it’s a fleeting gripe considering the wonderful job it’s already doing. Riz Ahmed is great once again, and the film is unbelievably heart-wrenching when it wants to be – but in those situations where we feel completely lost, Sound of Metal‘s ending is a quiet reminder to find the moments where we don’t feel left behind.

Rating: 4 out of 5.


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