Film Review – Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal
If there is a film out there in the universe that may discuss or interpret an affliction that I have, I’m going to see it and judge it based on its preconceived notions and research (or lack of, *cough* Baby Driver *cough*). Sound of Metal focuses on a heavy metal/screamo drummer, Ruben (Riz Ahmed), who loses the majority of his hearing. Given his occupation choice, I assumed that there would be a focus on tinnitus (ringing in the ears) prior to the hearing loss, but I was wrong.
Ruben drives around the country on tour with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) in a beat-up Airstream. It is only on the second tour stop shown in the film does the audience and Ruben receive warning signs of the impending implosion of his life. As he bangs relentlessly on his drum set, the epic sound becomes muffled, and his hearing never recovers. He must quickly come to terms with his new disability in this film, faster than anyone should be forced to process such a massive lifestyle change. Complicating the situation, even more, is that Ruben is a recovering drug addict, and Lou can see through the forced “normalness” and the “everything is fine.” Lou phones his sponsor, and somehow, he knows what to do and finds the absolute best recovery house in the world for Ruben, one that is both for addicts and those who are deaf.
Ruben only experienced tinnitus briefly and fleetingly before losing his hearing. Given his penchant for healthy living, I don’t think this precursor or warning sign for hearing damage was glossed over. After searching for what ailment the film tries to depict, it seems that Ruben may have “sudden deafness,” and it is alarming to read how common it is, even if it only affects one ear.
Ruben experiences two different extremes in such a short period of time, deafness and creating music, that they clash together, leaving a wake of destruction for anything familiar for Ruben. Ruben has to experience a sort of detox, only this time it is not for drugs, but for anything that he would rely on in a hearing world. The head of the detox or support house, Joe (Paul Raci), is like one of those strict headmasters who removes all your worldly comforts for you only to realize one day that he did it for your own good. Joe is exactly that person for Ruben, forcing him into something so difficult and uncomfortable that there has to be a payoff at the other end of this terrifying period of his life. Joe is both comforting and stern, waiting for a teachable moment.
Through this process of Ruben coming to terms with what has happened to his hearing, he relies on a crutch, something that keeps him going, and endgame if you will. The local doctor who first saw him when he lost his hearing mentioned cochlear implants, a gold cup at the gauntlet’s end. He never wholly gives himself over to his fate and is determined to get back to his perceived perfect life with Lou. Sometimes we get exactly what we wanted, and it still cannot be enjoyed.
Sound of Metal perfectly depicts a health crisis, one so severe (except for death) that life has to change in every imaginable sense. While Ruben is portrayed as frantic, just thinking about going deaf overnight was enough for me to have a sympathetic anxiety attack; he handled it so much better than I would have even though he was in denial about the majority of his life changes as a result. There are conversations to be had about how the deaf community views this story and how realistic Ruben’s response to it was. I hope those behind the camera did their due diligence in response to their character’s story arc. Ruben made an almost complete 360° from the beginning of the film, but he did not envision the complications and revelations that would make him a changed man.