Sound of Metal (2021) REVIEW
Darius Marder’s hard hitting drama Sound of Metal (2021 UK) reaches into the depths of souls and demonstrates how lives can change from one state to another in the blink of an eye. The film concerns Ruben Stone portrayed by the magnetic Riz Ahmed, who is the drummer for a hardcore rock duo besides his girlfriend, Lou. When Ruben’s hearing suddenly and rapidly deteriorates, he must re-evaluate his career choices in the sound-centric music industry. Over the course of the film, Ruben fights his inner demons and tries to keep his relationship and life together as he struggles to come to terms with his condition.
[Minor SPOILERS ahead]
A Look into Character
The character development throughout the film is simply astounding as Ruben acclimatises to life as a deaf person. We see his desperation to claw back and retain his hearing which is a personal and ultimate goal for him but epitomises denial and inability to accept reality. This is somewhat tragic and forms much of the sadness and emotional depth in the movie. Nevertheless, his character slowly but surely transforms from an obstinate, desperate individual to an actualized, changed man.
The character of Lou is just as troubled as Ruben but when Ruben’s health worsens she is at her wits end. Lou is loving and faithful towards her partner and wants the best for him which provides hope in the film and despite their separation, her love remains strong. We see her development from an emotional wreck to glamourous star which exemplifies the time and metamorphosis Ruben’s journey has invoked upon the story and her life.
Joe, who runs the deaf community, provides a viable and realistic solution to Ruben’s problems and his structured if not stern rules facilitate and help the deaf so they may live ‘normal’, productive lives. His character serves as a bulwark for the tides of hopelessness in the film but Ruben’s determination and obstinance rids of this pillar of stability in a tensely written and acted scene near the end. Joe is a seasoned professional who represents safety and reality, yet Ruben cannot accept this at this point in the narrative which is why his reunion with Lou completes his character arc.
The story starts and ends with Ruben and Lou together even if Ruben is alone in the last scene he is at peace with who he has become which is the epitome of a well-written arc which in essence fluctuates from denial to hatred to recuperation to denial to acceptance.
There is much depth to Ruben’s character arc which Marder builds over the course of the film and Riz Ahmed’s strong acting transcends and elevates this. Ahmed manages to envelop us into Ruben’s life with his jittery, hopeless disposition and intense, raw emotional displays. The anger and rage he exhibits dramatizes and increases tension in each scene and the way in which he breaks down is the epitome of dramatic, believable acting. We see his thoughts through the ways in which his eyes dart with facial nuances which make the performance that more special. In addition, his delivery was superb with some lines truly hitting deep within our hearts such as his discussion with Joe:
‘Like, what does it matter? What does it matter? It just passes. Yo. If I disappear, like, who cares? Nobody cares, man. Seriously. Yo, and that’s okay. That’s life. That’s life. No, for real. Okay? It just passes. It just fucking… fucking passes.’Ruben Stone
In passages of dialogue like this, a fatalism and existentialism derives which runs throughout the movie in various forms i.e., in Ruben’s tattoos alluding to death. There is also a deep loneliness which surrounds much of the movie as Ruben is physically isolated through his condition and separated from Lou due to his stint in the deaf community. Moreover, these themes can be tied into one overarching motif which is faith both optimistically and religiously which is shrouded in uncertainty. This is because Ruben’s goal does not pan out how he expected it to, and his realisation kicked in that no matter what he does he cannot shake off the condition like his addictions for example. He also has no religious faith which is maybe obvious given his hardcore rock and roll career: but this makes for an even deeper loneliness as there is no spiritual buffer or crutch to lean onto in difficult times where inner strength is vital.
The Power of Deafness
In some of the scenes, we become so invested in the plight and lack of spoken dialogue that we feel, as strange as it may seem, deaf for a moment. This is a testament to the gritty realism which draws us into Ruben’s world and is amplified by the sound editing and effects which mimic what I suppose is the audible experience of a deaf person. The movie was nominated for a plethora of awards and won a fair few including an Oscar for film editing which was well deserved as I could see the logical progression of the story and the way in which each scene fit perfectly with the last. The final scene was both a mesmerising and cathartic experience as Ruben finally accepts his state of being and rids of the hearing technology. The deaf simulated sound effects cut off as he removes the device and silence ensues with the bustling sunny setting a visual spectacle. This forms a profound bittersweetness to conclude the movie which is subtle yet emotionally charged and essentially represents tranquillity away from artificiality and amongst real life.
What makes this film truly heart-breaking is its premise of a musician losing his hearing and his life spinning into turmoil and disarray as a result. This is the ultimate loss for a person of his occupation and hammers home how drastically our situation in life can change. The film comprises of very strong acting from Ahmed in particular who deserved the Oscar. The writing was good with memorable dialogue and characters and the production and picture was gritty and elicited a relatable tone and visual of everyday life. The sound effects made the film ever more realistic as we get a first-hand experience or insight into the intimate, audible experiences of a person losing their hearing until deafness. I do recommend you watch this film if you have not already it will most definitely hit home.