The Sound of Metal: "Moments of stillness"
Heavy, speed, thrash, power and grindcore have one thing in common. They’re all forms of metal music. The Sound of Metal suggests it is a film about heavy metal music.
It’s not. The Sound of Metal is much more than metal music. Metal music is a factor. Definitely.
The music is a platform from which to launch an exploration of metal drummer Ruben's sudden severe hearing loss and his rage regarding the realisation that his world has gone silent.
Music largely defines him. It has saved him from serious problems. He is a recovering drug addict who has been clean for four years.
The sound levels at which Ruben’s metal band Blackgammon performs is the direct cause of his deafness. He can’t drum because he can’t hear the singer or the beats. Furthermore, he can no longer hear anyone else’s conversation. They have to write down their words. He hears the world through a fog of muffled noise.
Ruben embarks on a journey to recover his hearing—a monumental undertaking considering the serious level of his hearing loss—and we are immersed in his journey.
Lou (Olivia Cooke)
His partner and co-band member in Blackgammon, Lou, is a rock in Ruben’s world of turmoil. She is the most significant person in his life. She keeps him from descending into dark places.
She, too, is shattered when she learns about Ruben’s deafness. One major concern is that the trauma of losing his hearing will open the door for Ruben to relapse into drug use. As a preventative move, Lou immediately searches for and finds a deaf community, as much for its community-centred approach to being deaf as its sympathetic approach to addiction.
Joe & Ruben
Joe is the deaf community’s leader and mentor. He is a substantial figure. He is focused on the needs of the community and each members responsibility to themselves and one another. He knows about their needs because he is deaf. He is uncompromising and doesn’t accept excuses or anyone’s failure to adhere to his strict requirements for becoming a community member.
As Joe explains, in the deaf community deaf people learn to be deaf. They don’t aim to fix their deafness. Ruben is working to hear again. He fears deafness. He works to defeat his deafness. Or more specifically, he is determined to break through the barrier of deafness to the world of sound and hearing. We sense his fear. We hear what he hears. To be precise, we don’t hear what he doesn’t hear.
Sound design in The Sound of Metal is essential, critical and has been created meaningfully to capture the immediacy of the sound of silence in Ruben’s life.
Joe tells Ruben that the community deals with what’s in Ruben's head, not his deafness. Ruben’s challenge is immense. His hearing loss is severe. He doesn’t know how to negotiate a world that is full of sounds without his hearing. For Ruben, it’s like driving on a highway against the flow of traffic. Emotionally, Ruben is heading towards a head-on collision.
Ruben (Riz Ahmed)
He is told to remove himself from noise. He immediately resumes playing loud metal music. He is in denial and says, “It will come back”. As the film unfolds, the sound of metal signals another aspect of Ruben’s hearing loss and his pursuit of surgery and cochlear implants to restore his hearing. This is where the sound design for the movie defines Ruben’s hearing loss, his attempts to recover his hearing, the impact of deafness on his relationship with Lou and his self-realisation about the new silent, alien world he inhabits. The sound design, combined with Roz Ahmed’s embodiment of Ruben, transforms the story and our experience of it.
Ruben is welcomed and then, when he chooses the path of cochlear implants, ostracised by the community as he works to regain his hearing. He is an outsider to the world of hearing and an outsider in the deaf community.
Ruben soon understands Joe’s approach to being deaf, when, at the end of the movie, Ruben experiences an epiphany. During Ruben’s solitary revelation—away from people, away from external distractions, and away from the pressures to tour and record an album—he knows himself. The final shot of the film brings calm into his life. And it must be said that, we, the viewing audience, also feel calm because, until that moment, we shared Ruben’s angst.
Throughout The Sound of Metal, Ruben's mental anguish keeps us on edge. We welcome Ruben’s moment of stillness.
The Sound of Metal is mesmerising; you will be transfixed.
OFFICIAL TRAILER: The Sound of Metal
WATCH: The Sound of Metal
Screening in selected cinemas and streaming on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime.
Film Extras| Sound & Silence
The Tribe (2015)
Warning: The Tribe contains explicit sex scenes and brutal violence.
The Tribe is told entirely in sign language, without subtitles or any sort of translation. A new student, Sergey, discovers that his school for the deaf is dominated by the Tribe, a teen gang of criminals engaging in theft, drug-trafficking and prostitution.
Children of a Lesser God (1986)
Children of a Lesser God is the uplifting love story of an idealistic teacher and a headstrong deaf girl.
The Miracle Worker (1962)
The story of Anne Sullivan's struggle to teach the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate.
La Famille Bélier (The Bélier Family) (2014)
In rural France, teenage Paula acts as the interpreter for her parents and younger brother who all have hearing loss. After Paula enrols for music class, her teacher discovers she has an amazing voice and musical ability and she is forced to struggle between her desires and the needs of her family.
Pushpak (Tamil) (1987)
Pushpak has no dialogue. An unemployed young man dreams of living well. One evening, he finds a drunken industrialist passed out in a gutter, and takes the opportunity to switch places with him.
A Quiet Place (2018)
In a reversal of the inability to hear—the necessity to be silent—a family must live in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by sound. Even the slightest whisper or footstep can bring death. Don’t make a sound.