Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019)

I’d noticed Riz Ahmed in a couple of films and been impressed, and of course he’s in Chris Morris’s Four Lions, so here he is in pretty well every scene, if not shot, of this film. Heavy metal drummer Ruben Stone (Ahmed) is in the middle of a low budget tour with his thinly-drawn girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) when he begins to lose his hearing. Whilst he is determined to get cochlear implants, first he has to check into a school for the hearing impaired and learn to sign. Here he reluctantly learns from Vietnam vet Joe (Paul Raci, stealing every scene) and befriends Jenn (Chelsea Lee).

The lure of the cure is too much, though

In the reviews, much has been made of his status as addict — whilst this clearly Raises Jeopardy, it does give him a reason to get into rehabilitation. It also reveals much about his character and his determination to continue doing something even though he knows it isn’t good for him. It does, obviously, hint at melodrama.

At the same time, it adds to Ruben’s position as a rich character — the camera loves his tattooed, built body and he is established as a Nice Guy, but our sympathy wavers when he is, well, less Nice. We are torn between hoping for cure and redemption, and realising he can have a full life without hearing … although he will have to pay the bills and being a drummer might not work. There is a definite shift of tone when he attempts to pick up his old life — and it is not at all clear that he has so much saved Lou as acted as an awful warning. Her issues come to the fore, but the film isn’t really interested in her.

What does interest it is the sound design — much of the film is subtitled for the hard of hearing, with pivots to subjective sound, so we find ourselves in Ruben’s position, especially when he can’t understand the signing yet. And voices are distorted and covered with noise. If you can’t see this on a big screen, then watch it with headphones.


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