The films competing in the 2021 Awards Season can be categorized into two distinct factions: well-deserving, inventive films or generic placeholders to fill in the nominations impacted by pandemic delays. Director Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal is a surprising mixed bag that has one foot in each category.
Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a heavy-metal drummer whose life is turned upside-down when he begins to lose his hearing. Ruben is a former addict who must leave his girlfriend/touring partner to go to a rural facility for deaf addicts until he can afford a surgery for cochlear implants. He goes on a journey to discover the ups and downs of a hearingless life. The film also stars Olivia Cooke as Ruben’s girlfriend and Paul Raci as Ruben’s new mentor.
Now lets start with the amazing aspects of the film. Technically, the film is an audio masterpiece. From the very first scene, the audience is thrown into the spiraling world of heavy metal and the distorted hearing loss that Ruben himself experiences in detail. Throughout the film, the audience is thrown into Ruben’s perspective and learns to navigate the narrative along with Ruben. Even when Ruben is given his cochlear implants, the audience is able to experience the distorted hearing abilities that becomes Ruben’s best and only chance to live a life with sound. The sound design alone is enough to earn the film its nominations, and the audio experience itself is only rivaled by John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place in terms of immersiveness
The acting is also solid across the board. Riz Ahmed is well-deserving of his Best Actor nomination, but considering the competition he has no chance of winning. Olivia Cooke and Paul Raci both give excellent supporting performances, but movie is hyper focused on Ahmed’s Ruben which does not give much time for anyone else to shine. Ahmed is an incredible talent all around and its just comforting to know that his career is on a good trajectory. Hopefully, we see a lot more from him in the very near future.
So now its time to get to the no-so-good portions of the movie. The film’s story revolves around Ahmed’s journey into a silent world, and it attempts to show the beautifully silent world that the deaf community experiences. Tragically, the film skews a bit and misses this mark. The result is a film that ends up shaming those who opt for cochlear implants and portrays the deaf community as an exclusive club instead of an inclusive support system.
I understand that this is a bold take so let me explain:
The film makes a very specific choice to juxtapose Ruben’s persistence to get cochlear implants as an addiction. Ruben, being a former heroin addict, never relapses into his former addiction, but instead falls into this new addiction that the movie invents for him. I understand the message of not defining deafness as a handicap, and I actually applaud Sound of Metal for trying to send this important message. Unfortunately, the film shoots itself in the foot for accomplishing that message by attacking those who opt for cochlear implants as addicts.
This may be a hot take, but I don’t think that heroin and hearing are the same thing. Cochlear implants are one of the greatest scientific advancements of all time. It gives members of the deaf community the option to experience a new sense of life, even if it’s not a perfect solution. Of course, if someone were to be against it to embrace their personal confidence, that is totally valid and does not make them inferior to anyone. Still, it’s not right to shame those who want to experience something else. It takes away the freedom of choice that everyone should have in their own life journey.
Sound of Metal goes so far as to make Paul Raci’s Joe kick Ruben out of the literal deaf community for getting the implants, which makes Ruben essentially homeless. The scene was intended to send a message that deafness is not something to be ashamed of, which is true, but in order to achieve a message of shamelessness, the film decides to push the shame onto someone else. The film itself confirms it when Ruben decides at the very end to ignore his implants and embrace his newly found deafness.
As someone who personally subscribes to the philosophy of “different strokes for different folks,” I have a problem when any group of people shames someone within the community for not falling into a certain mold. Cochlear implants should not exclude someone from the hearing impaired support system, especially when a good portion of those with these implants are children that do not have the foundation needed achieve the presented level of self-confidence.
The entire film is hindered in my eyes by this poor choice. Despite its attempt to put forth a positive message, its insistence to perpetuate stereotypes of exclusion make the entire film fall flat despite its unrelated, incredible accomplishments.
Filmnetic Grade: B-