Sound of Metal: One Man’s Journey to Enjoy the Silence

By Jennifer Allen

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, and Paul Raci

When this film begins, the audience is treated to a centered visual frame of British Pakistani actor and rapper Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone; a man sitting quietly behind a small drum set. His hair is partially bleached and his upper torso is riddled with a large array of tattoos.

His arms then raise to tap his two drum sticks together and then begin drumming as one half of a metal duo known as Blackgammon with his girlfriend Lou (played by Olivia Cooke).

Shortly after one of their gigs, Ruben wakes up in the pair's shared tour RV to suddenly realize he is losing his hearing. Lou takes him to have his hearing checked at a clinic, to which the doctor immediately tells him that he must “eliminate all exposure to loud noises," else he will lose what little hearing he has left.

With his chosen profession being a member of a metal band, that advice is the exact opposite of what Ruben had in mind.

Lou, worried that Ruben may return to his former drug habit to cope with this revelation, then speaks with a mutual friend of theirs who recommends taking Ruben to a shelter for recovering deaf addicts. There they meet Joe (Paul Raci), a former alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. Initially Ruben is resistant to staying and investigates getting cochlear implants. Lou eventually is forced to employ a 'tough love' approach to persuade him to stay at the shelter as she leaves and eventually moves back to Europe.

What follows is Ruben's personal journey to gradually break away from his tough exterior and grow to not only accept his condition but to also find camaraderie in a community where they all refuse to see deafness as a handicap.

We follow along and share in this man's turmoil as his entire life has completely turned upside down.

It's here that I should point out the sound design for this film, overseen by Nicolas Becker. As Ruben's hearing further deteriorates, the film occasionally shifts to portray this from his perspective.

This adds an extra layer to the already touching narrative as the film jumps in and out of the world of hearing; creating scrapes, choppy distortions and muffled thumps that place the character in-between those worlds and feels just out of reach.

While at the rehab facility, Ruben must endure the difficult process of rebuilding his life. At first, he sits at the dinner table with the other residents and watches them all enjoy a gleeful conversation in American Sign Language. He is forced to watch them in a dumbfounded silence which causes him to feel even more isolated.

Eventually he learns Sign by attending classes with deaf elementary school children. All of Ahmed's scenes with the kids and their teacher Diane (Lauren Ridoff) are endearing and it's easy to see how much the students loved having him around. So much so that he evolves from a fellow student to a sort of big brother and mentor to them over the passing weeks.

He also becomes a helpful part of the adult recovery group as he becomes friends with some of the residents and by (reluctantly as first) following Joe's request to sit every morning in a small room and write his feelings out with pen and paper.

The haphazardly jagged script he writes at the beginning of this therapeutic exercise gradually changes to be more legible as time goes on.

After a few weeks, Ruben seems to have found a peaceful balance between both his circumstances and environment. “You've become very important to a lot of people around here," Joe eventually tells him during one of their counsel sessions. And if it were not for the fact that he was occasionally sneaking into Joe's office to check on his girlfriend, we'd be inclined to believe him.

Unfortunately, Ruben still desires to return to the world of the hearing and goes through drastic measures to do so. The last chapter of the film shifts from his struggles to accept his condition with a near 180 turn of determination to reverse it by any means necessary.

It can feel a bit awkward to watch this somewhat jarring attitude change, but it leads to an ending that does feel satisfying.

The film, and Ahmed's performance, is unique in that it isn't about a man who's suffering and eventually finds acceptance with his new existence. It's about someone living in false belief and bargaining with his own body to return to a life he's more accustomed to.

The story is not tied up with a warm fuzzy bow at the end or some cozy inspirational message. Ruben is a flawed human being who lives in a world of uncomfortable truths… and that raw and ultimately real portrayal is why this film is worth a watch.

Sound of Metal is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime.

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Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer, Graphic Artist, Gamer, Martial Arts Practitioner, and all around Pop Culture Geek.