Blu-ray Review: SOUND OF METAL, The Loss of Sound and the Fury
A criticism often levelled at me when I was growing up was that I spoke too loudly; this habit made people assume that I was obnoxious, or felt what I had to say was more important than anyone else. And they were right in that I did speak loudly (or rather, I projected my voice and enunciated); but this was because my mother is completely deaf in one ear, and I had to help her compensate for that, especially when a space we were in was too loud. Communication is at the heart of human interaction - and while we have non-verbal ways to communicate, language is key. Hence, deafness is not a disability, but a state of being, and it's called deaf culture for a reason - it exists in its own world.
But Darius Marder's triumphant Sound of Metal isn't about deafness - or not just about it, at least. It's about finding what your life really means to you, what yiou must face when your world is turned upside down, what was once your path becomes irrevocably broken and you must find a new one, one that will not lead you back to the darkness you once inhabited.
Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is four years clean, and acts as drummer, driver, and tour manager for his singer/songwriter girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Their music is loud, angry, and full of pain, much like the two of them; though they have a deep love, it is an interdependence that exceeds what is healthy. Over the course of a mere few days, Ruben loses nearly all of his hearing. For someone whose life revolves around music, this is almost impossible to comprehend. And Lou knows she cannot help him; despite immediately wanting to reach for a solution, Ruben is in danger of falling back into his addictions.
A friend finds him a rehab community specifically for deaf people, run by Joe (Paul Raci), who also lost his hearing as an adult. Joe makes it clear that Ruben needs to be out of communication with Lou, and everyone else, if he's going to learn to live in the deaf world, and not fall back into bad habits. Ruben, anger constantly simmering as his second layer of skin, seems reluctant to make any headway into this world, until a small connection helps him see his stubborness will keep him isolated.
Ruben has struggled for so long to keep control, that even though he seems ot be quick to search for answers, he acts out of desparation. His refusal to give up on the idea that he can get his hearing back, whatever the personal or financial cost, makes him hostile to any of the well-intentioned interventions by Joe and others. He has worked so hard to build the life he had, one he saw as perfect for him and his love, to indulge even the slightest in anything else would be suicide.
Marder gives us as little time as he gives Ruben to process what is happening, and frequently gives us Ruben's 'point of hearing' - we cannot understand him, unless we understand how he now hears the world (or, as quickly is apparent, does not). We are thrown into this as he is, even if he might at first chaffe at his reluctance to engage with the Deaf community. Going back and forth between Ruben's POH and the hearing world, we learn that first of all, the Deaf community has its share of wonderous noise, and second, that much of our own world could use a little silence. But mostly, that Ruben's problem is not his newfound deafness, but how he expects to engage with the world.
Both Ahmed and Raci were nominated for numerous awards for their performances, and it's easy to see why; the former engaged in a method-like commitment, learning ASL and using earplugs to understand how Ruben could not longer hear. Raci is a CODA, a Vietnam vet like his character, and proof that life experience and representation matter, to give full life to his role as Ruben's guide and consciounce. But Cooke also shows how helpless it can be, to be the one who has to force the seperation, to understand a little sooner that co-dependency is just another addiction, and that love does not always conquer all. But Sound of Metal allows these performers to shine through its themes of love, anger, loss, and the long, dark journey into a new day, even if it was not what was wanted.
One of the wonderful things about Sound of Metal is that it was shot on film, a rarity these days, especially for an indie film. But that richness in texture lends it a depth and grace often lost in the digital. The director-approved 4K digital master keeps that richness. But of course, this is a film about sound, and the disc features 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio sountrack. This perserves the experience that Marder and his team created for the audience to be immersed in Ruben's world.
There's a great discussion on the sound design and editing with Marder and sound editor Nicolas Becker. They describe how they wanted to both evoke the soundscape (or lack thereof) that was Ruben's after the loss of most of his hearing, and also how the world around would perceive sound, especially within the Deaf community. As they point out, good sound in a film does not mean more sound in a film, and Deaf conversations have a noise of their own, from the production of vibrations to get attention to the more gentle sound of skin on skin as signs relay the dialogue.
The story that Sound of Metal became, began with filmmaker Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines); he eventually passes it on to Marder and his brother, Abraham Marder. Cianfrance and Marder discuss their love of metal music, the couple friends/band who inspired Cianfrance in the first place, and how Abraham Marder's experiences with illness and loss of hearing augmented the tale into what he and Marder eventually crafted the film into. Along with some behind the scenes footage, and a music video by Abraham for the film's closing credits song, we're given good background on the where the story came from, and how the film was crafted from both crew and cast to create the masterpiece it became.
The essay by Roxana Hadadi, 'Throbbing Eternity', reads as both an in-depth review of the film, and an analysis that reaches into is darkest corners. She helps us to understand the deeper themes of addiction, masculinity in crisis, and labour, in ways that only reveal themselves with multiple viewings, as possible with the disc. It's nice to see a film as recent as this one get the Criterion treatment, as it truly deserves the particular care and attention, and quality we get.
Sound of Metal
- Darius Marder
- Darius Marder
- Abraham Marder
- Derek Cianfrance
- Riz Ahmed
- Olivia Cooke
- Paul Raci