Check out the Video Lab Podcast’s episode on this film!
As a film centering around a person losing their hearing, “Sound of Metal” spends a large amount of time drawing beautiful contrast between the value of both noise and silence. Audio in the film sounds crisp, deliberate, and purposeful. Whether its simple scenes showing main character Ruben interacting with others, him staring out a window, brushing his teeth, or the sounds of nature around him, the traumatic experience of sudden hearing loss focuses the audience to these things. The camera lens itself feels honed and intentional in moments of silence, sharpening the dichotomy of the two senses.
The film’s title itself is cleverly loaded with several meaningful layers through this noise paradigm. Ruben is a metal drummer and it is the deafening sound of metal music which he loses his hearing to; When he’s deaf, Ruben can feel the rhythmic vibrations of metal as he taps his hands on it at a school for deaf children; and its the wrenching metallic sound he hears when his cochlear implant gives him the ability to hear the busyness of the world again.
“Sound of Metal” dwells on the big questions of purpose within Ruben’s journey. Ruben finds belonging and companionship within a deaf community he integrates with. Perhaps the best moment of the film is a heartbreaking scene when Rueben tells the leader of this community, Joe, that he received a cochlear implant. “I wonder, all these mornings you’ve been sitting. Have you had any moments of stillness? For me, those moments of stillness are the kingdom of god.”
It’s in this scene that Ruben asks for money so that he may chase after the life he had before becoming deaf. Joe notes that Ruben is acting like the drug addict he used to be. It is this expanded metaphor where the film is exceptional. Recreational drugs, for the most part, are taken to get to a desired state of consciousness—to escape the present because of the perception that it is undesirable. Ruben establishes a pleasant, simple, and happy life in the deaf community, but abandons it to chase the feeling that his previous life was really what he was living for, and that it is only that path which he can make something of himself with.
Upon reuniting with his girlfriend, Lou, he finally realizes his way of perceiving the world is irrevocably altered, and they are on different paths. In a fantastic extended shot, we see Ruben bombarded by this awful metallic static of the busy noise of Paris being fed into his cochlear implant. And when he switches the implants off, he is in pure distilled bliss—a beautiful silence in which he can finally absorb his surroundings and be at peace.
Loaded with deep symbolism surrounding a novel story, and a cinematic foray into the little explored world of the deaf community, “Sound of Metal” is a beautiful film whose praise is well earned.