Sound of Metal is playing in UK cinemas from 17th May and on Amazon Prime Video from 12th April.
The morning after I viewed Sound of Metal, I found myself thinking about the movie on my morning walk. I noticed every sound around me, from the birds singing in the trees to the gravel crunching under my feet and the wind whistling past my ears. These sounds are everyday occurrences for those who can hear them; we take them for granted, hardly noticing them around us. Even as I type this review, the pitter-patter of the keyboard is a given to me, my brain only registering the sound if I make an effort to single it out and hear it.
Do we cherish and think about the joy of each sound around us? In truth, those who hear take it for granted and never consider that it may someday diminish or disappear. We place ourselves in situations daily where we push this gift to its limits, from earphones set at high volumes to clubs where the bass vibrates through our bodies. For musicians, this risk is multiplied, with many suffering gradual hearing loss from years of live gigs and touring, and despite the importance of earplugs, we rarely think about the value of our hearing.
Sound of Metal isn’t just about the drama and storytelling on screen; it’s a reminder of the sounds surrounding us and the silence when they vanish. As the film opens, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) furiously pounds the drums; the stage lighting bathing his bare torso in heat and colour. Next to him, his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) plays the guitar and screams out the vocals of their self-crafted song. The crowd in front of them bounces, the world disappearing in a fog of heat, light, sweat and sound.
The morning after the gig, Ruben rises early, preparing a vegan breakfast as Lou sleeps. Every sound is elevated, from the drip of the percolated coffee to the cutting of food and the music playing softly in the background. But, for Ruban, this will be the last breakfast he enjoys with these sounds surrounding him.
The next day Ruben wakes with a blockage in both ears that causes his voice to echo in his head, but this is no more than an infection, right?
Director Darius Marder’s subtle yet striking exploration of hearing loss never allows for a simplistic or easy story arc, using the film’s sound design to maximum effect in exploring Ruben’s new world. But Riz Ahmed’s electric performance holds Sound of Metal together. Ahmed captures the fear and apprehension of Ruben’s journey and the grief of his hearing loss with such power he owns every scene. There is a childlike pain and discovery in Ahmed’s eyes as he learns to embrace the world afresh while longing for a miracle cure that can take him back to his old life. Here discussions on deafness and disability find a fascinating voice as we explore challenging and urgent debates around the very meaning of disability.
The result is a delicate, fascinating and engaging drama held aloft by its technical brilliance and Ahmed’s performance. While some may find the unresolved nature of the discussions raised problematic, the fact that these discussions are present is a huge step forward in cinema. Darius Marder’s documentary background sits firmly at the heart of the film through Sound of Metal’s realism and social depth, creating a unique and impressive slice of modern cinema.