Sound of Metal (2019) - 8/10
Updated: Apr 25, 2021
You’re on solid ground with Riz Ahmed starring. Sound of Metal opens with him, playing Ruben, pounding the skins, bare-chested in a club whilst his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) screams into the mic. Music is clearly everything as they drive their world in an Airstream around the states. It’s lofi DIY, music as a lifestyle, for love. Then Ruben’s ears ring. You know the sound, even if hearing loss doesn’t effect you. You know that high pitch warning sign that signals trouble. It’s trouble for anyone of course, but for a musician, a young musician. Devastation is not too strong a word. We are put right in Ruben’s head, all muffled and muted. It’s pretty bloody terrifying. You really don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. You have to strain as he does to make things out (although I cheated a little with subtitles). The world inside Ruben is markedly different from outside. When we hear the other perspective it’s truly shocking and upsetting as to just how much he’s missing. His loss is severe, possibly brought on by noise exposure, possibly something else. What’s clear though is he’s not much hearing left, has to protect what is left and has to make a choice. Choices are complicated things aren’t they. We make our own, often don’t understand others and this is often hard to comprehend. There’s also denial, a strong complicated emotion and Ahmed pulls off Ruben’s masterfully. Although it’s Ruben’s present that concerns us, he has a past too. One that could quickly come back to haunt him given his new bleak reality. Luckily for him, it seems he’s some good people around him, one of whom introduces Joe (Paul Raci). Joe wants to help, can help, but it involves Ruben ditching that denial, before he implodes. Upsetting as the situation is. It is wonderfully uplifting to see people, a community, rally round and help, out of pure kindness, understanding. Ruben’s isolation is palpable. Finding himself in a deaf community, learning to cope, there’s little communicative sound and we’re as isolated as Ruben. As he learns and his world opens up, as does ours and my god it is glorious! It’s only one facet of his new life though. Sure he can communicate again, has even found meaning in the work he’s doing within the deaf community. Music though. Performing. Living. That, well he still needs it and try as he might, can’t let go. He’s forced to make another choice and somehow this seems even harsher than anything he’s faced before. It’s a heartbreaking to witness Ruben’s reality repeatedly smashed, but amazingly insightful and ultimately startling redemptive. It’s a journey. One from making a wonderful noise, to excepting beautiful silence.