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‘Sound of Metal’s’ wonderful, inaudible chorus

| Thursday, March 25, 2021

Elaine Park | The Observer

With the Academy Awards announcing their nominations, it is officially time to binge watch all the films you hear about but never had time to watch. Delayed by theaters closing, coronavirus regulations and a continuing decline in the ceremony’s ratings each year, the awards season seems to be trapped in a perfect storm. But for writer-director Darius Marder and his film “Sound of Metal,” this year seems to be soaring without turbulence.

What elevates this film to its spectacular quality is the editing and sound design, both of which are nominated for an Oscar. Sound is the hinge that this film revolves around, and I have never heard a film so beautiful in my life. The mix of noise and silence crashes against the imagery like a tidal wave, and the fresh interpretation of how Ruben — the main character — hears the world is a whole new level of audio sensation. The editing is also fantastic, cutting around the way deaf people talk while building up the juxtaposition between the world of sound and a world without it.

The first half of the film leads the audience into an unknown world — a world without sound and without a voice to name its existence — of addicts and children that have been taken away from the familiar, and therefore take themselves away from the world itself. We, as the audience, have to adapt with Ruben in this alien world, feeling the snaps and clicks at the dinner table with no way of understanding. The cinematography expresses sign language in a beautiful blend of hide and seek, sometimes highlighting its idiosyncrasies or masking it within the editing’s tight cuts back and forth between Ruben’s perspective and the world of sound. The camera acts as two separate roles: one acting inside Ruben’s mind and senses and the other one watching from a distance. There are parts of the film where we observe Ruben simply observing his surroundings, but the way it is shot with the emotions that take over Ruben make these scenes the best in the whole film.

Riz Ahmed — who plays Ruben — gives a heartbreaking performance as a death metal drummer and recovering addict. Losing his hearing is not what is wrong with him, but it unveils all of his past anger with no way to control it. Every character has a phantom hiding under their skin, and how these phantoms reveal themselves once Ruben loses his hearing is a terrifying reality. Blaring trucks and road construction are wiped completely out of existence with a simple cut, yet the sun poking through the trees remains. The chaos of noise constantly rams itself against the calming silence, enough to send Ruben over the edge. All he can do is scream, but even then, he still can’t hear it.

The story itself is rather straightforward, but it is the miles of depth hidden underneath that kept me watching. It’s more than a biography of a man turned deaf, or a musician losing his dream. Not everything is said out loud. Most of Ruben’s pain stays behind the stage. Darius Marder doesn’t want every truth to be drowned out in the noise of blaring horns and banging drums. He wants the audience to find it on their own — with their own ears and eyes. He wants us to understand that it can’t be found in the chaotic static of the modern world, and it can’t be found in the music. It can only be found in the stillness.

Thankfully, the best way to experience this film is sitting down with your laptop and plugging in the best headphones you have. It was made to be watched on Amazon Prime, utilizing headphones perfectly as the stereo mix of rock music and leaves blowing in the wind hook you right into the emotions. The story is told through sound, sometimes through Ruben’s ears, sometimes from a distance, but it is that juxtaposition that constantly reminds you of how different life can be with just the slightest change.

Title: “Sound of Metal”

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci

Director: Darius Marder

Genre: Drama

If you like: “Whiplash,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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