Sound of Metal is a 2019 American drama film directed and co-written by Darius Marder. The film was critically acclaimed and has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film revolves around a drummer (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing and follows his efforts to adapt and adjust his life to his new reality.
S P O I L E R S F O L L O W
Before we dive deep into a detailed analysis of the merits (or otherwise) of Sound of Metal, we wanted to consider certain macro issues relating the kind of movie that Sound of Metal represents. Tonally, Sound of Metal strikes many of the same beats as the highly feted Nomadland.
In our opinion, these kinds of movies take their cues from the arthouse auteurs of the 1980s and 1990s, where mood and atmosphere are prized above story and characterisation. Nothing wrong with that, the key question is whether the story is able to effectively engage the audience or not.
Our chief problem with Nomadland – and we have repeated this mantra a few times – is that the narrative goes nowhere. Some might argue that that is the whole point of the main character being a nomad. Yes perhaps one might justify that as an artistic choice but it is so boring and inaccessible to watch. This is what we mean when we complain that a movie has failed to engage the audience.
Plot-wise, Sound of Metal is simplicity itself. Main character, Ruben, loses his hearing. He has to pause his normal life and his girlfriend has to leave him while he copes. He joins a shelter for the hearing impaired and learns how to deal with his disability. Then, he discovers that his girlfriend has returned to Paris and he takes drastic measures – having an operation for a cochlea implant – and finally reunites with her. However, things do not turn out the way he had hoped and the movie ends with Ruben removing his implants and contemplating his future in silence.
Yes, there are dramatic and emotional beats in between as Ruben struggles with his new circumstances but overall nothing too complicated. The main engagement the audience has in the movie is basically our identification with Ruben’s plight and Ahmed’s stellar performance to expressing his situation. All well and good but nothing to suggest that Sound of Metal is at the level of deserving a Best Picture nomination. None whatsoever.
Worse still, the director Darius Marder has done a disservice to the hearing impaired community with a false portrayal of the cochlea implant itself. In the movie, the impression is given – or at least Ruben has an expectation – that the implants would restore Ruben’s hearing so that he could return to his normal life. But when the implant is activated the result is horrifying – what Ruben hears is a distorted, metallic sound that is almost nightmarish. This is not an accurate presentation of how the implant works whatsoever and is crafted in this manner solely for dramatic purposes. But it is a lie, nonetheless. That, to us, disqualifies Sound of Metal as an artistic work whatsoever.
Thematically, director Darius Marder doubles down on the idea that the cochlea implant is somehow a wrong approach to deafness. The deaf shelter leader Joe (Paul Raci) admonishes Ruben in no uncertain terms when the latter shares with him his cochlea implant plans. Joe insists that deafness is not a handicap to be fixed and implies that Ruben wanting the operation is a sign of addiction, and thereby a weakness! The fact that by the end of the movie, it appears that Ruben realises that Joe was 100% correct is a gross misrepresentation of the cochlea implant process!
Please read this statement from the American Cochlear Implant Alliance https://www.acialliance.org/page/SoundofMetal to better understand what a disservice Sound of Metal has done to the thousands who has benefited from a cochlea implant.
… still there’s more …