MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Sound of Metal - On Amazon Prime Streaming
Directed by Darius Marder
Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke
A few years ago, my musician son invited me to go with him to listen to a group play in a small local club. “Here you go, Dad,” he said as he handed out drugstore earplugs for both of us. “It gets pretty loud.”
Sound of Metal is the story of Ruben (Ahmed), a heavy metal drummer who plays in a power duo with his girlfriend/singer/guitarist Lou (Cooke). They travel about in a customized Airstream RV. They mostly play smaller clubs.
The film begins with one of their performances. I am not a fan of thrash metal, so I couldn’t tell you whether or not the opening song is any good. But to paraphrase how my late mother might have commented: “It’s loud. It’s distorted. That girl seems to be screaming. I can’t understand any of the words.” (Well, okay, that’s really what I was thinking.)
The viewer soon discovers that they are actually hearing this music through Ruben’s ears. The distortion is a combination of what’s coming through the speakers and what is breaking down inside. Through incredible sound design, the viewer is made to hear what Ruben hears (or doesn’t). Suddenly the very music that brings Ruben life is also taking life away. He is starting to lose his hearing.
Sound of Metal quickly turns into a fairly quiet film. Ruben’s struggle is not only with the prospect of losing his music but of falling back into addiction. He’s been clean for four months and has a sponsor in a 12-step group as well as the fierce love of Lou. And there are other things to consider, including learning ASL in order to communicate and the expensive and risky option of an electronic cochlear implant.
The most moving sequence in the film shows Ruben becoming part of a deaf community. It’s a Christian ministry that incorporates recovery work as well as a school for deaf children. The leader is Joe (Paul Raci, in a great supporting role), and he informs Ruben that they can work out an arrangement in which Ruben can share in work around the place in lieu of payment. Joe lost his hearing during military service so he is empathetic, but also able to show tough love. If Ruben is going to make it, he is going to have to start thinking of others besides himself.
Sound of Metal is a beautiful film that constantly surprised me with unexpected narrative choices. First-time director Darius Marder and his director of photography Daniël Bouquet intersperse scenes of dialogue with images of natural beauty. Riz Ahmed’s performance is one of the year’s very best, able to communicate so much without words. The sonic landscape of this movie is an amazing accomplishment. If possible, find a way to listen to this film with good speakers or headphones – but turn the volume down a bit for the first ten minutes.
I often think that most of us never quite know what we can deal with until we have to deal with it. We never quite figure the tough things out, but if we are surrounded by people who love us, we can still learn and grow and make it together. In our current time of pandemic and isolation, it is good to be reminded about the communities that have nurtured and cared for us. That’s not the sound of metal, but life’s abiding grace notes.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A film about life’s unexpected challenges and one person’s pilgrimage of discovery.
Two pitchforks: Occasional strong language; brief violent outbursts.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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