Those who begin to see Sound of Metal without having previously read a review of the film may think that it is a story about overcoming difficulties in which the protagonist, after an arduous battle of stumbles and advances, manages to achieve his goals brilliantly. There’s a huge catalogue of stories like that, but that’s not the case.
Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a young rock drummer who suddenly loses his hearing, something terrible for anyone, but even worse for a musician. Since his financial status is not of much solvency, he cannot afford the operation that could return him to the world of sounds with an implant. So his next move is to enter a group of people who learn to face life as deaf, to communicate with sign language, and to accept their status as hypoacoustics, a very special community run by Joe (Paul Raci), deaf and exalcholic. (Ruben must also ward off the ghost of addiction, from which he has been free for four years, but now haunts him.)
But things must be Joe’s way, in that country retreat where Ruben must live, without the company of his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), his partner in music and in life, his emotional bra, with whom he has lived, in a caravan, for the last four years. Nothing is told to us what their lives have been like before that moment.
Sound of Metal is much more than a film about overcoming difficulties and disabilities; it is a fable about the changes and acceptance of these on the path of life; about solidarity, empathy, love, sacrifice; it is a deep psychological drama, lived from within the protagonist with such brilliant acting force that it put the actor on the Oscar list.
The other protagonist of the film, the element that gives it its special character, is the sound. The entire narrative of the film is built on the sounds that Ruben feels (or does not feel): in the preamble, during the first scene, while he operates the drumsticks and pedals on the drums and Lou sings, in the middle of a performance, we are offered his body language to read the whole story. That’s how it’s going to be all the way.
Because Reuben is a very emotional person and as we feel the story through him, synesthesia dominates narrative discourse. The other resource that structures the story is ellipsis, which is very consistent with the meanings and thematic proposal. Just as the deaf community must know how to read the lips and signs of the hands, silences and omissions have a function. The viewer must fill the gaps in the story between one scene and another, between one plane and another; you must know how to interpret what is not said in this minimalist film.
“When was the last time I took you to the limit,” says a line of the song Lou sings at the beginning of the film. “Please, kill me,” says Ruben’s tattoo in the center of his chest, under two cross guns. Both have known the limits; both met at some point in their respective anxieties and healed their pain by accompanying each other. The feeling of gratitude to each other is as great as the love professed. There’s another hallmark of the film: that rare love story between Ruben and Lou, capable of any sacrifice for the sake of each other. They are two beings full of a kindness that dismantles the clichés of characters as well, another substantial wealth of Sound of Metal. “Think of me,” says one of the final lines of Lou’s song, and in this film nothing is free, every element means.
Sound of Metal is nominated in five categories for the 2021 Academy Awards: Best Film, Best Leading Actor (Riz Ahmed), Best Supporting Actor (Paul Raci), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound. Darius Marder’s film has a hard time in all of it; I could get some statuettes or not, but it’s definitely one of the great productions of the year. Ω