AFI FEST 2020: Sound of Metal Review – Silence is Golden

Sound of Metal

Imagine living out your dreams, only for it to derail in a blink of an eye. It’s a concept that’s not that difficult to imagine. It’s this idea that’s the entire premise of Darius Marder’s latest film, Sound of Metal. The film follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer for a heavy metal band. During one of their performances, Ruben starts to lose his hearing — a condition that happens quite often to rock stars due to a lack of hearing loss prevention. Now, he must come to the moral decision of whether to live his life as a deaf person or spend thousands of dollars on a hearing implant and perform with his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), once again.

Darius Marder’s film highlights the crippling anxiety and fear that any musician would encounter if they were in his shoes. Of course, an intense, layered personal drama such as this deserves an equally intense performance, and Ahmed’s performance is superb as he essentially plays out the five stages of grief in the film. Ruben fluctuates between denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — all of which Ahmed handles with such grace and confidence.

But what truly sets Sound of Metal apart is its ingenious use of sound design to precisely convey the hearing problems Ruben is beginning to experience. The sound design in Sound of Metal is among the most inventive soundtracks in 2020. They want the audience to hear the sounds of the film as Ruben hears them. At times, you hear nothing but silence or muffled noise because this is how Ruben hears the world around him.

Sound of Music - Riz Ahmed

It’s a film that advocates for the deaf community and their able-bodiedness. The facility that Ruben lives in is an addict community for the deaf. The leader of the center, Joe (Paul Raci), tries to mentor Ruben into accepting himself as a deaf person and immerse himself in this deaf community before he can start thinking about reintegrating into society again. 

Ruben gradually adapts to this world and, in turn, finds a place for himself in it. Yet Ruben’s addictive ways always seem to creep back in. After all, addiction is a disease that a person can easily succumb to. Ruben still sticks to the idea that he can recover his old life through a cochlear implant, which will allow him to hear again. Because it’s not just his musical career that he wants to recapture, but his relationship with his girlfriend, Lou too. Despite her own personal issues with self-harm, Lou is Ruben’s rock. Olivia Cooke might not have as much screen time as Ahmed, but her character is absolutely crucial to the message of the film.

But like any addict, Ruben resists confronting his demons and struggles. So instead of continuing to work on himself, he’d rather get that easy “high” by hearing once again. This decision puts him at odds with his support group’s refusal to treat deafness like a weakness and disability. Sound of Metal is ultimately a story about finding peace of mind out of acceptance rather than taking the easy way out.

Overall, Sound of Metal is an intensely personal drama highlighted by Riz Ahmed’s fierce performance. To have a disability is not the end all be all of your life, a message that Darius Marder wants every audience member to realize as they watch this film. The entire experience will leave you on a positive note, even during the most difficult time of your life. 

Rating: 4/5 atoms

Sound of Metal hits select theaters on November 20, and on Prime Video on December 4.

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