Author Topic: SOUND OF METAL - spoileryish thoughts on the way to new life joy  (Read 34 times)

Offline perc2100

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As a drummer/percussionist with hearing loss of my own, this film hit me hard.  SOUND OF METAL, directed and co-written by Darius Marder, tells the story about heavy metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed from ROGUE ONE, VENOM and the HBO miniseries "The Night Of"), touring in an RV with his girlfriend & singer/guitarist Lou (READY PLAYER ONE's Olivia Cooke).  One night he notices an abrupt hearing loss, and after a few days of devolving hearing Ruben goes to a doctor who tells him he's lost about 80% of his hearing in both ears.  Like nearly all hearing loss, the doctor tells Ruben his hearing can never be restored, and his best bet is to have an operation and get cochlear implants: devices surgically implanted that bypass the damaged ear canal(s) to deliver an electric/mechanized sensation that resembles what humans perceive as sound.  The doc tells Ruben this procedure is expensive ($40-80 thousand), and if you know ANYTHING about working drummers you know Ruben doesn't have that kind of money.

Adding to his troubles, we learn that Ruben is a recovering drug addict: four years sober.  Lou becomes increasingly worried that Ruben will be unable to cope with this devastating news and will relapse.  She contacts his sobriety coach who is able to hook him up with half-way type situation for deaf recovering addicts.

The bulk of this film is Ruben both learning how to live with deafness (Joe, who runs the rural deaf recovery house, stresses that deafness is NOT a handicap, and instead is something that Rueben needs to learn to adjust to), while also learning how to adjust to a new "him."  The direction is really well done: the situation isn't meant to feel like a super downer for Ruben (obviously the situation is, but the film doesn't dwell on it like some grand tragedy), and all of the performances are on point.  Ahmed's  drumming is done in a way to seem believable and to mask the fact that Ahmed is, well, an actor and not a drummer.  This is a minor point, of course, but if the movie is about a drummer the actor needs to be believable as a working drummer, and Ahmed, as well as the director and editor, accomplish that task.  Too often I get annoyed when movies about drummers feature actors who _barely_ look like they can convince non-drummers they're competent, let alone excelling (I'm looking at you THAT THING YOU DO, WHIPLASH, ROCKSTAR, and many others).  This is obviously my own (any likely other drummers) problem, but it should be commended that SOUND OF METAL does a good job of portraying Ruben as a good drummer through solid 'acting' by Ahbed and subtle (maybe not obvious to the laymen, but obvious to this dummer) editing and film shooting techniques.

I've lost about 25-30% of my hearing in each ear myself; while I'm fortunate currently to be able to adjust with hearing aids, I have some sort of degenerative affliction that is getting worse, regardless of what I've done/will do to maintain 'safe' listening environments.  I don't gig anymore like I did as a teenager/young-20 something adult but I am music teacher constantly around bands and percussion ensembles.  I'd noticed my hearing devolving for probably at least 15 years before I _FINALLY_ did something about it: I waited until I had turned 40, thinking "well - I guess 40 is kind of old so it's time to get a hearing aid like grandpa" or something.  This adjustment has been difficult at times, but easily one of the best decisions of my life.

I say this only to underscore the difficulties Ruben has, going from a nightly-drumming professional musician to suddenly unable to hear a conversation from his girlfriend, let alone continue pursuing his passionate work.  Riz Ahmed does an INCREDIBLE job portraying this character & his hearing loss.  You can feel the confusion, pain, and frustration every step of the way.  Ahmed is a music performer in his own right, releasing several wrap albums over the last decade or so.  I'm sure he was able to draw on his own passions as a performer in order to portray the pains and frustrations of Rueben being unable to drum.

But, really, the sadness and frustration is mostly the first Act of SOUND OF METAL.  At the recovery house Joe hooks Ruben up with a class of children, where Ruben interacts with kids, becomes comfortable learning American Sign Language (ASL), and starts teaching the kids basic drumming.  Seeing Ruben start to come alive in his current situation is a legit joy!  When Ruben catches up with Lou, and sees she's pursing her own music passions elsewhere, Ruben decides to sell off his drums and recording equipment to have the cochlear implant surgery.

The film centers around Ruben trying to find himself instead of chasing what is in the past.  SOUND OF METAL has (inadvertently) become an incredible metaphor for living in the COVID/post-pandemic world.  Those who are still trying to live with the habits of January 2020 in January 2021 are going to be miserable: lamenting what we used to have and what we used to be able to do.  Myself, I've gone from producing award-winning percussion ensembles, and co-producing various types of HS bands (marching, concert, jazz) to moving to a mostly virtual world.  My family used to go to Disneyland regularly, and we haven't seen any family members in person since Christmas 2019.  Like Ruben, it's normal, understandable even, to want to be down that we're in month 10 of a nearly nationwide lock-down from our norms with no end in immediate sight.

Rueben gets the implant surgery, but he essentially has to leave the deaf addict recovery house.  Joe stated Ruben shouldn't try to reduce his deafness as a disability that needs to be overcome: he should instead embrace it and learn to adjust.  Ruben defies this ideology, gets the surgery, and then flies out to Europe to see Lou, now living with her wealthy father in Belgium.  But of course Ruben learns quickly that the cochlear implants do not supply "sound" the way his brain naturally interprets sound: they "mimic" human voice in a metallic, almost robotic voice and there is much distortion for moderate volume sound.  He listens to Lou perform a song, hearing massive distortion throughout, and Ahmed brilliantly captures the moment Ruben realizes "he could never go back," so to speak.

Another technical aspect I have to give a shout-out to is the sound design.  Through merely sound the filmmakers do an incredible job of conveying the struggles Ruben is going through.  Portraying deafness can be difficult, as most of us are not stone-cold deaf, sitting in stark silence.  There is often some degree of distortion or white-noise (or tinnitus) when the film is portraying Ruben's point of listening, and later in the film after Ruben gets his implants activated, we get a sense for the 'metallic' and distorted (and still quite faint) sound Ruben is experiencing.  Often loud explosions and shootouts garner "sound effects" or "sound effects editing" Awards, but I think SOUND OF METAL (a clever pseudo-pun of a title, being both the style of music Ruben & Lou play as well as the types of sound Ruben hears with the implants) is deserving of recognition for its brilliant sound design and execution prorating hearing loss + life with cochlear implants.

The films ends just as the 'new' Ruben begins: when he realizes to let go of trying to hear the way he used to.  He unplugs his implants after hearing the distorted sound of church bells.  This is a great metaphor for what he ALL must do in a post-pandemic landscape.  We have to let go of how things used to be, and how we used to behave (for ex: I doubt I'll shake very many hands ever again) and embrace our "new normal."  As an educator, I've had to learn all sorts of new technology and teaching tools that I plan on implementing into my curriculum for the foreseeable future: regardless of when I'll be able to teach in person to all my students at the same time.  Ruben looks to be on the path to happiness again when he embraces his "new me," and only when we're ready to do the same can be begin our journey to contentment and real joy. ****1/2
« Last Edit: January 13, 2021, 05:30:56 PM by perc2100 »