(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Sound of Metal
Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video
The Pitch: The life of a heavy metal drummer and recovered addict is sent on a tailspin when he loses his hearing.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: I didn’t go into Sound of Metal expecting much more than a phenomenal Riz Ahmed performance, who had been earning raves and Oscar buzz since the movie first debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. Maybe some exceptional sound design too, as I’d heard praise about the way the film accurately captures the experiences of a deaf person. But unassumingly, quietly, Sound of Metal bowled me over and quickly became a contender for one of my favorite movies of the year due to its potent portrayal of a person who is cut loose in the world and left without a path back to their purpose and passion.
Ruben (Ahmed) has got his life together. The scars of his past struggles with addiction show all over his body, and over his girlfriend Lou’s (Olivia Cooke) wrists, but he’s carved out a good routine for himself: wake up at the crack of dawn, work out while making a healthy breakfast, wake up Lou with a dance routine, then drive off to the next stop on his and Lou’s heavy metal band tour. And each of their performances is a hit at all the dinghy nightclubs where they play — Ruben gets lost in his wild, exuberant drumming, Lou is a lead singer with all the charisma of a rock star. But at one performance, Ruben starts to hear a strange ringing in his ears. He passes it off as a result of their heavy metal life, but the ringing doesn’t go away, and the sounds of the people around him start to grow muffled. Soon, he loses his hearing altogether.
Ahmed is extraordinary in the role, his growing panic and despair setting in as he realizes the reality of his predicament. He gives a wild, uncaged performance of a recovering addict who had only been hanging by a string — his entire life, his loves, and his mental well-being was tethered around his music career. When that tether is cut, he’s at a complete loss.
Sound of Metal is good at loss. It’s good at showing what comes after the tragedy, and of what a life in freefall looks (and sounds) like. However, it doesn’t just hit the melodramatic notes that are expected of a story about someone who gets a disability later in life, but lingers — and relishes — in the stillness between those big blow-ups and screaming matches, which Sound of Metal emulates in its spectacular sound design. It sits with Ruben as he checks into a center for deaf recovering addicts run by an understanding Vietnam War vet Joe (a warm, scene-stealing Paul Raci), where Ruben has to learn how to be a deaf person. The film meanders through an unwieldy third act that feels like it loses the thread a little, but so does Ruben — who is torn between the new community he has found, and the passion, maybe addiction, he had for the music life he desperately wants to return to.
Hopefully, Sound of Metal will make a lot of noise in the critics’ circles and end-of-year lists. Its quietly affecting depiction of a person trying to rediscover their purpose, and instead finding comfort in the stillness, makes Sound of Metal one of the best films of the year.
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