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‘Sound of Metal’ Challenges Audiences to Consider the Value of Silence

January 29, 2021
2 min read time

There is no denying that America is grappling with the idea spending time alone, and thus ultimately, the silence that comes with it. That makes watching Sound of Metal all the more poignant. The film follows Ruben (played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed) as he deals with hearing loss and the temptations of life as a recovered addict. Ruben’s biggest passion is the drums and playing heavy metal music with his girlfriend Lou (played by the infinitely watchable Olivia Cooke), so when Ruben’s hearing starts to go, so do his hope and his light.

When Ruben discovers a recovery house for deaf addicts, his passion for life returns, albeit slowly. The program is run by Joe (played by deaf advocate and actor Paul Raci). Joe challenges Ruben to “learn how to be deaf,” and this is where Ruben’s journey really begins. Writer-director Darius Marder (perhaps best known as co-writer of The Place Beyond the Pines) has long been working on the idea of a heavy metal musician with a hearing problem.

“The seed came from a hybrid documentary that I was working on with Derek Cianfrance. The documentary was around a real band member who loses his hearing, so that element was present in Sound of Metal from the beginning… I eventually adopted this baby from him (Cianfrance) and built it from the ground up.”

Marder’s passion for the subject matter is undeniable. He created what he calls a POH in lieu of a POV, as the audience truly goes along the hearing loss journey with Ruben’s character. Marder stated he wrote a big portion of the script during a retreat on which his musician brother accompanied him, and working on music and being surrounded by sound during the writing process heavily influenced him. “Exploring the language of sound on the page became intoxicating.”

Marder also said he spent an extreme amount of time on sound design in post and had his sound designer work alongside him on set to help achieve the unique soundscape of the film.

Ruben’s journey feels so authentic not just via Marder’s soundscape, but also through his world-building. “In my research, I found a lot of connections between being deaf and addiction,” stated Marder. His own childhood also heavily influenced the film. His upbringing was spiritually-based in community and through that he would often spend weekends in silence. The character of Joe who leads Ruben’s recovery program stemmed from Marder’s personal experiences growing up in this community. Joe’s character is a revelation for Ruben, as he challenges him to find the grace in silence by asking him to come to his study every morning and write if he can’t find the ability to just sit with himself. In all his sessions, Ruben is only able to find one morning of peace in his own presence.

In the current moment of the COVID crisis, Ruben’s struggle is not unique. As the whole world is asked to isolate and sacrifice, Ruben’s inability to find his own presence calming feels very of this moment.

“We are inherently social creatures,” offers Marder. “We are looking for our tribe and belonging more than anything else, and Ruben is someone who never had that tribe… He didn’t have a dad, he was a foster kid. As so often happens, addiction stems from that lack of tribe causing us to need to be in constant motion. Now, we are all contending with that globally. We are dealing with that inability to sit right now, and we are seeing a big uptick in drug use, Netflix use — we are all just wearing Band-Aids to deal with it.”

While Ruben does find a few moments of peace in his chaotic transition, Marder cautions: “My least favorite expression is, ‘killing time.’ There is no more egregious murder than doing that. If we are killing it, it is such a rebuke of life itself… That concept of stillness is truly the human condition.”

This is also the thematic question of Sound of Metal. Can Ruben learn to live with himself in the stillness life presents? Marder wisely says, “Ultimately our journeys are circuitous, and time is our teacher.”


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