Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★½

This movie is making the rounds as one of the best of 2020, and … yeah, it really is. Riz Ahmed is achingly good, so full of hurt and constantly desperate for some light in this dark and confusing time for his character, including when playing off the equally-great Olivia Cooke. He also has much more to deal with than hearing loss, as difficult as that already must be; it’s linked to struggles he’s already had to work past and that threaten to return and compound on top of it, and works brilliantly to sell you on how truly isolated he now feels.

The treatment he receives may have been what he needed in more ways than expected, yet conflicts with the draw towards the quick and immediate way out. It raises the question of what it means to be cured of something like this, or if it even should be considered a cure, and how a path seemingly fraught with darkness could be the way to the light. Yet the pain isn’t shied away from, nor is the reality that no matter what he does and how much of what he wants he acquires, something will be forever lost and his life will never be the same. In fact, the closer he tries to get it back, the more painful it is to see – or hear – it in a forever incomplete state. (Best illustrated in that heartbreaking piano scene.)

What can I say about the sound work that hasn’t likely been said by everyone else? Its nearly-muted, muffled qualities – and later on the crackly and distorted ones – are perfect for putting us in Ruben’s position and conveying how helpless, distanced, or even peaceful his world can be, not to mention their significant juxtaposition with when the sound fully comes back. If this doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing, I’ll … complain about it for a few seconds before moving on because the Oscars don’t matter anyway. It’s also just brave whenever a movie is willing to sustain such long periods of silence, unable to rely on dialogue to tell its story but still keeping it gripping, even if the second act can be a touch draining in moments.

It’s hard to know what else to say without giving anything away, as this is really a movie that you should go into knowing as little as possible, especially for how much of it is paid off in the third act. (And also I’ve had nearly 12 hours of meetings so far this week and my mind is too numb to write much more.) Sound of Metal is a favorite of mine this year, both for bringing attention to the experiences of the deaf community, and for being a mature, deeply affecting film in its own right.

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