Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★½

Devastating and cathartic, Darius Marder’s feature debut Sound of Metal explores the life of a heavy-metal drummer after he suddenly loses his hearing. Ruben Stone leads a life of adventure alongside his girlfriend Lou. They live in an RV and tour together. To them, music is both an escape from their dark past and a replacement for addiction. Ruben’s loss of hearing brings a sudden and irreversible change in his routine, with the inability to do what he loves most and the risk of his falling back on his old habits as a coping mechanism. To ensure that doesn’t happen, Lou takes him to a facility ran by a war veteran who is tasked with helping him accept and find meaning in his new life.

The film admirably stays away from its story’s melodramatic potential. There is a certain degree of realism that comes from the lack of a non-diegetic soundtrack and from Riz Ahmed’s quiet and unflashy performance. Ahmed doesn’t try to show off his acting abilities. Instead, he plays everything matter-of-factly. Ruben’s restlessness doesn’t often come from exaggerated gestures. It’s rather understood through a gaze or a slight shift in his body language. Ahmed is simply exceptional in the role, filling every scene with genuine heart-wrenching emotion.

Sound of Metal doesn’t restrict itself to Ahmed’s performance, however. Through its spectacular sound design, it plays with the contrast between sound and its absence. We experience every little noise – the whirring of a blender, the trickling of coffee drops, the air of a dust spray can – followed by their muffling as Ruben’s hearing impairment starts setting in. We feel denial, desperation and helplessness alongside him.

Throughout the rest of its runtime, the film continues to put us in Ruben’s shoes with sudden changes in perspective that highlight the alienation he feels trying to find his place in the world. When we hear the muffled noises he hears, we see him up close. Then, the shot backs away and we hear sound again. As distressing as this contrast is throughout, the ending offers another shift in perspective, with the absolute silence becoming comforting as Ruben, after trying and failing to return to his old life, embraces his new one.

In a time when learning to deal with the absence of what you once took for granted is the order of the day, Sound of Metal has – fittingly enough – become my favorite film of the year. It’s raw and powerful, but quiet and intimate all at once. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking with its ingenuity and its ability to make its viewers deeply feel a wide range of unfiltered emotions.

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