Sonically alarming, arrestingly emotional and alternately suffocating and cathartic, Sound of Metal may be the year’s most visceral cinematic experience — albeit ironically from the comfort of your couch. The film tells the story of a heavy metal drummer’s journey into deafness after suffering a sudden and permanent hearing loss.
Co-screenwriter Darius Marder’s directorial debut could easily have fallen prey to the usual trappings of stories about physical or emotional challenges. Where many films in this category are overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative, Sound of Metal is not. Instead, Marder leans into the relatable concept of losing one’s hard-fought inner peace, taking Ruben (Riz Ahmed) way outside his comfort zone to find resolution. When touring life with his girlfriend/bandmate (Olivia Cooke) is upended and his sobriety threatened, Ruben rails against his diagnosis, looking for a “fix” for the problem with the ferocity of an addict.
Ahmed’s performance as Ruben is razor sharp, and from American Sign Language to drumming, he invests a lot in the role. It’s as if he surrendered to the part in a way that’s likely to be extremely difficult for a hearing person to fathom. The cacophony of emotions is made even more palpable by Nicolas Becker’s brilliant sound design.
Originally intended as a docudrama by Derek Cianfrance (who co-wrote The Place Beyond the Pines with Marder), this fictionalized version provides a good vehicle for creativity while maintaining a level of reality and authenticity, even integrating members of the deaf community into the film without being gimmicky or exploitive.
While deafness is the backdrop of Ruben’s journey, the real story is a universally understood plight of the human condition — that of self-discovery and acceptance, stillness and peace. Immerse yourself in the Sound of Metal and see what you hear.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video
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