Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal (2019) is an evocative journey into deafness, peculiarly played out as a coming-of-age tale. Main characters, Ruben and Lou, live lives shorn of meaning; endlessly touring; punks and metallers drink in their dissonant reign. For the couple, though, there is scant refuge in the outer fringes of such a nihilistic subculture.
After going deaf, Ruben’s hearing aid feedback instantiates the social and ontological disconnect he wrestles with on returning to an audible world. A life deracinated, so the film’s message goes, is far less fulfilling than a ‘disadvantaged’ life within a genuine community. Infact, for Ruben, modern life can be so hollow, so somnambulistically banal, that the deaf commune – led by the Vietnam vet, Joe – provides him with concrete raison d ‘etre.
In its fearless overturning of ‘ableness’ rhetoric, Sound Of Metal refuses an identitarian recourse to generic tropes of sympathy signalling so evident in the cultural left’s obsession with victim framing. In stark contrast to Ruben’s fate, Lou’s character arc serves as a trenchant critique of clerisy class in-grouping. She is subsumed into the ‘static’ of the bourgeois consensus of the ‘good life’: pontificating piano playing and cheese and wine soirees serve as pointed symbols of said existence.
Having been brought up by Gurdjieffian, spiritualist parents and witnessing his grandmother’s sudden loss of hearing, Marder’s conclusion to this enigmatic tale is apt. Silence is, and always will be, the space in which man heals, rises above his baseness, and finds peace in the cacophony of modernity’s restless ebb and flow.
A lot has been said about the sound design, and for good reason. Rarely does a film use sound to signpost narrative turns while extending thematic metaphors as resolutely as The Sound Of Metal does.Riz Ahmed continues to grow as an actor and his oscar nomination for portraying the tormented Ruben was well deserved. Sound of Metal is a brave, personal project that dares to subvert time worn expectations, treading a path equal parts realist and metaphysical.