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Sound of Metal

Music was his world, then silence revealed a new one.

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Poster for the hearing-loss drama Sound Of MetalA film about the sudden onset of deafness that is attentive to specifics of character and setting, Darius Marder's Sound Of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as Ruben, a man whose life, up to now, has revolved around music. Working through the stages of grief, Ruben gets stuck at Bargaining: Is there a way to undo the damage done to his ears, and return to life as he knows it?

The question, a much more complicated one than he wants to believe, nudges the film to pick sides in a controversy unfamiliar to most moviegoers. But even when the cultural politics are explicit, Ahmed's performance and a sure-footed script by brothers Darius and Abraham Marder ensure that this remains one man's story — and one that should be warmly welcomed at art houses.

Ruben is the drummer of a loud and abrasive duo with girlfriend Louise (Olivia Cooke), a singer. The two live happily as musical nomads, touring in a gear-stuffed silver RV and hawking merch at shows. The pair are waiting to soundcheck at a club when Ruben has an out-of-the-blue ear pop, as you would while diving or descending on a flight, and is left barely hearing what's around him. Accomplished sound designer Nicolas Becker conveys to us what Ruben hears: voices and noises muffled as if heard underwater, getting less and less distinct as Ruben realizes this is not a momentary phenomenon. Panicked, he finds an audiologist the next day, and is told to expect even more deterioration. The hearing he's lost won't return, though an expensive cochlear implant is an option down the road. He must "eliminate all exposure to loud noise"; so of course, still in denial, Ruben drums one more gig before Louise realizes what's happening and ends the tour.

Lou's anxious protectiveness isn't only about this trauma. Ruben’s a recovering addict, so she understandably fears a relapse. She finds a 13-step group operating at a remote community for the deaf. There, the group's leader Joe (Paul Raci) convinces her that Ruben's best road to sanity — he's clearly on the edge at the moment — lies in her dropping him off here indefinitely and accepting that he'll have no contact with the outside world for a while.

Riz Ahmed as a musician facing deafness in Sound Of MetalHaving fully realized the cauldron of emotional responses his character is barreling through, Ahmed reveals Ruben's gentler nature as the film unfolds in the woods. Resistant at first, he quickly picks up enough sign language to take part in dinner-table conversations. Forced to go back to school, he studies with elementary-age deaf kids in a class taught by Diane (Lauren Ridloff). The two seem potentially headed toward a flirtation, but Marder smartly chooses not to clutter this journey up much with the perils of long-distance romantic drama. Though Ruben does fear that Lou will soon, in both life and music, be forced to move on without him.

Without romanticizing deafness, Sound Of Metal makes a case for acceptance and for embracing the inevitability of unpredictable change.

– John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter


Note: All screenings will feature open captions; all dialogue appears in text at the bottom of the screen, and relevant sound effects are described for members of the deaf and hard of hearing community. 

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