Sound of Metal tells the story of Reuben (Riz Ahmed) a heavy metal drummer who hammers out ferocious sets with his girlfriend and bandmate (Olivia Cooke). Committed to his rock and roll lifestyle, Reuben’s world is turned on its head when, all of a sudden, a persistent ringing in his ears worsens until sound drops out altogether. Feeling lost and overwhelmed, Reuben seeks help from a rural group home that provides a community for the hearing impaired. After temporarily moving into the facility, Reuben is forced to re-examine the very core of what defines him as he seeks to move forward in the next chapter of his life.
Written and directed by Darius Marder, Metal is an energetic but thoughtful piece that grapples with what happens when the things that we feel define who we are suddenly taken away. As his first directing opportunity, Marder (who wrote Place Beyond the Pines) challenges his audience’s perspectives and understandings about deaf culture and the hearing impaired. By playing with the film’s audio in various ways throughout the film, Marder allows the viewer to get the briefest of glimpses into Reuben’s world, revealing how difficult his journey has become. While the entire cast feels invested in the film, it’s Ahmed’s staggering performance as Reuben that carries the piece. As the discombobulated drummer, Ahmed demonstrates his range and courage as an actor, portraying him with a combination of restrained ferocity and humanity.
Furthermore, the film is a beautiful exploration of the realities and misconceptions surrounding deaf culture. When he first arrives at the compound, Reuben is determined to find an answer for his hearing loss, viewing it as a problem that requires fixing. However, his interactions with the other residents, especially group leader Joe (Paul Raci), reveal a deeper understanding of the world of the hearing impaired. To them, hearing loss isn’t a problem to be fixed but rather a community and way of life worth celebrating. Despite the fact that Reuben feels he has ‘lost’ something, those around him are determined to show him what he has actually gained.
However, Sound of Metal speaks to more than the misunderstandings surround deaf culture and the hearing impaired. At its heart, the film also points to the healing nature of stillness. As Reuben begins to process his new life situation, he attempts to find solutions and fight his ‘illness’ as best he can. However, his most difficult challenge comes from Joe, who orders him to sit and be ‘still’. Though it sounds simple, this assignment is almost insurmountable for the control-driven Reuben. Nevertheless, Joe demands that he continue to try, insisting that it’s in the stillness that Reuben will truly begin to heal his soul. (“It’s in the stillness that the Kingdom of God shows up and it’s those moments that stay with you,” he argues.) As a result, Joe’s assignment points Reuben towards spiritual clarity as a precursor to true healing, as opposed to forcing a solution to his perceived ‘problem’.
Though it may not be one of the highest profile films to come out of Toronto this year, Sound of Metal is far from a mere noisy gong or clanging symbol. Anchored by a potentially Oscar-worthy performance by Riz Ahmed, Metal provides new insight to the beauty of a community of people that rarely find representation onscreen while pointing to the spiritual realities that give life to our souls.
Sound of Metal is currently playing at the Toronto International Film Festival. For more screenings, click here.