Day 081: Sounds Like Metal To Me

There’s so many sounds in our world that we sometimes fail to appreciate. The sound of coffee brewing, the low hum of a mini-blender, the creak of the floor, a dissonant Sonic Youth rip-off band, a loved one sleeping, compressed air, traffic in the distance. In Darius Marder’s directorial debut, Sound of Metal, he provides you with all of these little treasures before he takes it all away.

The story follows Ruben [Riz Ahmed], a recovered heroin addict that has seemingly already found harmony in the world. He lives in an RV with his equally troubled girlfriend, Lou [Olivia Cooke]. We briefly see them driving around the country, touring their 2-man Metal Screamo Hardcore Post-Grunge band and just generally enjoying each other’s company. Even though their time together is limited, the filmmaker made sure to include cute little slices of their life, something that you fail to see in most non-romantic movies.

Suddenly, we as an audience realize that everything we’ve been hearing was inside of Ruben’s head, as a slight ringing quickly morphs into hearing loss. It’s an effective trick that I’m surprised I haven’t seen before. Losing one of your senses is such a desperate feeling and it’s effectively conveyed through Riz Ahmed’s acting and the sound design. You get the same sinking feeling that he does, even though you’ve only spent 15 minutes inside of his head. That, my friends, is effective filmmaking. After much painful deliberation, Lou catches a flight back home to Paris, leaving Ruben to stay at a halfway home for deaf addicts, where he has to learn to deal with his new life.

Clocking in at a shade over 2 hours, Sound of Metal is a long journey. Although there are some clear pacing issues, my attention never veered from the screen. Riz Ahmed gives a commanding performance. He plays a heroin addict, but he’s been clean for 4 years and it’s seemingly “out of his system”. There isn’t a single moment in the film where you suspect that he might start using again, but his one track mentality and thousand yard stare constantly reminds you that he’s been there. It’s very rare that a filmmaker tries to portray a drug addict without them ever doing drugs or even verbally mentioning it. And Ahmed plays that character with perfect nuance.

I do have to mention that the subject matter hits close to home. As you already know, Mom, my significant other had a stoke, losing a good portion of her vision field and ability to read. The process of Ruben sifting through his frustration and learning to do simple things again felt all too familiar. I’ve seen Rachel go through all of the same struggles, from trying to fit in at a party to learning basic vocabulary like a child. Learning to live with something like that is a very difficult and humiliating process. The film is a very accurate portrayal of becoming sensually handicapped.

In the end, the film packs a hard punch. I won’t spoil what actually happens, as you really should see it for yourself. In a year that’s been trying for everyone, this doesn’t function as an escape. It is an emotionally exhausting roller coaster from beginning to end. That doesn’t make it not worth watching. It’s a truly beautiful film, visually and sonically. Although Ruben’s journey is a miserable one, it’s not without moments of bliss that make the whole journey worthwhile. Kind of like, you know, life.

With the bar set incredibly low, this is one of the best films of the year. And conveniently, it’s free to stream on Amazon Prime. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s definitely worth the trip.

– TeeCoZee