“Let me get there,” come some of the first totally intelligible words of Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal. It is an expression that carries a sense of some yearning, of some search for something that is not yet had. Where “there” exactly is, and what happiness it can give to those who find it, is the fundamental question of this film, one of the most beautifully composed in recent history. Spoilers below:
Sound of Metal follows the story of Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a recovering addict and one half of the musical act “Blackgammon” which he shares with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Quite suddenly, Ruben loses his hearing. On the recommendation of his sponsor, Ruben admits himself to a halfway house specialized for deaf addicts. During this adjustment period Ruben must separate himself from Lou and grapple with the circumstances of his new reality in various ways.
It’s a simple enough premise, but do not be fooled into thinking that Sound is shallow of content. Really, the film should be lauded for how fully it explores not only the humanity and niches of the deaf community, but the metal scene as well. Our time with Ruben as a performer is short, but quickly and effectively does director Marder (along with his co-writer and brother Abraham) wipe away any reductionist stereotyping of metalheads. Ruben and Lou lead rich and complex lives, which are in part realized by the effective, empathetic performance of Cooke.
But, undoubtedly, strongest of all is Ahmed as Ruben, whose sudden, precipitous fall into deafness induces viewers with skin-prickling dread, thanks to our star’s intense, totally on-tempo countenance and mannerisms. Ruben’s restlessness is absolutely palpable, and watching Ahmed play the part of such a frustrated man you are convinced that there is some invisible wall for him to tear down to break through.Only, there isn’t, and that, of course, is the main message of Ruben’s arc. His deafness is not a problem for him to solve or overcome. It is a truth that he must learn to accept, and be content in his life regardless of his condition. And, provided with some of the wisdom of his fellow deaf persons (including the character Joe, expertly and thoughtfully played by son-of-deaf-parents Paul Raci), audiences are left to believe that by the film’s life, Ruben does indeed get to that point. He does, quite wonderfully, get there.