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Steppin' into the Screen | The Sound of Metal

"Everybody here shares in the belief that being deaf is not a handicap. Not something to fix." - Joe

Normally my aim is to write about films where the driving force is the music, but in this case it’s going to be a whole lot different. The Sound of Metal takes us to an audiophile’s worst nightmare, the experience of deafness. Following the complex punk metal drummer, Ruben (exquisitely executed by Riz Ahmed, who is Academy Award nominated this year for the role), as he defies his denial of declining into deafness. Now that’s a tongue twister. Before we begin, for those of you worried I'm going to spoil it for you with this review, I would never!

Darius Marder (Director), Derek Cianfrance (Writer), Abraham Marder (Music composer) and Nicolas Becker (Supervising Sound Editor) demonstrate what I believe to be an incredibly accurate depiction of losing your hearing. Thanks to techniques and research like experimental folly, a reproduction of everyday sound effects, using highly sensitive microphones pinned on to the actors and of course consulting with the deaf community and audiologists shows how much thought has been invested in sound.

The sounds you will hear in this film have been carefully designed, they centre you directly in the experience of Ruben. When working on the film Becker took Marder to an anechoic chamber, I had to wiki exactly what this was:

An anechoic chamber is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves. They are also often isolated from waves entering from their surroundings.

The feeling of being in this chamber creates a silence to the point of hearing your own heartbeat, which can result in maddening effects for whoever is left in the chamber for too long. To be honest I can barely handle small silences amongst friends, so this may be my own personal hell. Now that we’re across that, please keep this in mind when watching, because thanks to that anechoic space we begin to understand how trialling this experience must be.

When Ruben begins his steady decline we hear the high pitch and haunting ringing sound that is incredibly triggering for me as a DJ. There have been a couple of occasions, thanks to dodgy sound systems, where I return from a gig to this shrill ring, like the piercing screams of a mosquito trapped in my ear drum and on these few occasions I feel scared, nay terrified that I may never hear properly again.

That feeling is precisely portrayed in The Sound of Metal.

There is bellowing reverberation that is haphazardly broken up with the sounds of reality, ambulances, characters within the film attempting to be heard by Ruben. Throughout the film there is light at the end of the ear canal, Ruben finds help through a deaf community led by Joe (played by Paul Raci, who discovered acting by communicating films to his own deaf parents). Raci’s role has also earned him an Academy nomination after being in the business for over 30 years.

As an audience member who doesn’t know sign language I found myself trying to learn throughout the film, the fact that a movie can puppeteer its audience like that is mind bogglingly powerful and I commend Marder and Cianfrance for that. You truly walk hand in hand with Ruben to a place where you can appreciate the silence and the concept of stillness (I will harness those quiet moments in conversations from now on).

My only warning for you as the viewer is to make sure you have your TV remote nearby (or a finger on the volume key) as at times you might need to hear the muffled sounds being communicated.

The film is available to watch on Amazon Prime (if you don't have a subscription then you can always do a free trial) and is up for multiple awards particularly for Best Sound (obviously). If you're dying to know what awards they will win then find out this Sunday from the Academy Awards website, or you can watch on Youtube Live or Fox TV Netherlands if you're fancy! I’m going to rate this as Mint, my best rating yet, because it is a superb sensorial introspection into a world some of us have never experienced. For the rating legend check out my Film Condition Board below.


James Brown
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