With the new year, it is time to make some new resolutions and one of mine is to watch more world cinema, especially if there is a south Asian element to it. Staying true to my resolution, I watched ‘Sound of Metal’ on Amazon Prime featuring British Asian actor Riz Ahmed.
Sound of Metal follows the life of Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a drummer and one half of the metal duo Backgammon along with the singer, his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke). Ruben’s life is thrown into a frenzy when he wakes up to find himself deaf. The film chronicles his struggle and the journey of his denial, followed by self-acceptance as a deaf person learned at an institute for deaf recovering addicts led by Joe (Paul Raci).
The entire plot is summed up in two scenes. First of which occurs when Ruben enters the deaf community. Joe tells Ruben, pointing to his head, “We’re looking for a solution to this,” implying that the movie doesn’t portray deafness as a disability. The second scene is when Joe lists down various tasks for people, and he writes, “to learn how to be deaf” for Ruben.
Riz Ahmed’s acting in this film is pure gold. His restrained mannerism conveys his helplessness and frustration marvelously on screen. In order to understand the character, Riz learned American Sign Language (ASL) and communicated with the director only through ASL. It is also said that for a few weeks, Riz wore auditory blockers deep inside his ear to get into the character so much so that he couldn’t hear anything including his own voice. In order to justify his character, Riz also spent six months learning how to play the drums. If the buzz around the Oscars is to be believed, then we might see a nomination from Sound of Metal for the 93rd Academy Awards.
This is the first movie in which the director has chosen close captioning as an artistic endeavor to convey an experience. The sound design is done to perfection in which the director uses the sound to cut back and forth between Ruben’s perspective and the audience’s perspective instead of changing the camera angles. The director has used various techniques such as muffling and static noise sounds to immerse the audience into experiencing the life and journey of a deaf person, including the reality of cochlear implants (using distorted noise).
There is an almost universal appeal to Ruben’s struggle of dealing with this permanent life change. At first, he tries hard to fight it, but the moment he surrenders to this new reality, he finds peace in the most mundane things that he wouldn’t have thought of.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel