Being busy with school and everything else for the past few months, I have had little time to watch any movies, or to keep up with the latest movie news. Although I have put several of the nominated films on my watchlist, I was not even aware of the date of the Academy Awards ceremony this year and had not seen any of the nominated movies to write a prediction piece. For that, I tip my hat to Mr. Dinlenc, Mr. Weintraub and those who come after me who can meet the task. Motivated by hot shame, as someone who considers himself to be a “fan of cinema,” I watched “Sound of Metal” this weekend.  

On a technical level, “Sound of Metal'' is remarkable for employing cinematic techniques creatively as storytelling tools and entirely deserved the Best Film Editing and Best Sound Academy Awards, which it was nominated for and won. The film uses its first scene to introduce the life of protagonist Ruben, his relationship with romantic partner Lou and their lives as a touring heavy metal duo. Exactly 10 minutes in, Ruben, as well as the audience, experiences his first symptom of hearing loss. The background dialogues were suddenly cut off, replaced by a distorted electronic noise similar to one of a poorly connected speaker. In the next few scenes, it became clear that, even more frustrating than the loss of hearing itself, was the feeling of disconnection with people. 

While most films use the visual language to create narrative, “Sound of Metal” does so by directing the attention of the audience with sounds. When Ruben first joins a shelter for deaf recovering addicts, he sits through a group dinner without knowing sign language. Here, the audience is shown two different points of “audition.” When the camera is on Ruben, there is a suffocating silence, as if he is living on a different plane. The camera then cuts to the rest of the table, and the sound suddenly comes back. Although there are no words spoken at the table, the audience can hear the sounds people make while passing dishes, chewing food and communicating with each other fluently in sign language. It became abundantly clear that what the protagonist is suffering from is not the loss of the ability to hear, but a way to connect with the world. All of these emotions were conveyed without dialogue, but with the language of film. If possible, I highly recommend watching this film with a surround sound setup or the best headphones one can find, without subtitles. This is one of the rare cases where a lack of information can serve to enhance the viewers’ experience.

The plot of the “Sound of Metal” is a rather traditional three-stage drama, where the audience follows Ruben’s point of view as he discovers his hearing deterioration and attempts to navigate his life after. However, what elevates the story was the setup of two clashing views of how one confronts such obstacles. On one hand, Joe, the head of the community shelter and a deaf recovered alcoholic himself, wants Ruben to accept a life without hearing and find his peace in the world of silence. At points, he even refers to the desire for sound as an addiction for a deaf person. On the other hand, Ruben’s passion for music requires him to do everything in his power to regain his hearing, even in ways that will put him in even more difficult positions. In the end, the struggle for Ruben is not physical, but a choice between accepting the fate life has given him or rebelling against it at the cost of everything else, making him the ultimate tragic hero.

Given that the script is powerful, yet rather simple in its structure and has only a few main characters, the film needs strong performance in order to allow the audience to invest in it, and the cast lived up to it. Nominated for Best Actor in the Academy Awards, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Riz Ahmed’s performance carries the weight of the entire film, as he appears in nearly every single scene. Not only was he entirely immersed into the character he was playing, Ahmed was also able to deliver Ruben’s hidden anger and sadness with his subtle performance. Even when he gazes into an empty space, it feels like the force of emotion is shooting out of his eyes. I have been a fan of Olivia Cooke since “Bates Motel,” and it is a delight to see her becoming a more and more versatile actress after yet another challenging role to play. The arc of her character was essential for the ending of the movie to work and she was able to deliver that transformation in the most natural way imaginable. The film also deserves applause for casting Paul Raci as Joe for his experience as a hearing son of deaf parents instead of choosing another A-list star. Raci received an Independent Spirit Award for his supporting role and was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars.

Today, we live in a time when the definition of cinema has been debated and challenged. Although it has been a seemingly irreversible trend for years, the pandemic has only accelerated the process. Perhaps movie theaters will evolve under pressure, as it did when television became widespread, or perhaps it will become a high-end entertainment designed to serve a smaller group of enthusiasts who can afford to spend $100 on a ticket, just like live theater today. However, films like “Sound of Metal” reminds us that cinema is not simply a series of high-definition videos, but an alternative reality created by carefully coordinated images, sounds and editing. I hope that one day we will have the opportunity to see this movie in theaters and be reminded of the magic of films again.  

Incidentally, this is likely the last article I will write for the Justice in a while. Three years ago, I emailed a then green-haired Arts editor about wanting to write some film reviews. After three years, it seems only appropriate to finish it off with another one. Being able to express myself through writing helped me become better at thinking, which in turn made me better at expressing myself. If you have stumbled upon an article of mine, I hope you find it worthwhile. Thank you for a good ride. I yield my time.