Though film is a predominantly visual medium, it would be a tremendous mistake to underestimate the importance of the sound behind it.
“Sound of Metal” is one of few movies that not only makes you keenly aware of this point, but emphasizes it, intentionally drawing our attention to the different ways sound can impact our perception of the world around us.
Its protagonist, Ruben (Riz Ahmed), finds himself surrounded by noise. In fact, as the drummer in a heavy metal duo he started with his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), he thrives off it.
From the very beginning, the movie dazzles viewers with loud, passionate drum solos. Fast-paced shots from quickly shifting camera angles somehow increase the already sky-high energy of Ruben’s drumming, but seamless editing makes it seem natural and engrossing. You can feel Ruben’s heart, and yours, racing as Ahmed pours every ounce of himself into his performance — sweating, grimacing and panting as though he could give out at any moment.
Yet, the joy he derives from making music comes at a great price — his hearing.
Suddenly, our ears become Ruben’s. The banging of the drums is muffled; Lou’s piercing vocals, silenced. And the sensation continues after the concert, as the sounds of Ruben’s surroundings are diluted as they reach both his ears and ours.
After seeing a doctor and conducting a hearing test, Ruben finds out he can only make out 20-30 percent of the words he hears. He opts to get cochlear implants to help his hearing, but he doesn’t have enough money to pay for them, since they’re not covered by his insurance plan.
Ruben’s life is further complicated by a drug addiction, from which he was recovering. Lou, worried he would relapse, sends Ruben to a rural shelter for deaf recovering addicts on the recommendation of a friend of his.
Though initially reluctant, especially since Lou is not allowed to stay because she isn’t deaf, Ruben eventually agrees to stay at the shelter. There he meets Joe (Paul Raci), a Vietnam veteran and former alcoholic who takes Ruben under his wing. He introduces him to a teacher at a local school so he can learn American Sign Language and helps him cope with being deaf.