Sound of Metal 2019: Grappling With Identity

2019 was a year of great movies. Before the onset of what was to come the year after, we saw cinematic masterpieces that set records, broke hearts, brought tangible excitement and even sparked controversies. We are talking Parasite, Joker, The Irishman, Rocketman, 1917, Avengers: Endgame, Jojo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and many more. Another 2019 movie — which sadly many people don’t talk about — that made it to the theaters only in November 2020 is the incandescent Sound of Metal film, directed by Darius Marder.

Before delving into the films, I have to mention that this will be a tad bit different from my other articles like Whisper Of the Heart Review or Reply 1988. Mainly because unlike the other stories, I can’t say I relate to the character to that extend as I’ve never experienced hearing loss. But let’s go through the film together.

Sound of Metal 2019 follows Ruben, an addict-turned-musician, who loses his hearing. It stars Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke as Ruben and his girlfriend Lou who are the heavy-metal duo called Blackgammon. The duo who lives in an RV is in the middle of a US tour when Ruben suddenly starts to lose his hearing. His best option is getting cochlear implants but since that is not covered by insurance, Ruben has no choice but to go for the next best option — much to his despair — which is to live in a shelter for deaf recovering-addicts run by a man named Joe (Paul Raci).

The film went on to win Best Sound and Best Film Editing at the 93rd Academy Awards, 2021. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Sound of Metal]

Ruben from sound of metal finding out he lost his sense of hearing
Source : Sound of Metal 2019

Sound of Metal may have seemed too “on the nose” for most of the beginning, and not beyond a moving depiction of someone experiencing hearing loss. But boy, am I glad the film proves us wrong as it progresses. Because if you delve deep enough, the film deals with the most fundamental thing in life. I’d like to think that it is about embracing one’s Identity and surrendering yourself to it.

Already identified as an ex-addict, Ruben grapples with his new identity as a deaf person. And of course he does not handle it well. But his agitation and tantrums are justifiable. An adult experiencing hearing loss cannot be the same as being born deaf and mute. Having to adjust to a life of silence and learn a new way of communicating is no small feat. Add another layer to that, we have Ruben, who is not just losing his ability to hear but the one thing that saved him from spiralling down a life of addiction. With his hearing gone, performing music is out. And with that, his identity as a musician is over.
But Ruben tries so hard to hold on to the life he already knows and in doing so, ignores his declining mental health.

Scene from from sound of metal where Reuben goes off crazy
Source : Sound of Metal 2019

Ruben is us most of the time. Looking for distractions almost all the time, when all we need is a moment of stillness. In the beginning we see Ruben trying his best to lead a normal, healthy life with Lou who’s also had a past riddled with addiction. He likes to get things done, keep busy, and is always on the move. However, the roof-fixing scene at Joe’s shelter is a direct response to Ruben’s life of movement. I for one, was surprised when Joe seemed perturbed by Ruben’s harmless action. But we see Joe’s point almost right away.

Ruben must allow himself to heal rather than distract himself from slipping back to his old ways. If distraction is the best one can do in order to refrain from backsliding, they are not building a very strong foundation for growth. Ruben must find a way to battle his inner demons and come to terms with being deaf rather than trying to fix it so he can go back to his distractions. He must embrace his new identity rather than running away from it.

Ruben from sound of metal embracing his lover for the last time
Source : Sound of Metal

Talk about a weak foundation, Ruben and Lou’s relationship was standing on it the entire time. Their relationship is beautiful and not devoid of adoration and support for each other. But their co-dependency on each other would’ve turned into a stumbling block in their recovery and progress had Ruben not left for the shelter. I mean it’s a classic case of Jesse and Jane from Breaking Bad. It takes one of them to backslide for the other to follow suit. As heartbreaking as it was to see them separate — I bawled my eyes out in that scene — it was neccessary. But Ruben is a hard nut to crack and his moment of clarity being only towards the end with Lou was most fitting.

When Lou picks up her habit of scratching (a telltale sign of anxiety) almost immediately after Ruben mentions “getting back on the road again”, his bubble finally bursts. Realising that Lou is better off without him was a difficult moment for everyone (for me especially, from the way I bawled my eyes out again). Their relationship added the much-needed dimension in Ruben’s journey of true recovery. They saved each other in the past, but it was time for them to move on with their new lives and identities.

In the last moments of the film, Ruben silently comes to terms with his new life and identity. He realises how his endless quest for “fixing” things brought nothing but misery. Sitting on that bench, he removes his hearing aid and soaks up the silence around him. I can only hope that he’s found the “kingdom of God” that Joe had mentioned earlier in the film.

Sound of Metal ruined me and I love it from the depths of my heart!

How did you like this article? To read more from Benthunglo Patton, click here.

Source : Sound of Metal, Amazon Prime Video.

Featured image: Sound of Metal’s original movie poster.

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