Monday With Mildred: “Sound of Metal”

Sound of Metal movie poster

Sound of Metal

What? What?! I get that a lot from my mom, who also watches tv with the sound on 10,000. She’s elderly and you might expect her hearing to get a little iffy, but what if you’re a healthy young man with a thriving music career and all of a sudden everything sounds muffled before going completely silent? My mom gets really angry when I suggest hearing aids, even at her age when you would expect to be hard of hearing, so it makes sense to me that a young man would rage at the world.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is on tour with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) and their band Backgammon. He’s on the skins behind her screaming vocals, and even watching a movie about it made me nearly cover my ears. I don’t mind heavy metal, but it doesn’t like my ears. One day he hears a ringing in his ears and then every sound becomes more and more muffled. He goes to a doctor, who tells him to cool it with the sound levels, but of course he plays that night and now there’s no sound.

One of the first things I noticed about the movie is that there is no option to turn off the subtitles. Oh, I thought, that’s clever because the viewer doesn’t hear what Ruben doesn’t hear so when he has to learn sign language, we’ll know what everyone is saying. This was the first disappointment of the movie, because no, there is no subtitling of the signing. That remains a mystery to me. There is one scene with a deaf lesbian and I could tell they were having a heavy discussion, but they only show the most basic outcome of it.

There is solid cinematography throughout, and much has been made of the sound work. The director worked hard to give us the totality of Ruben’s experience, and it really blew me away. It might seem like a no brainer, but the experience is total and immersive, and to me seems a rather brave stroke. Not being deaf myself, I can’t say how successful the sound work is on a reality scale, but I was impressed.

The movie was shot chronologically, which I didn’t know while watching. That doesn’t happen often, but I think it really lent this movie a lot of strength. One scene in particular becomes very, very powerful. On second thought or viewing you will see some real life, heavy emotions at play during this scene, just because of how the movie as a whole was crafted.

The biggest drawback is the character Lou. The filmmaker gives her very little to do, really, weakening one of Ruben’s major driving forces. Beyond looking concerned and being as supportive as Ruben will allow, Lou remains very much a lesser character and a bit of a cypher. The director totally doesn’t understand the character of Lou, if you ask me. He says Ruben is conflicted about getting his old life back, and can’t decide if that means with Lou or without her. But my understanding of the movie is that Ruben is willing to do anything to get his old life back, especially his relationship with Lou, not as an either or with her or the music. I suspect that’s why she’s given little to do by the director, and that really irritated me.

The opening of the movie is a shock to the system because of the intense, and very loud, music Backgammon is playing. The end of the movie is every bit as shocking. I sat there gaping at the screen, and had to think about it a bit. Despite all the questions it left me with, I decided the very end of the movie is powerful and not awful.

If you’re at all squeamish about losing one of your senses, do not watch this film. The filmmakers seem to have totally captured the grief and anger and completely life changing aspects of becoming suddenly, totally deaf. If the sound of a screaming metal band offends your senses, then do not watch this film. Some aspects of the movie are brilliant, and others problematic. I don’t have a problem recommending watching the movie, but you should be aware you’ll occasionally be confused about the director’s aims.


CFR: In Addition:

Yeah. No. I totally respect heavy metal music. Ok, some heavy metal music. But it isn’t my thing. I mean I LOVE Vegan Black Metal Chef, but that is fun and whimsical. I guess what I perceive the bleakness of heavy metal to be is too much for me. And yes I will admit I don’t understand it or listen to it enough. For example I know “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” is really a ballad about the love and support someone can feel in the mosh pit. 🙂 I like that a lot. But I guess like Mildred, heavy metal does not really go with my auditory receptors. Awesome if you love it – enjoy! Just not my favorite flavor of latte.

Then again I might watch this movie and let my body hit the floor…

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