I can’t think of a movie that’s played more heck with my mental state in recent months than Amazon Prime’s recent drama Sound of Metal.
I went into the film blind after learning it was one of this year’s best picture nominations. It and Promising Young Woman are the only films on the list I hadn’t seen as of yet. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t expect that the film would be BOTH intense Oscar-bait and one of the most depressing dramas in years.
And in a year like this, such a film just seemed kind of cruel…
The Sound of Metal depicts the life of a no-name Metal head named Rubin. He lives out of a trailer and tours the United States doing small gigs in the Midwest and selling records to other Metalheads.
When his hearing goes out during a concert, he’s suddenly faced with the reality that his music career has destroyed his hearing and that he’s lost more than 75% of his perception. Struggling with this reality, he moves into a backwater commune for deaf individuals run by an eccentric Christian naturalist/Vietnam War veteran/former alcoholic who teaches his students to live distances from the modern world and to focus into the joys of family and silence.
Sound of Metal is the quintessential Oscar drama. Aesthetics aside, it comes with all of the cliches. It’s a performance centric film with a killer lead performance by Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed and a serious minded drama about a man suffering from a disability AND grappling with the implications of a former addiction to heroin. It’s The Kings Speech by way of Flight with some of the flare from Whiplash thrown in for good measure.
Much like a film like 2019’s Waves, the film is just an onslaught of depression and pain. Our protagonist isn’t very bright or self aware and he’s self destructive enough that the audience realizes that his actions throughout the film are wrong. It becomes painful to watch and experience the world through his perspective as he slowly alienates others and makes his life worse.
The film is notable insofar as it’s the first film I’ve ever seen that’s effectively dramatized the notion of deafness in a relatable way. The film’s excellent sound design does an amazing job expressing just what Rubin’s perspective sounds like and just how frustrating his life becomes the moment he loses his ability to communicate normally.
This is very much a movie meant to place you within the perspective of someone with this disease and it’s horrifying.
Again though, it’s a really painful watch in light of the past year. Not to get too personal but how many people have actually had their lives destroyed by unspeakable tragedy in the past twelve months? Deaths? Career failures? Business closures?
Anyone in the past year whose gone through trauma is going to watch this film and say “it’s too real!!”
The movie is nominally trying to be ABOUT overcoming the trauma of a life collapse but I didn’t feel the emotions of his eventual catharsis worked. I just felt frustrated and depressed with Rubin and watched him make one self destructive decision after the other until he finally realizes what the moral of the story was.
There’s no grand absolution to the tragedy of his life and we don’t get to see him learn how to live happily with his new disability. There’s only the pain of trauma followed by the realization that things MIGHT get better.
I don’t find a story like this particularly edifying at this moment…