What could possibly be one in the handful of the most anticipated films this winter is debutante feature filmmaker Darius Marder's heart wrenching tale that renders its viewers to a state of physical and emotional stupefaction. Sound of Metal serves us the most intimate understanding of a life without the ability to hear, the impact of which is a resounding smack across the very sense we take for granted.
Written and directed by Darius Marder along with brother and the screenplay's co-writer Abraham Marder, the film drops us bang in the middle of a punk metal performance, spearheaded by its heavily tattooed drummer Ruben Stone, played by a bleached haired Riz Ahmed in what could be argued as his career best. After a wild opening of disorientating sonic mayhem, there is the penultimate tonal transition into the next morning of breakfast sizzling and smooth jazz over the stereo until the final obliviating blow of Ruben's sudden loss of hearing.
Marder employs a two-pronged approach for telling this story which involves the ground-breaking technical prowess of sound mixer and editor Nicolas Becker and Ahmed's unfeigned performance. The abruptness in the shifting of sonic perspectives directly reflects the level of agitation that resonates with Ahmed's acting. The question arises as to the decision of casting an able-bodied actor in the leading role in disability cinema; a question that receives a prompt response as the narrative progresses. The fear in Ahmed's eyes and the unyielding anxiety in his being post-hearing loss are the sentiments, the very kind of which one would ascribe to an able-bodied person going through such an experience for the very first time in their lives. The film aims at plunging its predominantly able-bodied audience into the claustrophobic atmosphere of what it truly means to be deaf; a momentary severance of our otherwise privileged sensory perception in a haunting cinematic experience.
Riz Ahmed's powerhouse performance is only compounded by the ensemble of actors from the deaf community, captured with the delicacy of documentary style footage. This includes the finesse brought on screen by a champion of the deaf acting community, Paul Raci and a poignant table confrontation scene he shares with co-star Ahmed. The film gives us an insight into deaf culture. The alphabet race, the solitary writing room in the early hours of the morning, the liveliness of meals at the dinner table and the titular sound of metal of Ruben drumming over a metal slide. Everything we see in the world of deaf culture really comes from deaf culture and makes for some outstanding writing expanding on Ruben's experience.
As a part of disability cinema, the film does its best at subverting an array of tropes associated with genre. For one its production isn't bathing in tokenism or the facade of an outsider's sympathy. It doesn't follow the narrative clichés of an individual's tale of heroism in overcoming their disabilities against all odds. As a friend observed and I quote, "This wasn't the story of Ruben Stone. This was the story of a random guy who goes deaf". It's purpose isn't didactic nor coloured through a lens of pity. It's simply a tale of acceptance. Which is why the final static shot isn't redemptive for Ruben nor does it provide an profound emotional catharsis. For Ruben's acceptance and thereby us, as an audience accepting the closing for what it is, is the most fulfilling as it possibly gets.