Sound Of Metal (2020)

A heartbreaking dichotomization of passion against the chemical recalcitrance of life, SOM is an evocative, preconception-twisting, and morality-complex heavy-metal odyssey of the deafness/special-needs world w. a career 2020 Oscars-performance by Riz Ahmed. 8.7/10.

Plot Synopsis: A heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Night Of & Cinematic-Tokenism

The 2017 Emmy’s Made History: A Best Actor Win Of Pakistani Descent – One Whose Career Should’ve Skyrocketed But ~Couldn’t Find Work After, While Execs Patted Backs

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

On September 17, 2017, The Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences made history at the Emmy’s: a slew of historic wins punctuated by Riz Ahmed’s Best Actor win for HBO’s magnificent prison-system psychoanalytical deconstruction The Night Of [Limited Series]. The proclamation garnered groundbreaking claims by newspaper media outlets of a ‘new cinematic era of globalization and representation’.. but three years later, my people still have nothing. How could a brown actor winning TV’s highest possible honor – fade into oblivion, not finding any profile-work beyond a B-Star Wars flick Rogue One and Venom since? The trend is a troubling one – reverberated by Mena Massoud’s claims that he’s gotten no calls back or for any new work whatsoever after starring in Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin.. which made $1.051 Billion at the worldwide Box Office [with a B]. The cinematic tokenism and back-patting self-congratulations white studio-execs have given themselves for the bare minimum of cinematic diversity over a century of moviemaking has been finally put under a microscope in recent media – with representation-groundbreakers like Wonder Woman, Black Panther, & Parasite showing the first glimmers of a new future we’re still a long way from realizing. Sound Of Metal continues the torch-carrying legacy of those films – not only by a journey into arguably the most underrepresented group in cinema: special-needs, but by a central performance demanding recognition on the world’s biggest stage of movies: again by Mr. Ahmed. A heartbreaking dichotomization of passion against the chemical recalcitrance of life, SOM is an evocative, representationally-important, and morality-complex heavy-metal journey into deafness/special-needs – one that twists preconceptions of disabilities and the ostensible cruelty of fate in a Greek-tragic personal odyssey of loss, community, religion, and love with a career 2020 Oscars-performance by Riz Ahmed.

A Heavy-Metal Drummer’s Life

Riz Ahmed Leaves No Doubt Here: One Of The Best New Actors Of 2010’s; A Nuanced, Fiery Performance Of Pain, Raw Emotion, Limewire Rage, Power, & Odysseic Journey

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

The first sounds we hear in Sound Of Metal are the feedback-distortion of amplifiers and subwoofers at adrenaline-fueled one-night punk/metal gigs – an ominous foreshadowing of the acoustic terrorization to follow. Though I wish they’d used a better band/music [not dissonant, asynchronous, incoherent warbling and screaming without purpose or melody – perpetuating the stereotype of heavy metal’s artistic deficiency when there are plenty of amazing bands], the establishment of the film’s major theme serves its purpose – while giving Riz Ahmed the platform to steal the show from the very first time we see him bludgeon the snare drums metaphorically-symbolic of his ear drums by the overwhelming decibels coming out of them. Riz Ahmed captures the electricity, acidity, and chemical punch of a rock-drummer proficiently – of no surprise being a musician himself from the U.K. leaning on his artistic-connections for lessons on how to hit the perfect rimshots, cymbal-gyrations, and sell the realism of SOM. Despite his rough, blonde-dyed, heavily-tattooed, nihilistic façade, Ruben is actually pretty happy: a musician following his dreams and living in a romantically-intimate RV with his girlfriend Lou – two souls with dark pasts of substance-abuse and suicidal thoughts who saved each other by helping them get sober through the power of community and knowing someone else going through your same struggles able to relate and confide in. This is yet another critical theme SOM establishes beautifully in the beginning of the film without overt reference by the directorial skill of Marder [wildly-impressive for his cinematic debut behind the lens], one that gives our lovers a bright time on their road-trip from city-to-city; show-to-show – before tragedy strikes.

A Medical Nightmare Of Pure Terrorization

Fate Deprives Ruben Of The Biggest Passion Of His Life: Music By The Loss Of Hearing; Recalcitrance Of Life & A Healthcare Exposé

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

Before setting up merchandise-tables outside the venue of their next gig, Ruben notices a bizarre ringing/warbling sound in his ears we’re given auricular experience of too – one that returns during the show and catalyzes fully overnight: the unspeakable nightmare of waking up ~deaf, especially as a musician [I even further understand the pain having played multiple instruments and DJed throughout high-school/college.] The concept-pitch is one straight out of a horror-film, yet based in realism – a twisted, sadistic kill of what millions find love, escapism, relaxation, and expressionism in through music it’s hard to even quantify the existential terrorization of losing for us. The scare takes Ruben to the doctor’s office and opens up cogent analytical opportunities on healthcare – the careful advice and care of the practitioner, occasional rebellion of patients only making themselves worse like Ruben ignoring the surgeon’s advice to skip his next show and rest, and overexpensiveness of healthcare [the fault of insurance/govt. reimbursement corporations instead of doctors; have to say that having been to Medical School and wanting to point out that it’s not the doctors who broke the system]. The realism Riz Ahmed paints as he’s told the equivalent of cinematic cancer for what he loves most is heartbreaking – and his performance elevates into masterpiece territory: a nuanced, fiery rage of pain, raw emotion, limewire energy, and power as his life is changed. Fearful of his psychological health, violence, narcotics-sobriety, and insouciance to continue ruining his own health out of inability to cope or understand the physiological magnitude of this possible complex, Ruben and Lou head to a rural community specifically-designed for the deaf and recovering addicts – one of the great strides for cinematic representation in modern-moviemaking.

The World Of Deaf/Special-Needs

The Suicidal Depths Of Despair & Loss Exiles & Isolates Ruben To A New Landscape: A Welcome Of Love, Personal/Condition-Growth, Acceptance, & New Opportunity

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

Our odysseic journey into the world of deafness/special-needs is far from the preconceived chaos social-stigmatizations would lead us – and Ruben – to believe. The community is strikingly.. normal – classes, field trips, sports-games, and ability to carry out full dinner-table conversations in ASL with all of the vivacity and energy of a normal family meal. The film even has some fun with the difficulty of learning Sign Language – even by normal people, a task that requires more significant mental dexterity than given credit for, and one Riz Ahmed spent seven months learning out of pure dedication to the role and craft. The physical specimen of RA’s six-pack figure often shirtless in many early scenes also highlights the dichotomization of special-needs with physical health; it can happen to anyone, even if in the best shape otherwise. By no accident, the herculean flip of our every notion of what ‘diabilities’ mean cement Sound Of Metal as a cinematic masterstroke of humbling and instruction – using the platform of mass-information and representation to let us walk in the shoes of arguably THE most discriminated against and misunderstood community in the world, and evolve ourselves to become better & more understanding/empathetic people. The magic of experience here is greatly due to the efforts of Paul Raci – a warm, gentle-yet-firm God-figure patriarch of the community Joe, whose compassionate care for all the lost souls seeking solace and convivality and one we’re sure will get accolades from The Academy for Best Supporting Actor in 2021. The cinematography and score subvert along with our internalized societal-prejudices/xenophobia; the acoustic landscape of the film to start is heavily-amplified in its diegetic background noise – city-sounds, object-noises, wind, etc. getting singular attention paralleled by visual shots focusing on the object-and-sound specifically to highlight the relationship between audiovisual planes sensorily.

A Groundbreaking Film Representation

The Biggest & Most Important Project Ever On Deaf/Special-Needs, SOM Twists Our Preconceptions & Prejudices: Celebration & Community, Not Disability To Fix Or Mourn

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

The audiovisual plane is flipped along with Ruben’s condition – the film goes silent to parallel the deafness of experience while also trading in the singular shots of only one or two people or objects populating the frame with many as he thematically finds community on the ranch. Ruben disobeys the rules, however, and constantly sneaks to check up on the outside world in Joe’s office – preventing true melding and transfixation into the environment and present specifically-designed to be the purpose and an important turning-point in the film plot-wise. Joe likely notices this by the special assignment given to Ruben to ‘just sit’ in an empty room and enjoy the peace/silence while coming to grips with his new reality and accepting this – and fate obliges Ruben with plenty of new opportunities for replacement-gifts like a new girlfriend in the ASL teacher as a love-interest constantly sneaking looks at him and friends/family in his community he’s caught smiling and enjoying several times throughout the film. Betrayal of all of these pros by the mysterious workings of God/fate bring even more complexity of characterization – the preclusion of music for someone whose whole life was centered around it is cruel and empathizable to want to fix, but the surgery is also a slap in the face of the community who welcomed him and fate/God’s will ‘fixing’ a ‘disability’ in a place founded on the belief that their condition is not a handicap and one he was happy in until he broke rules by obsessing over his past life. Nevertheless, Ruben exposes his humanity, selfishness, and inability to cope/change – and gives up everything he has to secure enough money for the cochlear implant surgery.

A Betrayal & Complex Morality Exposition

Regardless Of Experience, Ruben Breaks Rules & Rejects His New Life & Community – Giving Up *Everything* To Chase The Past

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

Post-surgery, Ruben is befit with large scars on his occipital and temporal lobes – and returns home to notify a disappointed Joe. The junkie-like appearance of Riz during this scene is even more-impressive acting-wise – also highlighting another critical theme in the film of substance-abuse brilliantly-metaphorical of Ruben’s fix-addiction to his past instead of the present/future right in front of him and also physical being what drove him and Lou together, as well as what drove Joe and his family away when he turned to alcoholism after losing his hearing [his drinking and psychological effects/hardship it opened up being more deadly than the deafness]. The jitteriness of Ruben constantly-looking for ways to distract himself both physically and mentally from the reality he’s facing is also thematically-resonant – one that prompts Joe to give him a task to just sit in an empty room and find ‘peace in the silence: the kingdom of God’ he is still too anxious, restless, and fidgety to enjoy.. until the finale. The Greek-tragic punishment of a fate/God not to be trifled with is ostensible and atmospherically-dominant in the finale of SOM. Post-surgery and giving up everything he had to secure the $80K, Ruben’s life should be back to normal, right? Wrong; his new ‘hearing’ is warbled and metallicy [a humorous double-entendre being truly ‘sound of metal’ like its eponymous title and reverberating the distortive-feedback that vexed our senses in the beginning’s heavy-metal shows but permanent] – and he’s let known that the surgery can’t restore classical hearing, but is tricking the complex brain into thinking it’s hearing normally; weaving yet another theme of the fickleness of nature that science tries to [and often can] subvert, but there are still mysteries far beyond our grasp and worthy of our respect/awe. This point, while thematically and plot-brilliant, is one of the few flaws/plotholes in SOM: there’s no way someone would pay $80K for a procedure without knowing the explanations/risks thoroughly – cochlear implant surgery doesn’t cure hearing loss or deafness, but is one of the few ways to restore any perception of the outside acoustics of the world and statistically pretty-successful and finely-rated by recipients. Oh and the ending is so incredibly-dark/tragic, it will be almost overwhelmingly spirit-killing for many viewers.

A Tragic Lesson & Futility Of Insurgence

The Final Nail In A [Self-Catalyzed] Coffin, Fate/Religion Punishes By The Loss Of Everything – Ruben Finally ‘Sits’ Humbled By The Realization He Ruined His Own Life

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

After the soul-shaking realization the surgery and procedure [as well as everything he gave up to get it, both material-possessions in his van/equipment and the community he betrayed the trust of] might’ve all been for-not, Ruben still has one possible salvation: Lou. On the first flight to Paris, Ruben gets to her father’s house – and the atmospheric tension is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. There’s clearly something he’s not telling us, and you get that sinking feeling of intuition and foreshadowing in your gut that Ruben is about to be deprived of the one thing that meant the most to him and all he has left in the world in Lou. The handling of the finale is pure cinematic artistry – the party drives a nail in the coffin of Ruben being unable to enjoy the first music he hears of his girlfriend singing a beautiful French chanson and the recollection of their past lives and Ruben’s proposal of them ‘getting back to the way things were’ makes Lou anxious – a giveaway sign by the scratching of her wrist-scars she was not doing beforehand that she doesn’t want to leave her current life now to go back, without saying the brutal words. Lou’s rejection [out of perhaps infidelity, growth, or some caustic brew of personal reasons] is a betrayal thematically-parallel to Ruben’s of his past community – driving the final nail in the coffin of Ruben’s life he self-catalyzed as he leaves in the morning to a new reality he has nothing left in. The symbolism and cacophonous warbling noise around him finally prompts the soul-stricked and life-beaten man to sit on a bench in the thematically-resonant cold/grayish day and remove his cochlear implants – finally ‘sitting’ and enjoying the peace/silence he’d avoided throughout the film after being thoroughly-corrected by the fate/God presence symbolically shown in the sun on the trees and realizing the futility of his insurgence/aspiration and what he’s done.

Conclusion

One Of The Best Films Of 2020

A Heartbreaking Dichotomization Of Passion & Recalcitrance Of Life – Evocative, Prejudice-Twisting, Morality-Complex Heavy-Metal Odyssey By Oscar-Worthy R.A.

Photograph Courtesy Of: Amazon Originals

Overall, Sound Of Metal is one of the best films of 2020. Riz Ahmed needs to win a Best Actor Oscar for this; we’re prepared to riot if he doesn’t – and it’s not just because this would be the biggest cinematic step of representation for brown people on Hollywood’s biggest stage. The raw emotion, pain, and powerful, steely intensity in Riz’s eyes makes you feel a kaleidoscope of emotions through his experiences. The punishment & ostensible Greek-tragic damnation of his punk-metal drummer being deprived of the one thing he loves most in the world through the loss of the only means to do it seems brutally-dark – yet isn’t quite what it seems as it opens up multiple avenues for psychoanalytical cogitation of religion, healthcare, community, substance-abuse, and love. The suicidal depths of despair he feels at first are developed into a canvas of bliss: a community he’s welcomed by regardless of his perceived-‘inadequacy’ and one in which he finds love and camaraderie that helps him grows as a person: the deaf/special-needs community. The breaking of the rules by contact with the outside world and, symbolically, his previous life catalyze a betrayal of them one met with harsh instructive punishment by the religious presence overseeing the film’s events as Ruben gives up everything he owns chasing after his girl and past, only for her to have moved on and the operation he spent all his money on not restore his hearing as promised. SOM is one of the darkest stories I’ve seen on-screen [perhaps: too desolate in one of its only flaws along with the opening music-choice], packed with a morality-lesson Ruben is taught the hardest possible way as he’s finally forced to sit speechless and struck with realization of the futility of his own aspiration; he screwed up his own life by clutching to the notion of deafness being a disability to fix regardless of his experiences illustrating the contrary and being so outwardly-focused and blind, he missed and rejected the ample replacement-opportunities given to him by the universe in a community that loved him [including love in the teacher and keeping all his money/possessions]. The supporting performances are fantastic: Olivia Cooke’s bandmate girlfriend torn by the hot-grips of fate pressuring her promises to wait and love regardless of disability when she secretly [& shamefully] wants to move on and Paul Raci’s domineering-yet-compassionate God-figure patriarch of the community we’re sure will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor by The Academy in 2021 too. The cinematography and score work in-tandem by giving singular attention to objects and their sounds while amplifying the background diegetic noise of life we take for granted – oh, and heavy metal concerts for a loud canvas to start that grows quieter and even silent before getting metallically-distorted in the finale paralleling its storyline sensorily. Finally, Sound Of Metal is a vital representation-piece for the deaf community – a love-letter packed with cogent analysis & authenticity-of-portrayal as it deconstructs and reverses societal-stigmas about special-needs, plus lets us walk in their shoes and gain perspective in what’s a game-changing masterpiece for one of cinema’s most underrepresented groups. A heartbreaking dichotomization of passion against the chemical recalcitrance of life, SOM is an evocative, representationally-important, and morality-complex heavy-metal journey into deafness/special-needs – one that twists preconceptions of disabilities and the ostensible cruelty of fate in a Greek-tragic personal odyssey of loss, community, religion, and love with a career 2020 Oscars-performance by Riz Ahmed.

Official CLC Score: 8.7/10