Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer for a two-man band consisting of himself and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). His passion, art, and livelihood depend on being able to hear and create sounds that coalesce into music which they can sell and which allows them to live a gypsy life. One day, he wakes up and realizes that he has lost his sense of hearing. The treatment, a surgical implant, entails an indefinite period of rest and huge expenses. It confuses, angers, frustrates, and frightens him, sometimes all at once.
As he figures out a way to get surgery, in the meantime, he seeks refuge in a community of deafmutes who, unlike him, don’t see their condition as handicap. There, the community leader Joe encourages him to slow down, get in touch with his feelings by writing them down, and learn the art of just sitting and doing nothing.
He spends a few weeks in the community and gives to them as much as he takes from them. He gets free donuts, coffee and a room while he recovers and comes to terms with his condition/new reality. He learns sign language and integrates with the folks, even teaching the kids how to play drums. He draws nudes for a lesbian member and occasionally has a heart-to-heart with Joe. A period of pleasantness follows Ruben’s initial reticence to mingle with the deafmute community.
But Ruben is a young, attractive, and active musician who is at his creative peak. The community is just a pitstop, not a destination like it is for Joe who offers him long-term membership and mentorship. He eventually comes up with the money for the surgery and gets kicked out from Joe’s organization as a result. The surgery, sadly, only partially and imperfectly restores his hearing. In place of crystal-clear sounds of voices, music, and noise, he hears metallic scraping in his ears, effectively subjecting him to hearing screeching metal sounds for as long as he chooses to wear the otherwise neat-looking contraption on his head. He chooses to hear silence permanently instead.
This movie reminds me of Dancer in the Dark, a musical about a musical film-loving woman named Selma (Björk) who is wrongfully accused of murder and who is about to lose her sight and dies from state execution anyway. Sound of Metal is harrowing, but it is not misery-porn-like like the Lars Von Trier musical drama. Ruben’s condition reminds me of my unhealthy music listening habits too. I listen to music loud, but I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much because I don’t play drums or guitars. Sound of Metal is ultimately an excellent showcase for Riz Ahmed’s hotness and talent and a piercing reminder of the value of introspection, the unexpected beauty in settling into an agenda-free community, and Accepting Things You Cannot Change (I swear the film is not as trite as I describe it). And any film written in English, sign language, and some French deserves all the screenwriting awards.