A compelling portrayal of deaf culture: Lilian Greenwood reviews 'Sound of Metal'
Image: Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
A powerful mix of raw energy and vulnerability, lead actor Riz Ahmed is deservedly attracting acclaim for his performance in this moving film which highlights society's attitudes to deafness and inclusion
This is a compelling film, with an outstanding central performance from Riz Ahmed as punk metal drummer Ruben, who loses his hearing over a matter of days and is forced to confront what this means for his future. The combination of his acting – conveying a powerful mix of raw energy and vulnerability – and a striking soundscape produces a film that explores issues around deafness in a way rarely seen on screen.
Ruben is a former drug addict living in an RV and on tour with his band-mate and partner Lou. When Lou fears that Ruben’s sudden deafness could trigger a relapse, she insists that he seeks help, leading him to join an isolated deaf community for recovering addicts led by Joe, whose philosophy is that deafness is not a disability to be fixed.
The film explores issues around deafness in a way rarely seen on screen
Joe is brilliantly played by the largely unknown Paul Raci, himself the child of deaf parents. With the support of Joe and the community Ruben sets about “learning to be deaf”. This is the heart of the film, producing some particularly touching scenes as Ruben begins to build a new life, before breaking with the community by undergoing surgery to fit cochlear implants which he hopes will allow him to return to his old one – hopes that are ultimately dashed.
This is undoubtedly a rare attempt to look at what it means to be deaf and a portrayal of deaf culture. However there are criticisms that the film is primarily aimed at a hearing audience, that the central role is played by a hearing actor, and that the choice between embracing deafness or accessing treatment is presented as binary.
I’d certainly recommend this film – it’s deeply moving and deservedly attracting awards. I hope it raises awareness of the impact of deafness and of society’s attitudes to it and prompts the many discussions to be had about how we respond to deafness, hearing loss and inclusion.
Lilian Greenwood is Labour MP for Nottingham South and chair of the Deafness APPG
Directed by: Darius Marder
Broadcaster: Amazon Prime
6 OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Including Best Actor, Riz Ahmed
2 OSCAR WINS: Best Film Editing & Best Sound