Sound of Metal is a 2019 American drama film directed and co-written by Darius Marder starring Riz Ahmed as a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. The film also features Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, and Mathieu Amalric.
Ruben is a drummer and one half of the metal duo Blackgammon, along with the singer and his girlfriend, Lou. They live in an RV while driving across the United States to perform gigs.
He is a heroin addict four years clean, she has a history of self-harm. The band has a nihilist vibe as she screams and roars into a mic accompanied by feedback, dissonance, and Ruben’s impassioned rumming. He likes to play shirtless, showing off his heavily tattooed torso with the words Please Kill Me scrawled in capitals across his chest. They seem pretty hardcore at first, but looks can be deceptive as it quickly becomes apparent, they are deeply in love having found a semblance of peace in each other’s company.
When Ruben begins to suddenly lose his hearing, he goes to a pharmacy seeking a diagnosis. The pharmacist refers him to a doctor, who performs a hearing test and finds that Ruben can only make out 20–30 percent of words he hears and his hearing will deteriorate rapidly; moreover, although cochlear implants may benefit him, their high cost is not covered by insurance. The doctor suggests that Ruben eliminate all exposure to loud noises and later undergo further testing, but Ruben continues to perform.
Lou learns of Ruben’s condition and wants to stop performing for his safety, but he wants to continue. Lou is also concerned about his sobriety, as he is a recovering drug addict. They call his sponsor figure, Hector, who finds a rural shelter for deaf recovering addicts that accepts Ruben, run by a man named Joe, a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War.
It is in the initial interview with Ruben that Joe asks him how long he’s been sober and he answers four years. Joe then follows up with a second question: so how long you been with her? And Ruben says four years! Followed by, she saved my life! What ever happened to “don’t date anyone in the first year of recovery”.
Ruben leaves with Lou because they will not let her live there with him and he wants only the implants. Lou, anxious for his well-being, leaves and persuades Ruben to return to the shelter for an open-ended period of time.
Ruben begins to meet the other members of the shelter as he attends meetings and settles into his new life. He is introduced to Diane, a teacher, and the children in her class, and begins to learn American Sign Language. Joe tasks Ruben with writing endlessly and sitting peacefully in an effort to make him comfortable with the silence and confides to him that he himself will do the same, simultaneously. Ruben joins Diane’s class and starts to connect with the children and the rest of the community. He gives the children and Diane basic drumming lessons. Underneath his successful transition he urns for his old life back.
Ruben periodically uses the computer to see what Lou is up to, discovering her to be experimenting with her own music in Paris where her dad lives. He gets his friend Jenn to sell his drums and other music equipment, then sells his RV, using the money for cochlear implant surgery. Ruben asks Joe to loan him money to buy back his RV while he awaits activation of the implant. Joe refuses, commenting that Ruben looks and sounds like an addict [I want what I want when I want it]. Brokenhearted, Joe then asks Ruben to leave the community, as it is founded on the belief that deafness is not a handicap.
FYI: The advancement of modern medical technology often comes paired with opposing ethical responses- for example, embryonic stem cell research with pro-life sentiments, human genetic engineering with those opposed to “playing God,” and euthanasia with those who believe that doctors should “first, do no harm.” The cochlear implant debate is no exception. Modern technology in combination with medical advancements has allowed cochlear implants to restore hearing to individuals with significant degrees of hearing loss. Modern day cochlear implants are smaller than they have ever been before, have improved signal processing, and are FDA approved for implantation in adults and children as young as 12 months. However, while technology is continuing to advance and cochlear implants are becoming more common, there are individuals (especially in the Deaf community) who are opposed to the procedure, especially in children. This is largely due to the fact that they believe that it violates the rights of the child, and that it is the beginning of Deaf ethnocide.
Back to the story. Once the implants have been activated, the implants allow Ruben to hear, but the sound from them is heavily distorted and not what he was hoping for, and this disrupts his attempts to regain his old way of life. Ruben flies to meet Lou at her wealthy father Richard’s house in Paris where she has settled into a new lifestyle. Richard welcomes him and allows him to stay there. Richard confides in Ruben that while he did not originally like Ruben, he recognizes that Ruben has made Lou happy. At a gathering, Lou and her father perform a duet, and Ruben’s finds his implants don’t allow him to hear music as he used to. Ruben and Lou discuss the possibility of playing music and touring again. Ruben notices this makes Lou anxious and tells her all is well and that she saved his life. She tells him that he saved hers too. The next morning, Ruben takes his things and leaves while Lou is still sleeping. Bothered yet again by the distortion, he sits on a bench and removes his implants’ processors, trying to become more comfortable with the silence. The loss of his hearing, career and girl friend leaves him in his aloneness. It leaves one to wonder what his second act would look like.
Paul Raci – who is also nominated for an Oscar (supporting actor) – does a fine job as Joe, the shamanic elder statesman and Vietnam veteran running a rural retreat for people who are deaf and have addictions. Unfortunately, deaf, and hard of hearing people are at risk for many things and alcohol and drug addiction is one of them. The deaf and hard of hearing community is at a greater risk for alcohol and drug abuse than the general population. The culture rebelled against attempts by some educators in the hearing world to teach deaf children to speak English. The “oral” approach discouraged the use of American sign language, yet many children – even with the most powerful hearing aids – have difficulty understanding what was supposed to be their native language. The isolation often leads to substance abuse.
In response to this need, Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotic Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous have created support meetings for the hearing impaired but they only exist in larger cites and are limited in number.
There are lessons to be learned from the Sound of Metal. At the essence of his story is “please connect with me and make me whole” that is not unique to addicts but is seminal in addicts. Isolation is a bitch! If the isolation of the virus is leading to a sense of demoralization remember that misery is optional. Contact us here at No More Secrets. Help is an email away.