Follow TV Tropes


Film / Sound of Metal

Go To
"Everybody here shares in the belief that being deaf is not a handicap. Not something to fix."

Sound of Metal is a 2019 American drama film directed and co-written by Darius Marder in his directorial debut. It stars Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff and Mathieu Amalric.

The film centers around Ruben Stone (Ahmed), a drummer in the avant-garde metal band Blackgammon with his lead singer girlfriend Lou (Cooke). At the start of the film, the band is touring America in an RV, but the morning after a show, Ruben discovers that his hearing is deteriorating rapidly, and he can't afford the expensive cochlear implants he wants in order to continue drumming. Desperate to help her partner, Lou arranges for Ruben to stay with a house full of deaf community members in order to accept and adjust to his new way of life.

The film won Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Film Editing, further being nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Ahmed), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Paul Raci, who plays the deaf community leader.

Sound of Metal provides examples of:

  • Agitated Item Stomping: Ruben stomps the hell out of some of his and Lou's equipment as the frustration of losing his hearing gets to him.
  • The Alcoholic: Joe initially turned to booze after losing his hearing, which caused him to lose his family.
  • Artistic License – Medicine:
    • A patient experiencing sudden total bilateral hearing loss wouldn’t simply be let go after evaluation by an audiologist; there would be a few weeks of treatment afterward, which in the best cases can result in at least partial recovery.
    • For dramatic effect, the film takes some liberties with its portrayal of cochlear implants.
      • In terms of their efficacy, the initial experience can be even worse than shown in the film. However, the experience usually improves over time as the brain adjusts to the new stimuli. By the time Ruben gets to France, his hearing should have been far better than the film portrays.
      • Ruben’s post-activation experience seems limited to one session of adjustments. In reality, cochlear implants require regular mapping and calibration in the months following activation.
      • This is somewhat dependent on the individual doctor, but most medical professionals would have made some effort to lower Ruben’s high expectations — even in the best-case scenario, implants never provide a 100% replication of true acoustic sound.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Leaning towards the "downer" end of the spectrum, though with a great deal of ambiguity for what lies in Ruben's future. Ruben gains a semblance of hearing via cochlear implants, but finds their recreation of sound a pale imitation of what he once had, leaving his future in music in question. Not only that, the operation costs him his home, all of his material possessions, and his newfound belonging in the Deaf community. He reunites with Lou, but both realize that the time they spent apart has made them very different people. The film ends with Ruben removing the implant processors, embracing the silence.
  • Book Ends:
    • The opening scene is of a Blackgammon concert, focusing mostly on Ruben's performance. After the title card, there is a hard cut from guitar feedback to silence as Ruben is seen waking up in the RV. In the final scene, Ruben removes his cochlear processors, and the film audio instantaneously shifts from the distorted sound he hears to silence. Of additional note is that a nearby church bell that was distorting Ruben's hearing perception is heard (by him and the audience) in such a way that it seems to replicate the sound of a crashing cymbal.
    • In the second scene, Ruben wakes up next to Lou in their RV and affectionately makes her breakfast. In the second to the last scene, he wakes up next to Lou in her rich father's home in Belgium after they had mutually agreed the night before that although they love each other, they are in different places in life. He then leaves her behind.
  • Chore Character Exploration: Lou's father Richard is cooking when Ruben arrives to visit Lou. Richard repeatedly insists that he doesn't need Ruben's assistance as Ruben keeps offering to help out with the chore. The scene provides some Five-Second Foreshadowing that Ruben and Lou have grown apart from their codependent relationship.
  • Deaf Composer: Ruben becoming one of these is the premise of the film.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ruben mentions that his father was absent while he was growing up.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Refers to both the sound of the metal music Ruben and Lou play, and the metallic qualities of the distorted sound Ruben hears with his cochlear processors.
  • Dream-Crushing Handicap: Ruben's sudden hearing ailment throws a massive wrench in his plans to tour the country with Lou.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lou's mother killed herself when Lou was growing up.
  • Five Stages of Grief: One could interpret Ruben going through these:
    • Denial when he thinks he and Lou can keep playing together.
    • Anger when he smashes many of his belongings in the RV.
    • Bargaining when he sells all his stuff to get the implants.
    • Depression when he realizes the implants aren’t what he thought they’d be and that his life will never be the same.
    • Acceptance when he takes the implants out at the end and seems at peace with being deaf.
  • Impairment Shot: The audio equivalent thereof. Several scenes have the audio drop out, sometimes replaced with high-pitched whines, to demonstrate Ruben's deafness.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Ruben doesn't stop to think that hoping to find a cure for his hearing would be insulting to the other members of the deaf community he joins. It isn't until Joe informs him how them knowing would reinforce the idea that they're broken that Ruben realizes this.
  • Keeping the Handicap: Although it seems like a subversion at first, it becomes this trope at the end. Ruben sells all he has to pay for the implant surgery, but everything he ends up hearing is a permanently bastardized version of what everyone else hears. He appears to find peace in the final scene when he decides to take off his aids and embrace deafness.
  • Nice Guy: Joe is an extremely caring individual, devoting his life to helping other people who suffer from deafness like him, and refusing to let anyone in his group see themselves as broken.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Ruben finally reunites with Lou after several months of absence, thinking they will return to their normal life. He soon realizes that both of them have changed during this period, and that there is no chance that they will ever go back to what they were before.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Ruben removing the implants at the end and having a peaceful expression on his face, for the first time in the movie seeming like he’s accepted being deaf.
  • Recovered Addict:
    • Ruben is a former heroin addict who's been sober as long as he's been with Lou.
    • Joe himself is a recovered alcoholic who runs a program specifically for deaf addicts.
  • Self-Harm: Lou's arm is covered in scars from where she intentionally hurt herself in the past. She uses them to convince Ruben that when he hurts himself (i.e. refuses to stay with the deaf community), he hurts her.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Ruben finally get the cochlear implant surgery, but they do not allow Ruben to hear in a traditional sense and cause irritating feedback that disrupt his attempts to regain his old way of life. Downplayed overall, in that implants generally have a better result than portrayed in the film.
  • Tropaholics Anonymous: Ruben, a recovered heroin addict, joins Joe's support group that is specifically for deaf drug addicts.
  • The Vietnam Vet: Joe. He lost his hearing from a bomb shockwave.
  • Veteran Instructor: Joe, who lost his hearing after being too close to an explosion in The Vietnam War, helps Ruben come to terms with his own deafness.