Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is living the life of his dreams. Being a drummer on tour with his band co-member and the love of his life, Lou (Olivia Cooke), travelling through the United States in their RV.
Until one night, during a concert, something unexplainable happens – he suddenly starts losing his hearing. It’s not all immediate. At first every sound is muffled but somehow hearable. However, the condition is deteriorating quickly and the fear of becoming entirely deaf gets bigger with every day. Desperate Ruben sneaks out to the audiologist, yet unaware that his life is about to change forever.
Shortly afterwards he hears the terrifying diagnosis – he won’t be able to hear again. The only thing he can do is eliminate every loud sound from his life and dream of a cochlear implant which price amounts to tens of thousands of dollars.
Ruben’s girlfriend gets him a place in a rural deaf community, where he is about to learn to accept his fate with help of fellow hearing-impaired people and the head of the community, Joe (Paul Raci). This is where Ruben’s internal battle begins.
Should he settle in the new place and come to terms with the fact that there’s no coming back to the life he was living? Or should he do all what’s in his power to get the money for the implant and try to return to music, to Lou, and to the spontaneous, almost nomadic life they had together?
Much akin Chloé Zhao’s 2017 understated gem The Rider, Sound of Metal rejects any hollow dramatisation and focuses on the human and honest aspects of the story. These two films bear many similarities, and Sound of Metal’s screenwriter and director Darius Marder directly pays tribute to Zhao’s film in a frame-by-frame homage in the latter part of the story.
Marder’s effort, however, delves deeper into the meaning of what the main character is fighting for. Is it actually worth hurting the feelings of people around us and dismissing the stable, quiet life to fight for a lost way of living? What exactly was in that way of living that he’s longing for the most and why can’t he find happiness in the new situation?
After all, everything seems to be going well, and it looks like Ruben is slowly accepting the new way of living – as a deaf person in a caring, supportive community far from the shambles and intensity of his past.
But it’s not that easy to run away from who we used to be, and he clearly can’t be at peace living the quiet life which, as we see, cannot satisfy everyone. This difference in people’s preferences is brilliantly explored through countless discussions and quarrels Ruben has with Joe, whose heartfelt but overtly patronising monologues are aimed at helping Ruben find his way in life and teaching him how to start loving himself.
Sound of Metal is a beautifully honest meditation on our attachments to our ways of living. And although the story of a musician becoming deaf is seemingly specific, the film conveys a universal message and will encourage everyone to reflect on their lives – maybe it will help you accept some major changes – or, on the contrary, make you realise that a part of your identity has been lost and needs to be fought for.