This is a review of the movie, “The Sound of Metal,” and it’s chock-full of spoilers.
This film is an Amazon original, available on Amazon Prime, linked here.
I’m deaf. My hearing loss has been progressive, which means I wasn’t born deaf, it all came gradually. I started wearing hearing aids when I was 11, and have been wearing them full-time from the age of 15. At this point in my life, I can’t hear anything without my hearing aids, but I do hear with them on.
This is the story of Ruben, a punk rock drummer in his live-in girlfriend’s band. He has a drug-addled, unbalanced past, but he’s in recovery now. Healing and health are apparently his thing, which the movie makes clear to us from the get-go with his green smoothies and exercise routine.
His life goes into full spin when he suddenly loses his hearing, and is struggling under the stress of sudden deafness. He is being drawn towards drugs again, and his sponsor, in a preventative move, finds him a deaf Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous group in which he can regain stability. His girlfriend can’t be there, she leaves and Ruben is left in the Deaf-centered community to heal and learn how to be Deaf. That means he has to learn American Sign Language (ASL).
He does all that, but he really wants to be with his girlfriend, so he goes against his Deaf AA/NA groups rules, sells every thing he has worth any money, and gets a Cochlear Implant (CI).
CI is not welcome in a Deaf community. He gets kicked out of the group home, finds his girlfriend, then they break up. The movie ends with him sitting on a park bench , enjoying silence after taking his CI off.
My Review of The Sound of Metal
I was humming along and loving the way audio was captured/not captured in the beginning of the movie, what with the muffling, droning, and so forth. But then Ruben totally lost me at the pharmacy, because, HELLO?!! A PHARMACIST calling to make him an emergency appointment with an audiologist?! Right then and there?!
Yeah, I laughed pretty hysterically at that one.
Pharmacist calling for an emergency appointment for a hearing test is, in and of itself, laugh-worthy in how unbelievable it is, but then the appointment is right then, and he just strolls on over to it?! What planet are they on?!
Next, after that super miraculous appointment, the audiologist tells him he’s losing his hearing rapidly and it’s going to be permanent!
My eyes rolled so hard at that one. I mean, for real?! A WALK IN APPOINTMENT without any history, deep scans, or extensive analysis gets a full-blown diagnosis and a “permanent” sticker to boot?!
The Cochlear Implant Part
Pushing an invasive surgery like a Cochlear Implant is also quite a leap for an audiologist, and after only ONE MEETING?!
Blanket statements like that in a movie always make me feel a little conflicted, I guess, because it IS true that hearing-ware, ANY hearing-ware, be it CI or hearing aids, are criminally expensive and that a great deal has to come out of pocket. I like people knowing about that part, but it’s also not true about there being no resources at all to help, or that insurance doesn’t cover any of it: like most everything else, it really depends on what type of insurance you have, etc. Also, because we live in an aural culture that promotes hearing as the end and all, there are a lot of programs out there to help cover costs of CI – not so many, however, to cover the costs associated with learning ASL.
Anyway, so. That whole hearing test part just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Other stuff that didn’t make sense to me: why was he drumming without ear protection? Why aren’t they aware of text-based AA/NA meetings? Why do they keep calling on the phone, what is this, the ’80’s?! Who does all that calling anymore? Why aren’t they texting or FaceTiming?
So, his sponsor found a Deaf-centered group home. This was pretty awesome. It was this whole Deaf community, centered around ASL, group work, group therapy, healing. Everyone there uses ASL and Ruben gets to dive into the deep end of learning to communicate, Deaf-style. There is even a school nearby and Ruben gets to volunteer to work with the Deaf kids.
Here I pause to roll my eyes again. Sorry, can’t help it. But, seriously, come on you guys: the school just lets him in?! A guy in a drug recovery program, they just let him right in with young kids, without a freaking TB test, no background check or anything? What a load of crap. No way is that going to happen in real life.
It was touching and beautiful in The Sound of Metal though, super sweet. Those kids and Ruben’s interaction with them, his connection with them through learning and drumming was beautiful.
So then Ruben gets to wanting to be with his girlfriend in a big way, and apparently doesn’t stop to think that maybe she’ll learn ASL like him and connect with him as a Deaf man? No? I guess not. He doesn’t even try that route; he just tries to get himself to hear again. He sells whatever he has to sell (facepalm over that Airstream) and then strolls in for a CI surgery.
This is where I was kind of like, noooooo.
That was such a gross oversimplification, I couldn’t take it. Like, SUCH a gross oversimplification. He strolls on in, gets his skull drilled on BOTH sides, gets the implant and… strolls back out?! Give me a break. That’s just misrepresentation, and given the way our culture devours media, that’s going to give a lot of people the wrong idea about what is actually involved in a CI. This is a severe case of oversimplification, at it’s finest.
Did I Hate the Movie?
Did I hate The Sound of Metal? No. No, I did not hate it. I loved a lot of it.
The lead actor, Rizwan Ahmed, is stunningly gifted. He did such a nuanced job with this eye flickers at being connected with sound, with the turning on of the CI, with the faking-understanding speech. His voice, hesitant when heard through the tinny, mechanical sound of the CI processor, holy cow, that was so good, so authentic, so well done.
Looking at my notes that I took while watching the movie, I see that I wrote, “Haha, “learning the ASL alphabet”, no way is that guy a beginner” – I was stunned to learn after watching this that he is not, as I assumed, CODA (- Child Of Deaf Adult), nor is he deaf in any way himself, nor does he have previous connections with the Deaf community.
Joe, played by Paul Raci, is also full-hearing.
I felt really conflicted about the roles of Ruben and Joe being played by hearing actors.
In the case of Paul Raci, that should have been played by a Deaf actor. No if’s, and’s or but’s, it should have been a Deaf actor in that role. When I found out that Paul Raci is an ASL interpreter in real life, my opinion of him went through the floor: that is a low-down skanky thing he did there. Being an ASL interpreter, he is connected with and close with the Deaf community and he knows we have very little authentic representation. He knew that part could easily be played by a Deaf actor. That stinks that he went for it.
In the case of Rizwan Ahmad, I’m only torn because oh my God, he did such a good job. His acting skills blew me away. I mean, he was depicting something that I myself know so intimately and have experienced, to the point in which I really felt like he was not acting.
But this is the thing: when these non-disabled actors sniff around in the disability experience for a role in which to truly showcase their talent (- which is what Rizwan Ahmad clearly did), they are:
- Gearing up to win an award, because those awards are always leaning hard towards non-disabled actors playing disabled roles. It’s like a formula: want to win something? PLAY A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY! That’s just low-lying fruit. Such a rip off. Go find another tree, yo.
- Taking away that opportunity from a disabled actor. That’s not about taking a role away from some supremely gifted actor (- like Riz Ahmed) and just handing it over to some ungifted-but-Deaf actor; nope. I’m saying to let the role be filled by a supremely gifted AND Deaf actor, because let me tell you: WE ARE HERE.
We are here and we want to work.
In summary, I loved the Deaf parts of this movie. I loved the Deaf group and the school; the acting and cinematography were first rate. I thought all the pieces that were about the medical aspects of hearing loss were wrong, and that was more than just “annoying”; I felt that it can lead to harmful misrepresentation through its oversimplification. The ending was wonderful. That expression on his face was how I know I look at the end of a day, when I take my own hearing aids out and enjoy the blissful, complete sound of silence.
Watch it Yourself
It’s available on Amazon Prime, linked here
National Association of the Deaf Response to “The Sound of Metal“”
Unpacking Disability’s disability book & movie club on Facebook, linked here
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.