In this post, I have decided to do a “deaf review” of ‘Sound of Metal’; meaning that I have reviewed the film from a deaf perspective to look at how deafness was portrayed throughout the film.
If you haven’t watched the film (available on Amazon Prime), be aware that there are some spoilers in this video. But I wanted to share my thoughts as I go through the various aspects of the film; what I thought about Riz Ahmed’s performance, how accurate (or inaccurate) were certain scenes, is it relatable…so many things that mainly focuses from my deaf perspective.
You can watch the review below…
…listen to the podcast…
…or read the transcripts below with access to relevant links and videos.
I have recently just watch an interest in a good movie I called ‘Sound of Metal’, co-written and directed by Darius Marder, and it has a character which obviously piqued my interest and the actor involved, Riz Ahmed, who I actually really like his style. I think he’s a good actor.
There are other people like Olivia Cook and Paul Raci and even Lauren Ridloff, who is ASL speaker, and she is one of the Marvel heroes as well. So that’s kind of cool. But anyway, I thought I’d check it out. And it’s on Amazon Prime for those who are interested.
I want to just get my own review and what I think about it from my perspective, and it’s important for me to point out that it’s my personal opinion, so don’t take it all by heart. If you agree with it, great. If you don’t agree with it, fine. Just accept it. It’s a just thing thing that everyone has; an opinion. So let me know what you think. If you have an opinion about it, I’d love to hear it, but I just want to do a caveat that these are my opinions only.
What is ‘Sound of Metal’ about?
So let’s get into it. Let’s see what I thought of the film. Sound of Metal; a very brief story about Sound of Metal Riz Ahmed. He playes the character called Ruben and he’s a drummer who just suddenly lost his hearing. And I’m presuming it’s because of the drumming, loud noise and that has not really had a good effect on his hearing and it just seemed like disappeared quite instantly during a performance on stage. So that’s the kind of story about you.
And then it the journey about his struggle to accept it. And he’s in a relationship and he’s a drummer so he wants to continue do that. But then he kind of had to get involved with the deaf community and trying to find himself and his deaf identity I suppose.
And he ended up having to get cochlear implant. But at that time, he separated from his girlfriend and want to get back into that the music scene, be with his girlfriend and just follow that journey as he tries to find his own deaf identity and as he’s late-deafend, that makes it a bit more complicated because he doesn’t know anything about it.
So quite interesting to see how that is portrayed. And I quite enjoyed how it was actually done.
How deafness was portrayed throughout the film?
Immediately, what you would notice is that these sound are distorted so that you can be in the mind of Ruben and hear what he is hearing, which is not a lot. They are muffled, they are distorted. And then when you are not in his mind, you are seeing it from other people’s perspective and you’re looking at Ruben, then you can hear certain sound.
And even if you can’t hear anything and you’re watching it with captions on, I’m quite impressed with how the captions were done because there were a variety of things in there just to highlight for you. And that was important.
I’ve talked about the importance and the benefit of having closed captions before and why it’s so important to do it right, because then you can include everyone in it. By having the caption the way it was done, it allowed everyone to be able to exposed to the story and follow along and just had the same journey as those who can hear what everyone is hearing.
But the captain helped to support that. So I thought they were really done well. It really highlights something that I couldn’t hear. One of them was [ringing intensified], and I figured that was because of tinnitus. And for a number of time, there were a lot of [insects trilling], I think something like that. And I’m guessing that just a frequent thing because, well, it was. They were happening quite often. And I didn’t know that but the caption were there.
But it also really highlighted at the bottom said [muffled sound], the [muffled voices] or [sound distorted], very important. I think that was really well done.
I found the process when he was visiting an audiologist, the first time, was very interesting. First of all, as always, audiologist call out your name, which is…doesn’t work. It defeats the purpose, especially for someone who is profoundly deaf, and that happens, so eventually…Tapping a shoulder like “Hi Ruben, come on in…” whatever. And then they did a classic test where you are trying to work out what the audiologist saying, but he deliberately covering his mouth and trying to repeat what he’s saying.
And I remember I had and…I don’t tend to do that well in it, so I share the pain, Ruben. I share the pain ( and you can learn about how to make the most out of an audiology appointment here).
And then even further on, I don’t understand the U.S. health system, but I thought cochlear implants are part of insurance or partially covered by insurance. Anyway, in the movie they’re not. So he had to find a way to get money for that.
But the way it was done the before and after the cochlear implant, it was done quite good. And I say “quite” because first of all, they didn’t do the thing where they thought “cochlear implant is a miracle cure. And if you put it on, you are back to normal”. That’s the problem with a lot of those stupid inspiration porn videos where they make it seem like it’s a miracle and you will hear everything first time, you just flick it on and that’s it.
Thankfully, the movie didn’t do that. It actually done the right way, which was the doctor said, “well, you’re going to have to get used to it or it’s not going to work instantly”.
And the key thing that the doctor who was doing the process of switching on the cochlear implant, she said “your ears aren’t fixed”, and that’s so important because people think that when you have the cochlear implant or even hearing aids, you’re fixed. But that’s not the case.
There are so much process behind the scene to get it as best as you can hear. And it’s a headache, and there are training and it’s stressful. Even to this day, I just don’t really enjoy that process of trying to just understand what I’m hearing because it’s hard work and they will be distorted at times.
It’s not supposed to be something that’s going to make it seem like it’s perfect. And you’re hearing like a hearing person. No, absolutely not.
So that was quite good. And I say “quite” again, because it could go into a bit more detail. But I get it. You don’t want to prolong things. You want to get into it. But again, it’s important for me to highlight that they’re not a terrible thing to have.
If you want hearing aids or cochlear implants, it’s a personal decision. Nobody should be forced into it. Nobody should be discouraged. It’s a personal thing. I don’t frown upon it. I don’t disagree with it. It’s a personal thing. So that’s something that should be accepted and that’s how I feel about it.
But then in the film, it was a bit different and the people were not sure about this whole “fixing” your hearing and your ear when you are part of that community, which is what Ruben was actually being involved with.
And that was quite interesting. And the big thing that I found really interesting was the…call it “reverse dinner table syndrome”. And this is where you sit in a table and you can’t follow along what people are saying. You can’t hear them. You can’t really comprehend what they’re saying because there are so many voices from different directions.
And that means you are at that dinner table alone and you feel left out because you’re not part of the conversation is kind of interesting.
It’s almost like a reverse because Ruben was on the table with everyone else who are signing and he doesn’t know any sign language. So that’s a different way of looking at the dinner table syndrome. He just couldn’t keep up because he didn’t know any sign language.
So he felt a bit left out and he didn’t know what to do with it. And then later on, he actually learnt ASL and then was able to have fun and the banter and joining the conversation in the dinner table. And that was quite interesting. So I quite liked that bit.
There were certain things as well added to it to make it maybe more deaf accessible and deaf aware. And one of them when the teacher, Diane, who is played by Lauren Ridfloff, and she flicked the light switch on and off to capture the attention of the students. That was quite good. And it’s funny how she was being very patient with Ruben when he said, I don’t understand ASL.
(Huh! It’s interesting how we’re very accommodating and then hearing people just get frustrated with us and they get annoyed. Hmm…How interesting!)
Anyway, those were the things I quite like and then there was another scene where Ruben was sitting on the metal slide, you know, in the playground where you slide down. There was a child and at the top and he tried to feel the vibration when Ruben was drumming on the slide with his hands and he was just feeling it.
And it highlights the importance of vibration because there was another scene where a piano was played and everyone was just putting their hand on the piano and feel it and just feel the music.
That was important, and I think that was quite good about showing people why people value their vibration, how they listen to music, how they feel sounds. And that’s really cool, I like that.
Should signed conversations be cut off?
It wasn’t really clear about how long it took for him to learn ASL because he actually managed to learn it quite quickly, Ruben, and he was able to have conversation and being aware about lipreading and it’s important to have been, you know, able to show what you are saying when you are moving your lips, stuff like that.
What is lipreading?
Often called “speech reading”, this is a common technique to help us understand people better.
And it didn’t really show how long it took him and it seemed very quick when watching. But anyway, that was quite cool. I quite like that.
I do wonder, though, what people who are fluent in their native ASL, what did they think about how they don’t always show the signings in the frame. It always cuts.
So you are, for example, a character is signing to Ruben. You see that character signing for a little bit. The camera then switches to Ruben to look at his reaction. But then the signing is still continuing and you are relying on the caption to keep up with the conversation. And that was interesting.
But then I thought, wait a second, shouldn’t you just show the the whole thing because you want to show the whole conversation in its full. But that didn’t happen.
So I’m very curious to know what people think about that, because I certainly feel like they should show everything in the frame when a person is signing. Even if it’s two people; so what?! You put them both in the same frame and just record them, signing to each other in full so that people can follow along if they know sign language. That didn’t happen
Being realistic to the real world were often portrayed on-screen
After all that, when he then got cochlear implants and the this is where it kind of got a bit controversial, maybe political, in terms of “why did you get cochlear implants?”, then “if that’s what you’re focusing on, you want to focus on that, then you’re not part of the community” and that’s something as much as I didn’t like it but I get why they recorded that. Because it does happen in real life. And that was important to show, I suppose, and it was hard to watch at that time because people always feel like they’re not part of it.
Sometimes they’re not deaf or hearing enough and they don’t belong in either, and they don’t fit in any of the places. So they have no sense of belonging. And that was a thing that I talked about in a separate video below.
And that was kind of portrayed there as well, because then Ruben tried to find his girlfriend, Lou, again. And that was part of a whole reason for him to do that; it was because he wanted to be back together with her and get back into drumming and just get back into the music because he had cochlear implants.
And even though things are not clear, that was his objective. And then obviously, when you get into that, then long story short, the relationship didn’t work out and it was interesting to see how, first of all, in the very beginning, Lou looked at Ruben as if, you know, “he’s going to die because [gasp] he lost his hearing. So shock, horror. It was like the worst thing ever”
And it’s just so dramatic. But again, that’s kind of realisti to what people do. It’s like, “oh, my God, are you OK?”
And then she did the thing where she talked on the phone doesn’t really include him in the conversation and it’s like that almost “it doesn’t matter” or “I’ll tell you later” attitude.
Oh, man, I absolutely hate that (along with other things, as shown below).
Anyway, I’m getting off track here. Basically, they’re trying to make it work together, but it’s clear that things have changed. And he tried to get involved with the conversation. They were at a party. And you would think when you have cochlear implants, you’d be able to follow along in a party. Right. It makes sense because that’s just the way it works…No, it doesn’t.
And I’m glad that was shown. When you have cochlear implants you’re not just able to seamlessly blend into the noisy, crowded party environment. That doesn’t work like that. I’ve always hated being in a conversation in a crowded room because it is a pain to try to keep up if you can keep up at all.
Finding stillness in your deaf identity
And that was an interesting transition then for Ruben to then realise, you know what, we’re going to have to accept this new thing and accept his identity in a different way. And he managed to find peace in himself and stillness. And I like the scene near the end where he was sitting somewhere in a city and it was noisy [sound distortion]. But then he took off with cochlear implants and it was silence.
And I don’t think that’s realistic because he should be able to hear certain things.
They can’t be silent, maybe muffled. But anyway, bear with me. What I liked about that there is like saying, you know what?…He took it off…Silence…He embraced what’s around him. He embraced the silence. And he got into the stillness scene and then kind of ended like that in a way to accept who he is, and that was it. Kind of nice.
I feel like they were maybe opportunities that were missed out there.
I couldn’t help but think about whether they should have maybe look into a way for him to become a deaf drummer because that possible; to be a drummer when you’re deaf.
Maybe he could have found a way to do that in a different way, maybe not with the same band. Maybe he went on to teach people how to play the drums to deaf people. I feel like there are stories there that could have maybe made the scene kind of almost complete. The whole film is rounded all up, but it seemed to really focus on him trying to find his identity so that he can get back a girlfriend…kind of like that (not always).
But I couldn’t help but think, “hmm, what if you add that little bit more and just show that, OK, he’s deaf, but not only managed to find his own identity and accept himslelf, but he was able to still continue being a drummer in some way”.
And that would have been interesting.
I think overall, I enjoyed it. There were things that I thought could have gone better and there were things that people might not like. And I just thought it was a good film.
Should ‘Ruben’ have been played out by a deaf actor?
And one of the big talking point, people said, “well it should have been played by deaf people, and that should have been the main focus”. And I get it. And I always advocate for that.
I’m wondering, though, whether that is necessary in this particular case, because the character Ruben is late-deafened. So he was hearing and then he lost his hearing. So people say that he should have been played maybe by a deaf person who is oral speaker.
But I’m not sure I think it was the right decision to have a hearing actor because that is the beginning of that transition: from hearing to deaf. And you want to start from there. And that person trying to learn, kind of “learn how to be deaf”. And that was why for me personally, I felt like it made sense having Riz Ahmed to be the main actor in this.
What do you think? Because a lot of people feel like it should have been played by deaf actor. I don’t know. I think it makes sense, having Riz there as the main actor because he’s late-deafened/he’s hearing and the character started hearing and then that transition happened.
You can argue different story about the other actors. So maybe that could have been done differently. Maybe you could have more. I don’t know, maybe more people representing in the right area, maybe. But in terms of the main character, I feel like he was the right person and he’s a really good actor.
Anyway, I would love to know what you think about the film. If you haven’t seen it. Check it out on Amazon Prime. And if you have, let me know what you think in a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
It’s good to get representation on the screen and you get to follow the longer story and you can relate to it. I guess that’s why I enjoyed it, because I related to a lot of things. But then there are things that I don’t relate to and I’ve kind of learnt something along the way as well, and I find that good.
So even if you are hearing, I’m sure you will have learnt a lot.
Let me know of your thoughts in the comments below.
- What is ‘audism’? Plus my personal experiences of facing audism - October 27, 2021
- ‘CODA’ movie review: my thoughts on the latest deaf movie to be released - October 13, 2021
- Deafness as a ‘hidden/invisible disability’ - October 6, 2021
I haven’t seen the movie yet but I heard about it earlier and your review makes me feel that it’s actually very real when it comes to a musician’s journey through hearing loss.
The use of captions and the message that deafness can become a part of your identity makes this movie worthy of “Oscar nomination”
Very helpful and informative review, keep going, man!
Ahmed Khalifa says
Absolutely! From a musician’s perspective, it will be an interesting insights on when going through that journey of creating a new identity.
Thank you for checking out the review, and I hope you will enjoy the film.
Jeff Petersen says
I am a musician with moderately severe hearing loss. My hearing aids have helped me to continue to function as a musician and communicate orally. Even though music is an important part of my identity it isn’t all that there is to me. Facing possible deafness has allowed me to reconsider it’s importance and how I can get beyond needing to hear.
I enjoyed the film although I must admit there was a bit of sadness for the main character and his challenges. Sorry to see the deaf community portrayed as shunning those who seek to gain some sort of functional hearing.
Ahmed Khalifa says
Very interesting way of putting it Jeff, thanks for sharing that. I imagine every single deaf musician will have their own individual challenges to face, and the character’s journey is his own.
But it doesn’t mean that we can’t have musical talent.