As someone who recently tattooed HEAVY METAL across my toes, I knew that I was obligated to see Sound of Metal after hearing about it. Now, before you say ‘Ah, I don’t like heavy metal, I’ll skip it, WAIT!’ I would hate for you to miss out on this hidden, surprisingly quiet and sweet gem of a film because you judged the film by its poster.
Despite its name and most of the promotional material I’ve seen, the film is actually very little about heavy metal, or music at all (The opening scenes where they are playing music, I’d hardly classify as ‘metal,’ but that’s just my snobbery coming out).
The film centers on two young musicians, in love, trauma survivors of one breed or another (we only learn some of their backstory throughout the film, but this is less important than the humans their trauma produced, and how they overcame it). They are in a punk rock/experimental band and one evening, before a show, the drummer suddenly realizes he is losing his hearing.
It gets worse and rather than asking for help from his supportive girlfriend/bandmate, he slinks off to a doctor, eager to regain his hearing as quickly as possible.
“It’s irreversible,” he’s told by the doctor, so rather than learn to adjust to his new life as a hard of hearing person, he quickly dials up an audiologist who can pop some implants into his skull and get him back to normal.
The issue is, there is no back to normal. Without giving too much away, the tension in this film is painful to see. There are a number of directions you’ll feel pulled. Perhaps the most palpable is the tension between what we want vs. what we need.
The tension between how we thought life would go vs. how it is.
It asked me, personally, the question, are you able to accept the reality of things, or are you stubbornly raging against the nature of existence?
An existence which sometimes drops deafness on you out of the blue, despite the fact that your entire life is predicated on making music.
“I built this place on the idea that being deaf is not a bad thing,” explains a wizened mentor figure in the film, and it was at that moment I just about lost it. This sentiment was something I learned from my mom, an interpreter for deaf elementary students, who has taught me much about the deaf community.
All throughout the film, I literally had pain in my chest from the tension. It has a way of sucking you in and saying, What if this happened to you? What if you had to deal with the loss of a sense? Would you fight it, accept it, grow, etc.?
The audio mixer of the film deserves an award of their own, as there were moments in the film I had to remind myself that I’m not losing my hearing, praise God, and that when the credits roll, I’ll be able to hear normally again.
The fact that I felt so engrossed in the film, that I felt angst and pain in the lead character’s experience only highlights how well done the film was all-around, from the acting to the subtle but beautiful cinematography to the evolution of the character as he moves through the agonizing stages of grief over the loss of a sense. I finally exhaled when the credits rolled.
The final three shots made the entire film. They reflected closure which was building throughout the entire film. It was the perfect close.
Watching the film, I was reminded of the church service I had attended just a few hours before watching it. A woman in her early 30’s was sharing her testimony. However, by the end of her story, there was not a dry eye in the entire building.
She shared how she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and after surgeries and chemotherapies, it only had gotten worse. Now, this woman who is at the age where most people are just beginning their adult lives, was preparing for her last few months on this earth.
“I feel bigger than ever before,” she said. Rather than raging against her diagnosis and situation, she embraced it, relishing the hope of seeing Jesus face to face sooner than later. “There are a lot of things I thought I would do,” she stated, “like get married and get my PhD…”
The ‘hope’ she had in these earthly things had vanished, and they were exposed for the hollow counterfeits they are. Her hope expanded. No longer was she looking for ultimate satisfaction in these fleeting things, but she could focus on the Eternal.
Upon the people living in darkness a light has dawned.
Although the hope found in Sound of Metal was not quite as cosmic in its scope, it helped to expose a lot of the comfort we take for granted (like having all 5 senses) and showed that life goes on with or without our consent or enjoyment. It revealed many truths of life, not the least of which, we are far less in control than we’d like to admit.
The film is human: terrible in its pain, addiction, and suffering, but hopeful in its resilience. May we watch it and be reminded of our own weaknesses, turning instead to a hope bigger than ourselves, bigger than our senses, careers, and comfort.
A very insightful and moving review. I thought of Pauline Kael at the New Yorker who was awesome every week when I was about your age. (1951-1991 I used to listen to her on the radio. Thanks bro.
I haven’t even seen the movie and yet the potency of your point is stunning! Way to rock.
Great review. I loved this movie. My goth supervisor recommended it to me. “It not about heavy metal music” she said. She was right. It’s about so much more.