The beauty of the film is not simply the plot, but the way the story is heard—true to the ambiance of the moment. When Ruben loses his hearing, so does the viewer. Sound weaves in and out from the laughs and clinking of silverware at a dinner table full of other people with deafness, to the muffled heartbeats and clangorous rhythms Ruben can still make out. Many scenes are filmed in total silence, interrupted by natural percussion—like the reverberation of a young boy drumming on the top of a metal slide while Ruben sits on the bottom of it, or a classroom of elementary school-aged children palming the top of a grand piano to feel a classical composition in their chest. In the beginning, the absence of noise is frustrating, but serves an intimate purpose: to establish empathy, and to approximate the way a person might lose their hearing.


I believe the most effectual films—those classified as prestigious, those that win the most elite awards—often depend on evocative soundtracks. Sound of Metal does the opposite—silence is where it succeeds. In the final scene, Ruben removes his cochlear implant after tolerating the discordant buzz of a busy Paris street and sits in silence, watching the sun grow bigger and brighter behind a large evergreen tree, and closes his eyes as he enjoys the stillness. He doesn’t smile—that would be a package too neatly wrapped—but seems to accept his new reality presumably after months or years of fighting it. And while this film, on paper, may appear to exude the sentimentality of a sports film defined by its protagonist injuring themselves, Sound of Metal avoids schmaltz and instead, cuts straight to the heart. Turns out, losing the ability to hear isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a musician.