SOUND OF METAL
December 23, 2020
Without a doubt, this film is exactly what The Movie Shrink has in mind when he is looking for significant films that require an interpretation, a deeper understanding. Beyond the individual story about a rock-heavy metal drummer experiencing a hearing loss, this is a film about sensory balance. Contrasting with the usual scenes of the film in run-down America, the story ends in Europe, in Brussels, in a comfortable and quite elegant neighborhood. Very intriguing, indeed.
Sound of Metal, an American music drama, by first-time director Darius Marder, produced in 2019, presented at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019, and later at the American Film Festival in Deauville in 2020, and released for limited access in November 2020.
(This is a spoiler alert: do not read this section if you want to see the plot unfold yourself at your viewing of the film).
A heavy metal performer couple, called Backgammon, made up of Ruben, the drummer, and Lou, his European born female partner, and singer, have been touring second rate stages all through the USA, in their RV- Caravane, which is also their mobile home and studio.
Their setup and the places they perform in are quite humble and lower end.
Ruben, a former drug addict on heroine, has been « clean » for four years, and his partner, Lou, has been instrumental in this achievement.
When visiting a second-hand memorabilia store, Ruben feels that he has lost part of his hearing.
After a visit to a medical specialist on hearing problems, he is told that the problem is serious, that his previous hearing will not completely be restored, and that a cochlear implant, to restore part of his hearing, would cost between 40,000 $ and 80,000 $.
Not having the money, he is left with the option of learning sign language. So, he registers at a subsidized center for learning that language at a deaf recovering addicts center, under the tutorship of Joe, a Vietnam veteran who lost his hearing from an explosion on the battlefield. Joe brings Lou to evolve and accept his new situation, learning among other exercises to express his feelings in writing on his ordeal.
After some success at following Joe’s advice and tutorship, Lou chooses another path, selling his RV and taking 26,000 $ to be used for a down payment for the cochlear implant.
The implant is a relative success, and Ruben then decides to visit his former partner and sweetheart Lou. After the forced breakup of the duo, she had returned to Europe, at her father’s home in Brussels, where he lives in quite wealthy circumstances, in contrast with the surroundings Ruben has known in recent years, both on tour and at the subsidized recovery center.
Realizing things will never be the same again, Ruben leaves early in the morning, with his bags, and the film ends when Ruben, soon after leaving the house, watches early morning scenes of rising Brussels. The early morning activities in the city give all the appearances of an ideal city, a sophisticated and wealthy environment.
Hearing the bells of the nearby church, Ruben takes off his hearing apparatus, falls back on his park bench, and enjoys the scenery.
THE MOVIE SHRINK’S INTERPRETATION
The opening scene of the film has Ruben furiously working the drums during his musical performance.
Of course, we have seen this type of performance a thousand times, on television and in films or on live shows. Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that this intense and very loud beating of the drums is unsustainable in real life, save for musical performances. It is, in a word, unbalanced. The fact we have come used to seeing it does not change its extreme and unbalanced character.
Not surprising that such loud noises, repeated over years, can bring serious consequences to one’s hearing capacity.
But, is there something else, asks the Movie Shrink?
Yes, there is, in our view.
There is the notion that there is a kind of sensory balance that is necessary for humans to function. The expression «common sense » speaks to this balance, if only in an indirect way. Ruben has gone well beyond this sensory balance while beating the drums furiously, every day or night.
The real subject of the film is about imbalance, sensory imbalance, and probably, by extension, other imbalances. Once we have gone beyond this imbalance, there is the need to repair, or come back to a form of equilibrium.
But, is there still more to this, is there something else?
The contrast between the low budget touring of the duo and the meager means of the subsidized community center which Ruben attends, on the one hand, and the wealthy, well- organized, and civic beauty of Brussels, on the other hand, is quite a contrast.
Being set very deliberately at the very end of the film, the harmonious scenes of Brussels seem to tell us something.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Sometimes, even often, things are said indirectly because they are difficult to look at directly.
In this case, the suggestion from the film is that Europe may have stayed closer to a sense of equilibrium, a kind of balance, in contrast with North America, more subject to imbalance, to extremes. These extremes are not so much political as they are cultural, but they can then reach the political.
Old Europe has kept a sense of balance. That is what a sense of History brings. The new must take place within the old. America, more subject to the swings of newness and often lacking tradition to temper the new, can sometimes lose balance and collective common sense.
This is the story the film tells, deliberately or not.