comScore Sound of Metal Is the Opposite of Inspiration Porn. Good. | The Mary Sue

Movie Review: Amazon’s Sound of Metal Is the Opposite of Inspiration Porn. And That’s Great.

5/5 stars.

Riz Ahmed signs the letter R in sound of metal

It would have been very easy for the new Amazon film Sound of Metal to fall into the easy tropes of an after school special. The film tells the story of a punk rock drummer who loses his hearing and his journey to finding some level of comfort with being deaf. It’s all too easy to imagine a version of this movie that strays into inspiration porn, where the whole movie is about the uplifting journey of a man “overcoming” disability, where viewers can pat themselves on the back for empathizing with someone for being so very brave.

But Sound of Metal is not that movie, and it’s infinitely better because of that. It’s a rough, real story about a person who becomes deaf, but who is also an addict, a musician, and a restless soul. Riz Ahmed plays Ruben, a tattooed, rough-edged musician who clearly lives from two things when we meet him at the beginning of the film: music, and his girlfriend and bandmate, Lou (Olivia Cooke). They’ve also very clearly been through tough times together that included addiction and self-harm.

When Ruben loses his hearing, one of their first calls isn’t to family or friends, it’s to a sponsor who has been there for Ruben when was us using heroin, and the threat of a relapse hangs over the movie like a sword of Damocles. The specter of addiction, codependency, and mental illness haunts the film as Ruben grudgingly finds himself separated from Lou and living in a recovery program for Deaf people. He doesn’t want to adjust to this new life because he doesn’t want to let go of his past. But it’s in the Deaf, sober house that Ruben learns to be deaf, and where the film is truly at its best.

Ruben’s journey is uncomfortable and frustrating. He’s thrust into a world where he literally does not know the language, and learning it—and simply how to exist without his hearing—is extremely hard, especially as someone in recovery, for whom his old identity as a hearing person becomes like a drug he can’t quit. But it’s also a beautiful one, where he learns to communicate again, through sign and music and connecting to others in the community. But it’s not a linear progression.

Director Darius Marder does an amazing job putting the audience in Ruben’s head, with impeccable sound design and open captions used in a way that really captures what Ruben himself is experiencing—the way Marder uses sound and silence and space, portraying both the isolation and camaraderie of the Deaf community, along with Ruben’s loneliness and search for identity. Ahmed also gives an incredible performance that’s messy, driven, lonely, and soulful, that will no doubt be getting awards buzz. And he’s the only actor in the movie from outside the Deaf community.

Marder explained the reason he cast Ahmed, who is hearing, as Ruben was a conscious choice, not just because of the need for a name but because “there’s a process that Ruben goes through as a character, and that the actor and the audience will go through. It’s a process of being thrust into a world that’s unfamiliar. Hearing people become the minority. You would lose that element if the actor was Deaf, because they would come from a place of comfort.”

The performance that’s just as incredible, however, is Paul Ruci, who plays Joe, the leader of the sober house where Ruben finds himself. Ruci is absolutely amazing and plays Joe with such honesty and pathos, which also comes from the script. Joe simply wants Ruben to understand that deafness is not something that needs to be fixed. It is a way of living that has beauty and potential and stillness, and it’s Raci’s performance that most profoundly conveys this.

Sound of Metal is not about Ruben’s inspiring journey to “overcome” deafness. It’s a contemplative, complicated story about a man losing his identity and stumbling and striving towards being at peace with that and a new way of living. It doesn’t present disabled people as tragic characters or in need of saving; it simply shows their world as it is, in all its complexities, in a way few if any films have before. And that’s a real accomplishment.

(image: Courtesy Amazon)

Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.