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Sound of Metal Review: Riz Ahmed Plays Deaf Drummer

My partner, Allan is guest posting today by sharing his thoughts on the new movie Sound of Metal. As a drummer himself, Allan was drawn to this movie about a drummer who loses his hearing.

Can there be more of a juxtaposition than being a drummer who cannot hear anything?

Well, this is the terrifying situation Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), finds himself in, barely able to hear anything after waking from a heavy night of playing drums at what he thought was just another show.

Little did he know that in fact, that show may have been his last for a good while. Maybe even, forever.

Ruben a tattooed athletic former heroin addict with a peroxide mohawk, has been clean from drugs for four years and now has a career playing the drums in a heavy metal band with his girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke). Together they live and travel all over in their Airstream.

Riz Ahmed playing drums topless in a screen from Sound of Metal
Riz Ahmed playing drums topless in a screen from Sound of Metal

Ruben’s day to day is a far cry from his former life. His days now start with green juice and exercise and end on a stage somewhere new each night with him thrashing the hell out of his drums to a tribe of adoring fans.

Have drums became his instrument of choice to dispel himself of the rage and anguish inside to which addiction almost certainly will have brewed.

Unexpectedly, Ruben begins to rapidly lose his hearing and in a panic goes to see an audiologist. He is told things he does not want to hear, especially as a touring drummer whose job is based on being able to hear.

Ruben is instructed not to expose himself to any more loud sounds again to protect the tiny bit of hearing he has left. But he plays the following night anyway though he is clearly in a lot of distress.

His new life and career that he has created now hangs in the balance because the only possible saviour is $40,000 – $80,000 cochlear implants which insurance doesn’t cover. What does he do now? He cannot hear and is a touring drummer with no real cash to his name.

This film does an amazing job of giving us a real insight into the way Ruben is hearing things. Director and co-writer Darius Marder experimented with innovative soundscapes to really help the audience build a true connection to the character and how he was hearing things. Going from being able to hear everyday sounds to absolute silence can be quite frightening.

Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke in a screen from Sound of Metal. They are both sitting at a diner table with a plate of food in front of them.
Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke in a scene from Sound of Metal

Rubens girlfriend Lou worries that he will relapse back into drug addiction so with the help of his sponsor, arranges for him to stay at a rehabilitation centre for deaf people with addictions.

The centre is run by Joe (Paul Raci) a veteran who lost his hearing during the war who believes being deaf is not a problem to solve but a situation to adapt to and even find some kind of peace within.

Initially, Ruben is uninterested and very much frustrated by the whole experience but soon starts to make friends within his near soundless world. He makes good progress in the group and adjoining school where he enjoys spending time and learning with young deaf students and teachers there. I think he even starts enjoying the place in certain ways.

Although he can never quite feel like it’s him and longs to hear again rather than accept this way of life. I think he finds it harder going from hearing his whole life and a drummer to which he makes a career from then boom. Silence!

Riz Ahmed with bleached hair is sitting holding drum sticks. Next to him is young deaf students
Ruben (Riz Ahmed) teaching deaf students how to play the drums.

I did sympathise a lot with him but at the same time felt as though he was indirectly insulting his deaf mentor and peers with some of his actions and choices.

The film does a great job at straddling the line between hearing and deafness and the beauty in both worlds. I really enjoyed it and felt that the actors they cast for the roles fit them brilliantly. They had chemistry and we could feel the intimacy.

Sound of Metal is a multi-award winning and nominated movie with fantastic performances. Even winning praise for its inclusive casting of deaf actors adding to its authentic look at Deaf culture and community.

I don’t want to give too much away, but what I will say is that it is a well-shot, emotional and very much thought-provoking piece of film by Darius Marder and co.

Overall Sound of Metal is a captivating, innovative look at deafness and how it is viewed by society. I really encourage you to watch it and if you have Amazon Prime Video it’s right there waiting for you. I will say this though, blissful silence and contentment can be found anywhere. This is shown at the end when Ruben removes his cochlear implants to the sound of silence and finally discovers peace and acceptance with the stillness and his new life.

Riz Ahmed in a screen from Sound of Metal. He is sitting on a bench in Paris.
Riz Ahmed in the closing screen in Sound of Metal after removing his cochlear implants.

The fact is that most of us are slowly damaging our hearing through one thing or another from standing for a couple of hours hammering our ears at a gig or wearing headphones that are up too loud. Essentially passive self-harm except the possible effects is not felt for thirty plus years down the line.

In a recent radio interview, I heard an audiologist explain that being at a live music show for two to three hours was like standing next to a chainsaw. A drummer of a known metal band also spoke about his own hearing loss and how distressing it is for him to live with, especially in the middle of the night when the ringing of tinnitus in his ears makes trying to sleep impossible.

As a drummer of twenty years myself, I can relate in many ways with ongoing intermittent light tinnitus and dizziness as a result of hundreds of hours of band rehearsals and gigs. Emma and I also regularly go to live music shows in small rooms and large venues and often come out of there with a fuzzy ringing in our ears. Hearing loss is real and it can happen to any one of us. It’s only when it does that we take it seriously. Sometimes too late.

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Meet Emma

Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

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5 Responses

  1. Great review! And thanks for it; I keep seeing this movie on Amazon Prime and have wondered if it might be something I would enjoy. Sounds like (<–haha) it is! I will check it out this weekend.

  2. Similar Emma, to our very own Evelyn Glennie the mesmerising and profoundly deaf, award winning percussionist.

    1. BBC SOUNDS : “Front Row”, hosted by Samira Ahmed, from April 6th is the radio programme that Emma’s referring to.

      Riz Ahmed talks to Samira for about the first 10 minutes of the programme, and he talks about various aspects of playing the character and the challenges that he faced, playing this role, saying that “The Deaf Community taught me the true meaning of listening, and the true meaning of communication.”
      Well worth listening to, and looking forward to seeing the film 👉🤚🖐👍

  3. I’ll need it check this one out. As a fellow musician Im wondering now what Allan thinks of that other wonderful drummer movie Whiplash?

    1. Thank you for your comment, Tom. Allan and I have both watched Whiplash a few times and both absolutely love the movie. It’s one of Allan’s favourites. What about yourself?

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