Sound of Metal
Director: Darius Marder
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci
Dr. Janice’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Ruben is a drummer for a heavy metal band. He and his girlfriend, Lou, are living life on the road playing show after show. One day, he loses his hearing and can no longer hear the music to continue doing what he loves. This is a story about a young man who learns how to accept his deafness and the silence that comes with it.

Before I begin, I must say that the first 5 minutes was wild and really noisy. They say you should not judge a book by its cover. Well, a similar thing could be said to not judge this movie after only watching the first few minutes ‘cause you would miss out on the rest of the story!

!!! SPOILER ALERT. I will be discussing details about the movie below, so proceed with caution if you have not seen it yet !!!


I have to give kudos to the film’s director for the way the sense of hearing was portrayed in this film. As an audience member, we experience samples of what Ruben hears throughout his journey – from hearing everyday sounds (e.g. coffee dripping, smoothie blending), to muted hearing accompanied by high pitched ringing, muffled speech, semi-vocoded speech during his cochlear implant activation, speech in noise with his cochlear implants on, and of course, silence when he removes his processors. The listening experience was incredible throughout.

Most people are unaware of what it’s like to have hearing loss and how difficult it is to navigate social situations as a result of not hearing well. This movie showcases this experience with a strong lead actor whose emotions are so real and valid for someone grappling with the reality of sudden onset of hearing loss in both ears.

Deaf Culture

I also love that this movie features Big ‘D’ – Deaf culture and its values. Ruben is introduced to a Deaf community of recovering addicts where American Sign Language is their primary mode of communication. People in the Deaf community do not think of hearing loss as a handicap. They don’t think hearing loss is something that needs to be “fixed” because hearing is not necessary to live a full and happy life. My audiologist brain noticed the community leader’s hearing dog, captioned telephone, and use of a captioned speech to text program for communication with non-signers. YAY. Ruben immerses in the Deaf community for several weeks and manages to learn sign language. However, he is still hung up on the fact that he needs to “fix” his hearing and somehow return to his life as a musician.

As an audiologist, I am a big proponent of hearing technology for individuals who wish to use spoken language as their primary means of communication. At the same time, I respect the values of Deaf culture and would never think less of people who do not use hearing technology. There’s a spectrum of beliefs that people adopt about how or when hearing technology can be used and I think it’s ok for people to not know what to believe when they receive a diagnosis of severe-to-profound hearing loss. As in Ruben’s case.

The introduction of Deaf culture in this movie presents an alternative community for Ruben to consider joining after he lost his hearing. Despite all that they have to offer, Ruben decides that adopting the Deaf community’s values would not be his end goal. Ultimately, he undergoes surgery for bilateral cochlear implants (an expensive decision to say the least) to be able to re-join the hearing world.

Ruben’s Stages of Grief

We watch Ruben go through the stages of grief in his journey to accept his hearing loss. I thought this was portrayed well because the loss of hearing for anyone, much less, a musician, is not easy. Ruben goes through a dark period of denial, shock, and anger when he realizes that his ability to hear is gone. He bargains with his girlfriend that “it’ll come back” and that he will “fix it” (in reference to his hearing) to convince her to stay on the road with him and continue to play shows together with modifications.

When his girlfriend realizes that Ruben was not going to get the help he “needed” (by joining the Deaf community), she leaves him and Ruben enters a state of depression. He goes through the motions of learning how to live with Deaf individuals and eventually learns sign language. But his heart’s not completely into it and he decides to sell his most prized possessions to pay for his cochlear implant surgery.

Hearing Loss Acceptance

Throughout the whole movie, I kept thinking, “How will Ruben learn to accept his hearing loss? Will he ever?”

We see scenes of Ruben laughing and enjoying his time playing with the Deaf students in his class. We see him signing with ease and participating in conversations at the dinner table. Even though he is part of a community where deafness is not considered a weakness, I think Ruben did not accept his hearing loss until after he got his cochlear implants to be able to hear (in a different way) again.

We watch Ruben struggle with his deafness up until the very last scene when he removes his processors to experience silence and stillness. Getting cochlear implants does not fix his deafness. He is still deaf. What’s great about them is that they are a bridge to help our main character feel whole with the ability to hear again when they’re on. But when they’re off, his world is silent. And Ruben’s realization of being able to go between a noisy world to a silent world is his acceptance of his hearing loss.

I thought this was a good movie filled with moments that I’m sure many people with hearing loss can relate to. I like that the movie introduced audiology and the audiologist’s role in managing hearing loss. Talk about bringing awareness to our field!

Why 3.5 stars?

I knocked off a star and a half because I felt like some pieces of the storyline were unbelievable (a pharmacist helps the main character get an immediate appointment with an audiologist or the fact that Ruben was homeless at one point after the surgery but was able to stay in a motel AND buy a ticket to Europe to find his girlfriend).

Also, from an audiologist’s point of view, I felt that our profession in this movie was … very simplified … for the viewers to understand the severity of Ruben’s hearing loss and what his treatment options were. It was a little cringy to watch the scene of his initial activation because that’s not the way I’ve navigated activation appointments. But… I get it, for the purposes of the movie and flow of the storyline, I’m glad that the writers did their research and incorporated some necessary components to highlight the role of an audiologist in hearing loss management.

So.. there you have it! This review was a lot longer than I had anticipated, but I really wanted to share my thoughts especially because there aren’t a whole lot of movies about hearing loss or audiology-related things. Last one that I can recall is Baby Driver (lead has hearing loss and tinnitus) in 2017. Despite the loss of a star-ish per my review, I would still recommend this movie for the unique storyline!

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