In the past few years, the deaf community has been given more representation on the big screen in American cinema.
Whether it was with the sci-fi movie “A Quiet Place”, 2021’s Best Picture winner “CODA,” or 2020’s nominee “Sound of Metal”: deaf stories are being highlighted on the silver screen.
The latter two films, “CODA” and “Sound of Metal” gave the audience two unique perspectives about the deaf community and how music can play a significant role.
Ever since I watched the two movies, I knew I wanted to write about them. Not only were they a huge step forward in representation in the movie industry, but the movies themselves were phenomenal.
I didn’t necessarily want to do a movie review, but instead, just start a conversation about these films, specifically regarding how they impacted me and what I learned from them.
The title of the movie itself can be taken two different ways. CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults as well as a music theory term that refers to the end piece of music.
This movie was interesting to me because it focused on a hearing girl, Ruby, whose mom, dad and brother are deaf. It showed aspects of her life that made her family reliant on her: such as acting as a translator for the family, helping keep their family fishing business running, and daily tasks like conveying their personal medical concerns to doctors. On the other hand, she wanted to pursue her interest in music and be involved in her school choir, and eventually go to Berklee Music school.
It’s a simple coming-of-age story at heart.
A movie about Ruby trying to find her identity and essentially finding out what she wants to do with her life outside of her family. As she begins focusing on her passions and getting more involved with singing, she realizes that her choir rehearsals start coinciding with the duties she has for her family. It’s to the point where she really has to choose which path to prioritizing – her passion for singing or her love for her family.
What I loved about this more specifically is the charisma of all the characters. Her parents and brother were all amazing and were played by deaf actors. When “CODA” won Best Picture at the 2021 Academy Awards, it was a huge win for deaf representation.
“CODA” is an adaptation of the French film titled “La Famille Bélier.”
It made me emotional watching it, and I recommend giving both movies a watch. There are so many aspects of being deaf or hard of hearing that I was opened up to.
“Sound of Metal” –
“Sound of Metal” is the story about a drummer for a heavy metal band, Ruben, who starts losing his hearing on tour and how he decides to deal with it.
The film does an amazing job of putting the audience in Ruben’s shoes by at times modifying the audio of the movie to make it sound like Ruben’s hearing ability. This stylistic choice allows us to really experience the progression of his hearing loss up close, first gradually and then all at once.
Conversations are heard as muffled or muted as Ruben hears them, however the silences in the movie never feel empty and add to the piece as a whole.
Throughout the movie, we were able to experience Ruben’s character development firsthand. Initially, he doesn’t want to accept that he is losing his hearing at all. He plays show after show, not being able to follow along with the music of the band, till one show he can’t hear a thing. After a meeting with a doctor, he finds out he has already lost a majority of his hearing and that the only solution in his eyes is a cochlear implant.
His journey of finding money to afford the cochlear implant is a majority of this film.
His girlfriend introduces him to a community for addicts that teaches them how to live with their deafness. It’s during this time that we really understand the importance of music no matter if you are a hearing person or hard of hearing. He eventually begins teaching the kids in this community to drum and use percussion instruments.
What’s beautiful about this specifically is that the vibrations in the drumming and in music are how people in the deaf community can interact with music. It’s how Ruben learns to interact with music given his new condition.
The last scene of the movie is the most impactful to me.
After Ruben gets his cochlear implant, he realizes that it’s not at all what he expected. Instead of getting his hearing back, everything he hears is distorted and staticky. His girlfriend thinks he is healed now and their band can start touring again, but Ruben realizes his music career is over.
“Sound of Metal” comes to a close as we see Ruben aimlessly walking down the streets of Paris trying to adjust his implant.
Then he removes the device and we are left in silence. We experience Ruben accepting his deafness.
Although these are wins for the deaf community, in terms of representation there is always room for improvement. I really think these two films are worth a watch for their entirety.
They are both big teaching moments as well. Moments that force people to understand that deafness is not something that needs a quick fix but it’s something to accept and take time to grasp and accommodate to.
The charisma of the casts, the acting talent, the writing, and the musical performances – it’s all impactful.
If you haven’t already be sure to check out “Sound of Metal” and “CODA.”