Having lost her hearing at the age of 21 and getting cochlear implants, Amanda Wilson found herself identifying strongly with the journey of Ruben (Riz Ahmed) in Sound of Metal, a character caught between two worlds.
DEAF. A small, four-lettered word with a sledgehammer impact. The startling realisation that you can no longer hear everyday sounds like water running or birds singing (although the latter can be quite annoying at the butt crack of dawn). Denial is a common reaction. Turning the TV up because the people on screen are speaking too quietly, obvs. Nothing to do with the fact that you can’t actually hear what they are saying unless the volume is cranked up to wall-shaking volume.
Sound of Metal follows the journey of a young man, Ruben, a drummer in a rock band who loses his hearing. This is a journey I know well, having lost my own hearing at the age of 21 just as I started University. Although deafness can be seen as something that only happens to old people, in actual fact 1 in 6 of us have some degree of hearing loss and this is not defined by age. You can’t always tell that someone has a hearing loss, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “invisible”. You may see visual clues like a hearing aid or someone cupping their hand to their ear, using British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate. But equally, you may not.
Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke in Sound of Metal
I could identify fully with the emotions Riz Ahmed’s Ruben portrayed on screen as I too expressed each and every one of them, from denial followed by disbelief that this was happening and on to the anger, frustration and emotional turmoil as the truth of what this could mean slowly begins to dawn. I discovered an inner strength I never knew I had as instead of quitting, I persevered at university and got my Honours Degree because of my hearing loss, not despite it.
The journey to a hearing loss diagnosis can be a long one. People find it hard to admit that they are not hearing as well as they used to for all kinds of reasons which are individual to them. It used to be the same for sight loss. I wish I had a pair of NHS specs, said nobody ever. However, now glasses are seen as a trendy accessory with celebrities wearing them without lenses to colour co-ordinate their outfit. Who knows, maybe the same will happen with hearing loss. Leopard print hearing aids, anyone?
Losing your hearing strips you of your identity. You are no longer part of the hearing world but neither are you part of the deaf world as you seek to use an aid to hear again. This leaves you in no man’s land, a very lonely place to be as you grieve the loss of your hearing and figure out how to live your life in a totally different way. It can feel like you don’t belong anywhere.
Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci in Sound of Metal
What this film demonstrates is that there are other ways to communicate and bring people together. Deaf people may have lost their hearing but they still want to get the most out of life and enjoy the same things as hearing people. As Sound of Metal’s Joe (Paul Raci) says “I keep talking about inclusivity and when you don’t provide for deaf people you are being exclusive”
In this instance music, via vibrations, manages to merge the two worlds together, creating a bridge from one to the other. What I discovered on my hearing loss journey is that it is very much down to the individual as to how far they cross that bridge from one world to another. Some people don’t even venture on to it and that is their choice.
Personally, I wanted to see how far across I could get and so I had to learn to accept my hearing loss, adapt and reach out to a new life. This wasn’t easy and meant continually pushing myself, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. When my hearing aids no longer gave me any benefit and a cochlear implant was recommended, it took a long time for me to make the decision to go ahead. I only had a small amount of hearing left but it was mine and I was afraid of losing it altogether.
Once I made the decision to have the operation I was all in. Afterwards is when the real hard work began, as you have to teach your brain how to hear again, through this mechanical device. The film accurately shows Ruben’s struggle with this as everything sounds different at first and it takes time to get used to and adapt to this. It is not for everyone and personally I feel it is what you make it.
I vividly remember the day I decided to take a bus ride into town to test out my new cochlear implant and the pure delight I felt as I heard, very clearly, wee Mary sitting behind me telling her pal, in intricate detail, how to soak her new false teeth in Steradent every night. It’s the small things, isn’t it?
Sound of Metal is screening at Eden Court on Wed 26 & Thu 27 May. All screenings are fully captioned.
This blog was written by:
With support of the BFI Film Audience Network, awarding funds from the National Lottery.