2020 is almost over (like, actually), but the pandemic is not. For at least the next couple of months, we’re going to be hunkered down inside, waiting out the short days till spring shows up and sets us free. One key to survival? A killer content queue. Here’s the stuff we’re obsessed with at Portland Monthly this week, from a sci-fi classic to a randy British Gossip Girl.
On the list of 2020's tragedies, closed movie theaters are somewhere near the bottom. But still—it hurt. I could go into a whole thing about it. (In fact, I have.) I watched well over 100 new movies this year, and I watched them all on my very small, very old Vizio, where any visual poetry was, shall we say, diminished.
So for Christmas, I upgraded to something a little prettier, with a beautiful new sound setup, and I did so just in time to catch Darius Marder's Sound of Metal before we're plunged, unarmored, into 2021. This is a movie that lives and dies by its sound design. Ruben (Riz Ahmed, incredible) drums in a metal band with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), until one day, he experiences sudden, severe hearing loss. Cochlear implants are an option, but they cost upward of $40K. Ruben is four years sober, and Lou's worried the news will make him use again. He doesn't want to stop drumming. He doesn't want anything to change. But everything already has.
This could be one kind of movie—an underdog story about a musician overcoming adversity and healing his heart with a power of music—but it's something much more raw and patient and difficult to classify. It's doggedly first-person (we hear how Ruben hears much of the time, in a way that's unpleasant and exhilarating), incredibly slow, and mostly unconcerned with narrative. Much of the action centers on Ruben's time in a deaf community somewhere in the middle of the country, but there's no real arc to his stay. He bonds with some kids, drinks coffee, develops a relationship with a deaf Vietnam vet in recovery. He comes close to accepting his hearing loss before turning away from deafness entirely. All the while, Ahmed tugs us along by the collar, fully inhabiting the frustration and frenzy of Ruben's affliction.
At its core, Sound of Metal is a recovery movie, and it absolutely pulverizes recovery movie clichés. It's about the things we need to help steady ourselves and what we do when we've outgrown them. It's about the seduction of control and how clinging to it impedes our progress. It's about turning slowly, painfully inward, not because we want to but because we have to, and emerging more whole on the other side, if not "better." It's exceptional—one of the best movies of the year—and you should stream it on Amazon Prime, even if all you have to watch it on is a shitty old Vizio. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor