“Loss of Sound, Vibration of the Soul” Writer/Director Darius Marder on ‘Sound of Metal’ (Part 2)
- “Loss of Sound, Vibration of the Soul” Writer/Director Darius Marder on ‘Sound of Metal’ (Part 1)
- “Loss of Sound, Vibration of the Soul” Writer/Director Darius Marder on ‘Sound of Metal’ (Part 2)
Here is the second part of our interview with Sound Of Metal co-writer, Darius Marder.
Beyond the mentor-protégé relationship, other themes within the movie revolve around include, “the lengths someone will go to recapture something lost,” Marder adds, “That fixation can be that person’s own worst enemy. [The movie] is really a journey of acceptance.”
Within this mindset, Sound of Metal is essentially a classic story, even though the “ring of fire you have to get through is a visceral ring of fire that you have to live through with sound design and then a spiritual [path], coming back to home.”
Specifically, Ruben is reconnecting with a sense of stillness. Going down this stoic path, author Ryan Holiday might describe Ruben’s eventual conclusion as follows: “Stillness is what aims the archer’s arrow. It inspires new ideas. It sharpens perspective and illuminates connections.”
The opposing theme, however, is the fight between Ruben’s journey to either A) Fix his deeper pain, or B) Avoid the fact that he’s broken within and focus solely on the external, which means to fix the hearing that he’s lost. This describes Joe and Ruben’s many conversations.
“There’s an interesting parallel between ‘the fix’ the drug addict is looking for, and then ‘the fix’ of your condition,” said the writer/director. “There’s an interplay between the two.” Joe’s community mimics many deaf communities where the idea of “fixing deafness” is frowned upon, to say the least. But, at the same time, Joe is more concerned with the inner workings of Ruben, and the rest of his flock.
“The movie does not pine on whether getting a Cochlear Implant is good or bad, or whether it’s good or bad to fix hearing. I don’t have an opinion on that, but Joe’s community has a stance. What’s most important to that community where Joe runs a house for deaf addicts, but that deaf culture has some rules and understanding about what it’s about. Deafness is not a disability.”
Essentially, as Marder said before, the focus is on addiction, even though it’s expressed through deafness for the most part. “Joe understands that, having been an addict himself. He was also in Vietnam, as was [actor] Paul Raci. He was in Vietnam, in the Navy, for two tours. The dynamic from the Navy is that, if there is a single piece of the infrastructure that is out of sync, it can sink the whole ship. The same is true in a house of addicts.”
If you consider Ruben’s path to his old life as a hindrance to the community, we see this in how he influences Jenn (Chelsea Lee), as he eventually asks her to help him sell his equipment and his Airstream to get the surgery and get back to Lou.
In addition, he’s also using Joe’s computer when he’s not supposed to (contacting the outside world, mainly) and going down a path that breaks small points of trust within the community. “Joe is really speaking to Ruben as an addict. I think if Ruben came back, we know Joe would never turn him away. That’s not what he was about. He was really making a point that [Ruben] was undermining something more precious than his own fixation.”
The Layers of Ruben
As we mentioned earlier, there’s a distinct way in which Ruben’s world is presented on the page versus what the audience sees. First, this is seen in the Airstream, but then it’s sprinkled throughout the community, especially as Diane (Lauren Ridloff) encourages Ruben to use sign language rather than his voice.
“I think my brother (Abraham Marder) and I, we wrote 1,500 or 2,000 pages to get to this script. A lot of that was writing sound descriptions. We did a very deep dive in sound description and emotion, really specifically creating a framework to understand the emotionality of this process.”
In one example, we hear the high-pitch sounds Ruben hears after getting the surgery. What was muffled earlier in the script is now somewhat overwhelming, especially when Ruben is on the street or at a dinner party.
On the page, the Marders write, “Ruben hears sound for the first time in months. But the sound is strange. Not at all like natural sound. This is digital and harsh sound. Ruben nods… trying to keep from crying. He touches the device around his ear as if maybe the sound will suddenly clear and turn into what he remembers…”
As an audience member, this feels dangerous. We feel, almost immediately, that Ruben has made the wrong choice. The description continues, “Ruben does not like the sound of his own voice. It is loud and tinny… he tries to suppress his panic… the doctor adjusts the frequency. The sound changes but it’s still oppressive… Ruben is shell shocked.”
In the first-person perspective, the Marders found a balance to “what’s readable,” while also “hitting the emotional cadence.” Marder adds, “We did have more descriptive language in the script than a lot of scripts, but how do you express this in this point-of-view blueprint, this unusual language, this thing I’m calling POH, or point-of-hearing? How do you bring people into that?”
Marder said they were not “geeky” about it, which meant they worked not to overhype the two types of perspective. In some ways, it’s merely an extension of that numbness expressed in war films, moments after a bomb goes out. But for Ruben, the high pitch fades to black.
“I always knew how I was going to shoot it, so my brother and I really focused on the emotion. That being said, anyone who read it, would talk about the sound. They can tell it was a movie existing on a very sonic level.”
Ruben’s Emotional State
Audiences would likely describe Ruben’s emotional states as panic or confusion, but also focused on finding a solution to get back to his normal life. Ironically, there’s no overly dramatic expression of his hearing loss from Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, The Night Of), other than when he gets angry at a show and tells Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel, Ready Player One) the heartbreaking news.
“I think [the dramatic flair] is normally the expression, but I don’t think people do that. Really, what I focused on with Riz, as a process, is specificity. What very specifically is happening inside of Ruben? I mean, he has a cockroach tattooed on his neck. He is a survivor. He’s been abused. He’s been an orphan. He’s been in foster homes. He’s gone through a lot, but he doesn’t externalize. He protects that. That was the essence of Ruben. He’s going to hide his truth from you. Tough exterior, soft interior.”
In some ways, especially in the beginning of the two films, we’re reminded of Marder’s other remarkable character, Luke (Ryan Gosling), from The Place Beyond the Pines. In fact, both movies start in a similar fashion, where we zoom in on our man moments before he’s going to do what he does best. Luke is a motorcycle stunt driver. Ruben is a drummer in a metal band (both are also covered in tattoos and have bleached-blonde hair).
“But, there’s dramatic irony in that, because we’re in [Ruben’s] head and we understand the panic that he’s actually feeling. This way, we also learn exponentially more about him by what he doesn’t do, and what he doesn’t show. I think that that language of restraint is so essential. We lean in to the small details. We don’t tell you about the past. We understand it, but he’s disassociated. He doesn’t dwell on the past. He’s going forward. That’s the irony of his journey—he can’t deal with the past.”
This is seen when Joe tells Ruben to go sit in a room and write. On the page, we read, “Carrying his coffee, his donut in his mouth, Ruben peers thru an open door into a very empty room with a desk, a chair and a couple nice, large windows… He looks at the room suspiciously. He enters and closes the door. He sees a pen and a notebook waiting for him. He puts his coffee down, sits. He takes a sip as he looks out the window… He scratches at his jeans… his hand and body restless… Now he hits the pen against the desk over and over again… he gets up, feeling like a true moron for being there at all…”
Ahmed, the actor, also chose to have a few dramatic screams within the silence, where he also crushes the donut, then tries to re-mold it on the desk. The character can’t sit with himself, not now, not for anyone. This is the addict. This is the character.
“He doesn’t need to say, ‘I’m freaking out. I feel like I’m going to use…” said Marder. “We get it. I think that’s a really exciting language and I think it’s much more human. We are very cut off from each other. We do not share much and what’s going on with our interiors is so much more vast than what’s going on on our exterior.”
Later in the film, when Ruben reconnects with Lou, we see Joe’s words and Ruben’s truth finally sink in. When he’s talking to her, he notices her scratches—an irritation from their time on tour and her past—are gone, but the moment he brings up “the tour” and their old life, her anxiety comes back to the surface.
The Marders write, “Ruben looks down. When he looks up, Lou is looking away. He notices her scratching her arm in the spot she used to scratch. He stares at her fingernail grinding into her skin.He looks at her face and at the picture of them together in front of the airstream, Lou like a different person then. Ruben’s eyes take in the truth of Lou now. She can’t go back with him. And he can’t stay. The revelation is devastating. He sits with it, then reaches out and stops her hand from scratching. Lou doesn’t look up for a moment. Then she does.”
In a final heartbreaking moment, Ruben acknowledges how they saved one another in a previous life, but how now they both needed to give up that “gypsy life” and move on. Their coping mechanisms were no longer valid to who they needed to become, and now did more harm than good. “You saved my life too Rubi,” says Lou on the page in their final embrace.
“We probably wrote more pages on Lou than we did on Ruben, which might surprise you. We wrote Lou’s journey to Europe, her poetry and her songs, and their relationship is so essential to the journey and movement of the story. She appears in the cut a little less than I would have imagined, but it’s the right amount,” continued Marder.
“She has to really have a very specific degree of character building. You understand she’s fragile and Ruben supports her emotionally. She has her own addictive past. So that dynamic is important because they do both believe they’re saving each other, but in fact, they aren’t saving each other. They’re in a holding pattern.”
“Lou has to have that degree of sensitivity and fragility, but she has to go and do her own journey, and she’s doing it for Ruben, and Ruben is doing it for her, when they both separate for the first time. But the vibration of that relationship has to be so true because Ruben is trying to get back to her even more than he is to get back to hearing. I think that the way it works, the shedding of possessions is important, the Airstream, an inheritance from his mother, and his drums, his identity, and then, finally, the last thing to shed is Lou.”
Freelance writer and author Brock Swinson hosts the podcast and YouTube series, Creative Principles, which features audio interviews from screenwriters, actors, and directors. Swinson has curated the combined advice from 200+ interviews for his debut non-fiction book 'Ink by the Barrel' which provides advice for those seeking a career as a prolific writer.
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