Whenever a mainstream movie or television show features hearing loss — I get excited. I hope it will raise awareness about the challenges of hearing loss without inducing pity. That it will break down stigmas and generate empathy. I search each moment for a slice of my own life that might help my family and friends get a better understanding of my daily experience living with hearing loss. I am usually disappointed and Sound of Metal, now available to watch on Amazon Prime, was no different.
While the rendering of how hearing loss actually sounds was excellent, the movie’s portrayal of audiologists missed the mark. As did its primary message: The only way to cope with hearing loss is to learn sign language and join the Deaf community. Given all the technological advances we have today, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Sound Profile Captures the Hearing Loss Experience…
The movie does an excellent job portraying what it is like to hear poorly. The soundtrack alternates between silence, muffled speech and regular sound, based on how well the main character, Ruben, is hearing in each scene. Normal sound is only used if Ruben has captions, for example, so that he would be understanding/hearing speech well.
The movie captured the fuzzy, blurry, mumbly sound that I often experience. I know that someone is talking — I hear a sound — but I cannot understand its meaning. “This is what it sounds like without my hearing aids,” I said to my hearing husband who was watching the program with me. “And sometimes, even with my hearing aids,” I continued. He seemed surprised.
A great moment of the film is when Ruben walks into a large cocktail party with his new cochlear implants (CIs) and is visibly overwhelmed with the cacophony of overlapping conversations. The experience is similar for me with my hearing aids, which amplify all sounds, not just the speech ones I want to hear. This time, my husband was horrified. “That must be exhausting,” he said. Yup. Hearing loss is exhausting.
…But the Storyline Does Not
In the interest of drama, Sound of Metal jumps right to the culturally Deaf experience which includes exclusive use of sign language for communication. Much of the time, mainstream media makes this leap, perhaps because it is easier to portray visually on screen. The beauty and elegance of sign language beats mini-mics and speech-to-text apps every time.
But for the vast majority of people with hearing issues — the Deaf experience is not representative. Most of us have some residual hearing (as Ruben did) which we augment with hearing aids. Shockingly, hearing aids were not even mentioned as a possibility by the first audiologist Ruben visits. Perhaps his hearing loss was too severe, but this dangerous omission could mislead the general public — some of whom may be experiencing hearing problems. Viewers could be deterred from seeking information and treatment believing there is none available.
In reality, most people with hearing loss can live successfully in the hearing world by wearing hearing aids and using technology and other communication strategies to stay engaged. Life is not perfect or easy, but we are able to stay connected to our friends and family, as well as the broader hearing world. Our stories are worth telling too.
Frightening Misinformation about Treatment Options
Even scarier was the lack of proper information about sudden hearing loss, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. If treated quickly with steroids, sometimes, partial hearing can be restored. Ruben’s audiologist ignores this potential solution, once again misleading the general public through omission.
The portrayal of cochlear implants is also deceptive, as the movie seems to go out of its way to find fault with them. Friends of mine with CIs adore them, but an adjustment period is needed and can be a challenge. Why wasn’t this explained to Ruben? Why was no rehabilitation assistance provided? Both are standard operating procedures in the industry.
Also misleading is that while CIs are expensive, in most cases, the cost is covered by insurance. Ruben did not have insurance, but the spurious omission could deter eligible people from learning more, scared off by the cost.
Sound of Metal does a good job displaying the anguish of hearing loss and accurately reflects the sound profile many of us experience. But its misinformation and its lack of a multi-dimensional portrayal of the hearing loss experience left me cold.
Readers, what did you think of the movie?