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?
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46 thoughts on “Sound of Metal Movie Ignores the Typical Hearing Loss Experience”
Is the movie available in the theater or is it being streamed?
It is on Amazon Prime.
I haven’t seen the movie yet but I appreciate what you have said. What a shame to convey such wrong and possibly dangerous information.
I agree. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Perhaps you and some of your readers will post comments over the shortcomings of “Metal” on Rotten Tomatoes, Facebook and other social media. The film’s erroneous, misleading and missing information about hearing loss is most unfortunate.
Great idea! Thank you for suggesting this.
Thanks for this critique of the movie. Having seen (and been deafened by) the trailer, I”m happy to take your word for it. Readers might try instead Irene Taylor Brodsky’s beautiful Moonlight Sonata. Children of a Lesser God with Marlee Matlin is mostly about the culturally Deaf but much of it is applicable to people with hearing loss. Wonderstruck (2017) is very moving. There are many others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Maybe readers could suggest their favorites. The JCC’s annual Reel Abilities Film Festival has featured others about hearing loss and deafness.
Thank you for suggesting some alternatives.
Sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency for which steroid treatment has proven successful! This was a missed opportunity to to alert and educate the public. Just think how effective it would have been to have followed Ruben through that anxiety ridden…and hopeful experience to regain hearing,only to recover a a tiny fraction of what was lost.. a devastating heartbreaking experience for anyone, yet exacerbated for a musician.
I would have liked to have seen Ruben access audiology services while on the road. This would have highlighted the challenges of access to care in rural areas and would have provided a vehicle to showcase different levels of care. Having worn hearing aids for 45+ years, I’ve been grateful to the many small town hearing aid dealers who’ve come to my rescue to deliver emergency repair services. A good provider is worth their weight in gold. Though I’m lucky to have 10 or so providers within 15 minute radius, the audiologist I see is almost an hour away. Shopping for a provider and comparing services can be key to a successful experience. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time,funds,motivation or access to services to see this through.
Lou (hearing husband) and I like the way Kimberly Parker articulated her experience (and much of mine) through Lost in Sound.
Great points! Thank you for sharing your expertise.
You say that the movie’s portrayal of the audiologist missed the mark. Well, not entirely. One aspect is when the audi was speaking to Reuben. In the movie, the audiologist was talking to Reuben and Reuben was hearing a very distorted sound. That is absolutely the case for someone with a severe to profound loss. A trained professional should know that alternate communication is needed for the patient to be able to understand when amplification alone doesn’t work. I had the same experience during my last visit to the audiologist. When the aid was being connected to the computer, I heard garbled something, yet the audi continued to talk. I told him he needed speech to text and even suggested what he should do. My audi had an intern working with him and she was surprised with the speech to text that I demonstrated. This tells me that the schools are not even teaching this stuff. This is a quote from my previous audiologist, “The audiology profession are killing themselves”. This has been going on for way too long.
Thank you for sharing your experiences.
You nailed it!
As a person who experienced sudden single sided hearing loss, it was devastating to watch Ruben’s initial interaction with his audiologist. I’m curious how audiologists feel about this scene. Just by chance, I was able to receive steroid treatment to try and save my hearing, but most of the general public (including general MD practitioners) aren’t aware of the steps to take should this happen to them or their loved ones. Though the steroid treatment didn’t save any of my hearing, I won’t have to live with the “what if?” question.
Such a missed opportunity for the movie to educate people about the options. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Had not heard of the movie, but now it sounds like something I would skip! Agree with all your points, period. Another movie with a decent portrayal (I thought) of a hearing-impaired character is the girlfriend in “Creed,” a boxing movie with Michael B. Jordan.
Thank you for your film suggestion.
thank you for your review. in the world of “talkies” the sound of silence is nearly impossible to comprehend. How can we blame them? Yet, the responsibility is greater for those who document life under the sea, emotions, love, hatred, and now hearing. You have to know the range of hearing loss to talk about it. That knowledge is available while little heard. We know from our experience.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I loved the movie and recommend it to my friends and family. Overall it provides an entertaining path to explore hearing loss. Many don’t go there because our explanations are so text book like and boring. I commend all involved with the movie for bridging worlds in an entertaining way. Your review pointed to it’s strong points when it initiated a conversation with your husband about living with hearing loss. Thanks for your insightful review.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the movie.
I thought it was well worth watching. After reading your concerns, I agree with them entirely. I didn’t agree with the way the deaf community treated him. My hearing is pretty bad, but I get by. If I lost all my hearing tomorrow, I would never be a part of deaf culture. I have lived my entire life in a hearing world, and if my hearing was taken away, I would just be a deaf person in a hearing world.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the movie.
Shari–Congrats on the letter to the Editor of the Washington Post regarding Zoom not currently making captions available FREE. You letter is prominently displayed!! I hope/think it will change things!!
I hope so too! Please feel free to share the article widely for the greatest impact. Thank you!
More kudos on your superb piece in the Washington Post. You’ve carried this banner all year; this spotlight exposure might actually work!
And many thanks for your thoughts on Sound of Metal. I have a minor quibble: the first CI mention emphasized the cost, and the guy said “not covered by insurance” — it was totally misleading, not just that Ruben did not HAVE insurance, but that insurance doesn’t help! WRONG!
Yes, the misinformation was terrible! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the movie.
Just got around to watching the movie, and agree with you entirely. More than just a missed opportunity to raise awareness and explain options, the movie misleads. Sudden hearing loss is not common. But when it occurs rapid administering of steroids sometimes is helpful. The movie ignores that entirely. And the notion that the only choices are CIs (which contrary to the movie are generally covered by health insurance) or learning to sign and joining the Deaf community are way off the mark. For most of us who grew up hearing, the prospect of learning a new language AND persuading our hearing friends and family to do the same (or just abandoning long standing relationships) is just unrealistic.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Shari, I agree with your comments, particularly about the rush to implants without trying hearing aids first. As an aside, I have the same problem with the recent JAMA review article of research about implants. Ruben scored 24% and 28% unaided on word comprehension. With aids, he probably would have done significantly better and might not have needed a CI, certainly not as the first option. The film may scare people away from going to an audiologist for treatment if surgery is presented as the treatment of choice. One of my other quibbles is the rapidity of the CI process in the film- one visit to the audiologist, implantation, one brief mapping session at activation. I understand that a two hour movie cannot show everything, but it appeared that he had no counseling on what to expect with a CI, very little mapping, and no auditory training, both of which might have improved his experience.
Great points. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I’d seen this movie is critically acclaimed and my husband and I watched last night. Riz is great and there are some beautiful moments (especially the last scene) but I just kept complaining about the portrayal of sudden hearing loss! I’m confused why the people leading this movie didn’t seek advice from experts or maybe they rejected that advice. As you point out CIs are largely approved by insurance in the US. An unfortunate but more accurate story line would have been the main character not having insurance. Someone in this situation would have (or should have) seen an ENT physician with expertise in hearing loss. Hearing aids may have been recommended 1st and when CI is recommended typically there would be a discussion about individual goals and counseling about pros and cons of CI. The idea that the counselor at the home (who presumably has something like severe to profound hearing loss since Vietnam) and main character would retain perfectly articulated speech is ludicrous. It’s nice to see a portray of hearing loss but there were so many missed opportunities to get this right.
I wish the portrayal of hearing loss was more accurate in mainstream media. We must continue to point out where they can improve. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Thank you for this article. I literally Googled Sound of Metal and otolaryngologist, hoping that this had been written. Having experienced sudden profound hearing loss, and having recovered some through steroid treatment, I found myself yelling at the television for Ruben’s sake. How could he not be urged to visit an ENT? How could no one mention steroid treatment?
That said I loved the movie. Ruben’s anguish, as you say, and his coming to face his new way of being were moving. As beautifully as it begins with so much sound, the movie ends with silence.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the movie. So glad you found our community.
After watching the movie I search for the truth and found your article. I understand that movies don’t have time to explain all the details that people really need to know if you having any medical problem. Ruben was a special case and had issues with addiction and on top of that losing his hearing. No insurance money. After reading your article I do now understand that CL implants are best for someone that has never had hearing before and want to have some sort of hearing. But they might have tried to explain to him that CL would not bring back normal hearing again and he didn’t what to listen to the explanation. I also thought that CL where perfect but you explain otherwise and it makes sense now. I would hope that all the issues that you have with this movie, people will reach out for more information. I think this movie did open my eyes to what hearing loss would be like and CL implants would result in. Thanks for the info
So glad you found the article. CIs also work well for people who have lost their hearing, but the sound won’t be exactly the same as before. Still, a great help, and often covered by insurance. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the movie.
I understand the points you are making and many of the comments are enlightening as well. One thing I think is missing is the fact that the movie’s plot was inextricably tied to the psychology of addiction. The community leader was an addict and recognized the characteristics of addiction in Ruben. His choice to get CI was seen as a betrayal because he wasn’t accepting his condition, which meant the community couldn’t trust him. Maybe these topics were mashed together a little awkwardly, but I think the addiction component was an important element which drove much of the plot choices that seem questionable.
I don’t see getting a CI / wanting to hear better as a betrayal, addiction or not, but I appreciate you sharing your perspective on the movie. At a minimum it got people talking about these issues and that is a positive.
As a hearing-impaired person, I was excited to see this movie, but was then a bit disappointed because I felt like it was more a movie about addiction, as the previous poster commented. Why wasn’t it enough for Ruben to experience a devastating, sudden hearing loss? I felt like the message was that hearing loss isn’t interesting enough to carry a movie on its own. And as someone who lives only in the hearing world (imperfectly, with hearing aids), the idea that he could only live the rest of his life in the Deaf community was terrifying to me, even though I knew it was also unrealistic. That being said…Riz Ahmed was terrific, and his portrayal was raw and compassionate, I thought.
Thank you for these insights. I felt the same way.
The Sound of Metal movie portrays the experience of those of us who do choose to learn sign language and join the Deaf community. It doesn’t reflect your experience as an oral deaf person because it’s not supposed to.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Hmmm, I guess it shows that we all deal with hearing loss differently!
Very true. Thanks for your comment.