The Oscar-winning film 2021 film SOUND OF METAL, written by Darius Marder and Abraham Marder, and also directed by Darius Marder, is a powerful and unflinching look at the journey of a drummer grappling with addiction and hearing loss.
The film brings the viewer into the lead character Ruben’s inner life in an incredibly skilled way, and I jumped at the chance to dive into the screenplay and excavate some of the most impactful elements.
In numerous interviews with Darius Marder, SOUND OF METAL has been talked about as a movie rooted deeply in themes of the journey of acceptance, as well as silence and stillness. As Brian Tallerico writes on rogerebert.com, “Sound of Metal is a movie about a restless soul forced to find calm and peace.”
So, let’s take a look at the film’s themes, as well as the strategies the screenwriters used to help guide the audience into the heart of the story. (Note: spoilers to follow!)Download the 'Sound of Metal' script!
Using Metaphors to Evoke Emotion
While Marber co-wrote the screenplay, I believe that part of the genius of this script is in the way Ruben’s inner life is articulated in scene descriptions and action lines. So much so, that if another director were to have helmed this film, there would be a goldmine in the script for understanding how a scene should feel and therefore how to shoot, score, and edit it to unveil Ruben’s inner turmoil.
A strong example of this is on page 66:
“Ruben looks at the children but his mind is elsewhere. The sweet sounds of the piano merge with dark vibrations of his unrest.”
Another can be found on page 59:
“Ruben lights a cigarette and as he sits, his anxiety builds… an old familiar rumbling.”
Throughout the script, we are given metaphoric descriptions rooted in music and sound of what is happening with Ruben internally. It’s like a second language that transports us easily into his psyche. We “rumble” with him in the same way that his hands bring the drumsticks down to the kit in rapid succession. His “anxiety vibrates” like the stage and the amplifiers. His “leg shak[es] incessantly as if playing an invisible kick drum (pg. 27)”. This script is full of beautiful phrases like these, allowing the reader to fall quickly into Ruben’s state of mind.
Juxtaposing Silence and Stillness
Looking at silence and stillness as a recurring theme, the opening of this screenplay is filled with fantastic juxtapositions between a loud hectic “outside world” and a quiet “inner life.”
On page 1, we see Ruben on the Club Stage as:
“The loop of [Lou’s] sound grows. Guitar pedals and synthesizers lay on the stage floor as she looks to Ruben with manic intensity.”
“[Ruben brings] his drumsticks down upon his drums with pure demonic ecstasy…the whites of Ruben’s eyes flash as if igniting an erotic charge, this glorious being, merging with him. Sweat drips from Ruben’s hair and his eyes burn in an endless climax… or pain.”
Immediately after that, we are inside the Airstream. Quiet. Still. We “hear the slightest whistle of a breeze… a squeak… subtle noises from the outside world.”
Throughout the screenplay, we are treated to these types of transporting contrasts of loud and oppressive moments to softness and calm. Ironically for Ruben, until the end of the film, it’s in the turmoil and the anxiety and the deafening loudness that he feels most comfortable. As that’s stripped away from him and things are dimmed, the volume literally turned down, the audience can begin to see how Ruben has been clinging to that cacophony and using it as a tool to allow for a constant state of deflection.
Using Locations to Show Ruben’s Inner Life and Journey
There are 3 very distinct scenes and locations that to me, perfectly illuminate Ruben’s journey.
As mentioned before, we open on Ruben, a metal drummer, in his element. He is “waiting, intensely, for the beginning, for it all to start.” (pg. 1) His energy is wild but calculated, anticipatory, strong, and slightly dangerous.
Sitting in the Room
In the middle of the film, he sits again in anticipation although this time he is at a table alone in “a room” provided to him by Joe. As Joe states on page 52 of the script:
“There is nothing that needs to be accomplished in this room, Ruben. All I want you to do is sit. The only thing I ask is when, and if you cannot just sit, you turn yourself to the pen and paper, that I will supply for you… And you – write.”
Through the course of the midpoint of the film, we visit this room with Ruben numerous times as he learns to be with himself in stillness, without expectation. He’s in a place where he is learning to process everything that has happened in his life prior to losing his hearing and also in the present. It’s a place of reflection and metamorphosis. It’s symbolic of Ruben himself.
Sitting on a Bench
We then see Ruben at the end of the film once again seated, in a different kind of reflection and anticipation. Now on a bench in Paris, he has undergone a transformation. While there is still much healing and work to be done, instead of turning away from his loss of hearing and therefore himself, he chooses a moment of acceptance. On page 90, it reads:
“He reaches up and removes the devices from his ears. Everything goes instantly silent. He breathes. The morning sun breaks over the slate of the steeple. He breathes again, something shifts, his eyes fall over the many moments around him, no longer abrasive, they each have a singular, silent beauty.”
To me, these 3 different depictions of Ruben at the beginning, middle, and end of his journey are some of the strongest images of the entire movie. They mark not only his state of mind and inner life, but also allow the viewer to intimately understand his conflict.
Sound of Metal is a movie that deserves to be viewed over and over again, and the screenplay studied for not only its screenwriting craftsmanship but also its heightened sense of literary prose and skill. I invite you to do a deep dive of your own and would love to hear what resonates with you from this incredible script.
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Helenna Santos is an actor, writer, and producer with Mighty Pharaoh Films. She is the author of the poetry book “A Long Dark Summer” (2021) and was the founder/editor-in-chief of the entertainment website Ms. In The Biz for its seven year run (2013 – 2020). Her work as a contributing writer has been featured in MovieMaker Magazine, Film Inquiry, Backstage Magazine, Women and Hollywood, WeScreenplay, and BUST Magazine. As an actor she has appeared in many network and streaming TV shows as well as independent and studio feature films. She also works as a voice actor narrating audio books, animated characters, and commercial campaigns. Helenna is a mix of Filipino/Russian/German heritage and a US and Canadian dual citizen. She resides in Vancouver, BC Canada with her husband and their Bernedoodle pup. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter!