Sound of Metal
by writer/director Darius Marder
I had a strange experience yesterday morning. I’m not really sure what prompted it. My plan was to get up and write as I always do but I made the mistake of checking in with the outside world first, while the water boiled for coffee. An email casually notified me of the finalization of my divorce, the official end of my 20-year marriage to my high school sweetheart. That was a prompt-worthy detail I suppose, perhaps combined with the aloneness of pandemic life. Whatever it was, I found myself drawn to thoughts of Sound Of Metal and the way in which it marked an entire era of my life. I pictured my children as they were, 5- and 10-year-olds when I began writing this movie, now 16 and 21. I felt it suddenly and painfully, a pressure in my heart as if it was being squeezed. I remembered that feeling as I strove to find the core of this film all of those years ago. I remembered the fear I felt when the story began to show its face. This film was hard for me to write. Not hard because writing is hard (that is always a given). This film was hard because the truth of the story was like a scary Dickensian ghost trying to teach me something I wasn’t ready or courageous enough to see at the time. I didn’t fully understand it then but I know now, that Sound Of Metal is a declaration of finality and acceptance. It is a coming to terms with the excruciating truth that I can’t fix, maintain or hold on to a life that has a will to be let go of. And for some reason yesterday morning, the final scenes of my film played in my head and it clobbered my heart all over again as a fresh, gut-wrenching revelation. For better or worse, I guess this is what I’m in this movie making game for.
Someone asked me recently in an interview why it took me so long to cast the role of Ruben (I think it was a 4-5 year process). I guess there are many reasons for that (casting a first feature is an impossible task in and of itself) but ultimately I think it comes down to the fact that I was looking for someone who needed this story as much as I did. I was looking for someone who wanted this role for the possibility of transformation, not simply just to make a movie. That’s a big ask. But that was my operating principle, however misguided. And so, in various ways I tested actors I met over the years, trying to divine the energy and life-force that either was, or was not drawing them to this role. Was this just another film for them or did they hear the whisper of a ghost like I did? Ultimately and painfully, the truth of various actors’ lack of commitment would show its face and production after production came crashing down in dramatic fashion. This is how it went for years until I met Riz Ahmed. I could feel something in him. It was a familiar and appropriate fear, met with a palpable hunger. I offered Riz the role halfway through our first lunch together and for the first time I knew I was truly giving it to another person. I wasn’t gripping it any longer. It wasn’t mine anymore. And suddenly it breathed.
Letting go and acceptance is a constant practice. Filmmaking is that practice for me. What is gripped and held too tightly can have no life, no breath, no magic and yet filmmaking, financing, and the cruel march of time begs us to control it. I am in awe of that paradox. It is the ultimate teacher.