Sound and Fury

Sound and Fury (2000)

“Why does she have to have a deaf identity?”

I feel like the next little kick I’m going to be going on here at One Movie Each Day is going to be documentary films. Now, I’ve reviewed more than a few documentaries, but, as I asked way back when wrote my first review of a documentary, I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing so. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that in the absence of a screen writer the real challenge for a documentarian is to select a topic that is both interesting enough to remain compelling over a feature length, but also factual enough to make the documentary meaningful. One thing I really appreciate is when a documentary film brings me into a place, or a culture, or an issue that I didn’t know existed. That definitely applies to today’s selection.

Today’s movie is Sound and Fury, a documentary feature which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001. The film is a remarkable examination of a controversial issue that I had no idea was a controversial in the first place.

The tag line on the poster asks, “If you could make your deaf child hear, would you?” Now it seems to me that the answer that I would give, and that I would think most people would give, is an instant and unequivocal, “yes”, but for deaf parents of deaf children, it becomes a much more complicated question. It becomes a matter of cultural identity, and a moving topic for a documentary film.

Here’s the official synopsis:

SOUND AND FURY documents one family’s struggle over whether or not to provide two deaf children with cochlear implants, devices that can stimulate hearing. As the Artinians of Long Island, New York debate what is the right choice for the two deaf cousins, Heather, 6, and Peter, 1 1/2, viewers are introduced to one of the most controversial issues affecting the deaf community today. Cochlear implants may provide easier access to the hearing world, but what do the devices mean for a person’s sense of identity with deaf culture? Can durable bridges be built between the deaf and hearing worlds?

The film certainly must have posed a challenge for the filmmakers. Many of the subjects communicate only though sign language, often engaging in intense conversations and arguments, so the filmmakers opted to use voice actors to fill in their speech in the film. This really does succeed in conveying the emotion of what’s being said. Certainly it proves to be a better alternative than subtitles.

As for the content, the film certainly brings to light an issue that I would have thought a complete non-issue. It does an excellent job of showcasing different perspectives, and sowing the humanity and the point of view of those subjects who’s position I find pretty ridiculous. I’m reminded that just because someone’s beliefs are ridiculous doesn’t mean that they’re not genuine. 

I do think that this is an important film. Even if the specific issue is no longer so controversial. (Maybe it is, though I’d think that as with any new technology the acceptance of Cochlear implants has only grown with the passage of time.) The issues it raises when it comes to identity politics are definitely still resonant.

That said, this thirteen year-old film feels very dated. I’m not sure if it’s the medium it was filmed on, or the fashion sense of the subjects, or something else, but for some reason I felt like I was watching something from around 1989. I kept having to remind myself that the film was from 2000.  I think that the picture quality was the main issue here. I watched the film via Netfilx, and their stream looked like it had been transferred over from an old video tape. There’s little depth of color, and everything just looks flat. However, this doesn’t greatly diminish the power of the film’s message.

I didn’t particularly enjoy watching Sound and Fury, but I do think it’s a movie that people should see. It’s a movie about a clearly defined identity-group, desperate to hold on to their own unique culture, even as it becomes clear that they’re doing harm to the very people they want to help. It’s an articulate and emotional documentary. It’s definitely worth seeing.

[Sound and Fury (2000) – Director: Josh Aronson – Not Rated]

OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing