What if sound wasn’t as chaotic it was understood to be?
What if sound served a greater purpose and contributed to human behavior? Those are the questions at the heart of Peter Sarsgaard’s latest film, The Sound of Silence.
Set in present day New York City, the film stars Sarsgaard as Peter Lucian, a scientist specializing in sound that refers to himself as a “house tuner.” He takes pride in soundproofing homes. His work includes patching holes, taking apart appliances, and even monitoring ambiance – the latter of which he’s particularly obsessed with. He believes that the sounds in a person’s home has a direct correlation with how they feel. He also believes that the sounds throughout the city create a secret symphony. Confident in his theories, he begins putting together a research paper he hopes to get published.
He routinely goes from one job to the next helping people find peace, but everything changes once he’s hired by Ellen Chasen, played by Rashida Jones. She’s a woman who’s recently experienced a trauma and suffers from anxiety. She thinks Lucian can ease her pain by creating a more relaxing atmosphere in her home, and so does he. However, none of his methods seem to work. Despite his initial failure, he still continues to try and help Ellen which sets off a chain of events in his own life that, after years of only relying on his ears, force him to finally open his eyes.
Sarsgaard and Jones are the foundation of this film. The two are at the top of their game here. Sarsgaard is the most reserved I’ve seen him in a long time. He really disappears into the role. Jones brings so much weight to her role that you’ll forget she ever did comedy in the first place, and even wonder, “Why isn’t she in more films?”
The best part about the relationship that forms between the two is that it’s strictly platonic. Now, I’m not saying that romance wouldn’t have been possible, but it just wouldn’t have made any sense to the story, especially with the way in which they find solace in each other.
The two of them both meet at pivotal moments in their lives. The main difference though, is that Peter isn’t ready for the changes he’s about to experience. Ellen not only challenges Peter’s methods, but she challenges his way of life, which, in turn, prepare him for the other obstacles that he begins to encounter – the main obstacle being a corporate rival that steals both his intern and his research.
In addition to the acting, the film also deserves praise for its technical achievements. Cinematographer Eric Lin crafts a beautiful portrait of NYC that’ll have its own inhabitants in awe. Will Bates’s score consists of incredibly haunting melodies that complement the film’s best aspect, its sound design. I mean the film’s sound is arguably the true star here. It’s treated with the utmost importance and is delicately layered throughout each scene in a way that is rarely seen anymore. Director Michael Tyburski really does a fine job at tying all these components together, especially considering that it’s his first feature. Despite the film’s many positives though, it’s not quite pitch perfect.
Admittedly, the film does have some pacing issues. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, it does feel rushed at times. There are moments between Peter and Ellen that I wished would have played out just a little longer. Some other characters do feel a bit underdeveloped too – primarily, Tony Revolori’s Samuel. In what is his most grounded role since The Grand Budapest Hotel, Revolori plays the intern that is ultimately lured away from Peter. Oddly enough, he’s introduced as a major character at the very beginning of the film; however, as the story develops, he just becomes background noise.
But I’m not saying that background noise isn’t important. The Sound of Silence proves that it actually is. Each sound, and even the occasional lack of sound plays a role in shaping who we are because it’s really how we listen that defines us. As interesting as the film’s core questions and their exploration are though, none of them tread new ground. The film opts to be more existential than original. It just doesn’t have anything new to say, and, as a result, despite looking and sound great, most of it goes in one ear and out the other.