The Sound of Silence (2019)
Director: Michael Tyburski
Screenwriter: Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, Tony Revolori, Austin Pendleton, Bruce Altman
Making his feature directorial debut with a sophisticated adaptation of his own short film of the same name, Michael Tyburski (in conjunction with co-writer Ben Nabors) offers a composed piece centring on a terrific performance that is about as New York as New York Independents get, celebrating the city through a unique, personal vision of an eccentric on the fringes of its lively, bustling streets.
Presenting a vision that will alter the way you think about your own surroundings, Tyburski’s tale of a man searching for a meaning in the noise of New York City encourages you to ponder the universal question of what it would be like to be the only person on earth who could see (or the only man who could hear the sound patterns of the city, in this case), making for not only an interesting watch but an educational watch; one which, in typical NY Independent fashion, purposefully aims itself towards the intelligent and typically well educated, or at least those who think that they are, liberal anti-capitalist ideologies and all.
Appropriately leading the charge on screen is Peter Sarsgaard, an actor who has often avoided the limelight in favour of smaller, more intimate and personally challenging projects. He brings with him a level of respect and admiration even before his typically well informed performance begins, and together with on-screen romantic interest Rashida Jones, comes to forge a respectable, understandable and importantly empathetic character in all of his idiosyncrasies; this in the midst of the movie’s celebrations of different filmmaking aspects, most notably the sound mixing.
The most striking aspect of The Sound of Silence is, appropriately, the sound mixing. The way in which the film places a spotlight on this often unnoticed and regularly underappreciated aspect of the filmmaking process is admirable in of itself and becomes incredibly enjoyable to those interested in what goes into making a film successful, though it remains thought-provoking regardless of whether you cast a critical eye towards it or not. The simple act of creating a cinematic experience around sound is not worthy of praise in of itself despite its bravery, but the sound mixing certainly makes for a worthy inclusion on any list of great work, especially in 2019, and the film can at least be commended for that. But, to dismiss this piece simply as an exploration of sound would be to do the film a disservice regarding some of its best established aspects, notably its screenplay and visuals.
The importance of sound brings with it the inherent importance of words in a talkie, and The Sound of Silence uses the trope of the protagonist recording conversations from his door-to-door work as a sound doctor (who’ll better your mental health) to replay moments in the script where the intricacies in the dialogue come to mean more upon a revisit, the words exchanged between Peter (Sarsgaard) and Ellen (Jones) anchoring the romance angle of the film which is played out with all the composure of the rest of the picture, the blossoming of potential between the two coming as slow as the unfurling of a flower in a very appropriate manner and handled with the utmost care.
Visually, there are moments where The Sound of Silence is reminiscent of a picture from the 1960s French New Wave, its intimate city-scopes juxtaposing the character at its heart, with a late sequence set in the rain being a particular visual delight; a reminder of what cinema can look like. Eric Lin, the man charged with developing the look of the film as the cinematographer, pushed the visual aspects in such a way that it challenged the other more prominent features, adding the final touches to a picture that was brought together to be well established in almost every aspect, script tropes, and a reliance upon you refusing to question the film’s reality, aside.
Although it must be noted that historically the typical New York Independent hasn’t been for everyone – a categorisation that will, undoubtedly, hinder this film’s ability to reach universal critical acclaim – in terms of presenting the cinematic form as a piece of art worthy of dissection and appreciation, The Sound of Silence is a rare gem in an increasingly finance-fuelled, spectacle driven form, its composure and the weight that it adds to the overall understated spectacle of the film’s other elements bringing the picture to a whole new level. If anything can be learned from this quite phenomenal, surprisingly mature, art-driven directorial debut, it’s that the new generation are just as capable of creating unique visions on screen as their predecessors and that, instead, they are simply being held back by the increasing lack of financial opportunity for projects like this one; which is a real shame. The Sound of Silence is, ironically as regards the film’s central premise being the establishing of a scientific thesis, an anomaly of the 2019 cinematic landscape, and one that will satisfy at least part of the yearly quota for films they’ll want to show in academia. You’ll want to see this one for the way it hooks into your mind and for some wonderful work from one of the leading lights of the industry, Sarsgaard. Behold… The Composer of New York.