Sound and Fury
2000, NR, 80 min. Directed by Josh Aronson.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Dec. 8, 2000
The sound of fury can be remarkably quiet. In the new documentary Sound and Fury, which debuted at Sundance, it's the sound of hands flying in impassioned, ASL-signed debate. The furor here is over the cochlear implant, a device that allows deaf persons to gain some, if not all, hearing capabilities. Two brothers (and fathers) struggle with the same decision: Should they provide implants for their deaf children? The answer seems alarmingly simple. If you could make your deaf child hear, wouldn't you? Shouldn't you? Hearing parents Chris and Mary Artinian have just given birth to twins, one of whom is deaf. They are eager to implant the newborn, against the wishes of Mary's parents (both deaf since birth) and Chris' deaf brother Peter. Peter is faced with the same dilemma. His deaf daughter, Heather, a rascally charming five-year-old, wants the implant, against the wishes of her deaf parents Peter and Nita (who have two additional deaf children). Peter and Nita feel the cochlear implant threatens the deaf-pride movement and that deafness is not a handicap, but rather another form of diversity. Heather just wants to be able to hear her grandma on the other end of the phone. It's a thorny issue -- to implant or not to implant -- and “fury” isn't used lightly. The vast majority of this doc is spent in ugly, knockabout fights over the implant. Director Josh Aronson's camera is invited into the most intimate of settings, like the kitchen-sink meltdown of a distraught wife and mother, or a backyard barbecue turned character roasting, where labels of child abuse and turncoat treachery are slung with abandon. To Aronson's credit, there are no biases here. Each family member is portrayed as equally sympathetic and equally villainous, united only by blood and the conviction of their clashing beliefs. Stylistically, Sound and Fury isn't a stunner. The entirely video-shot footage is lackluster, the interviews feel as if they took place in one long afternoon, and the pace is too slack, too unmeditated (leaving some threads needlessly dangling). And the use of voiceovers rather than subtitles to translate the American Sign Language is not only ill-fitting (the actors' voices are too actorly), but also seems in brazen disregard of Peter and Nita's point: that the deaf community finds pride and beauty in that very lack of sound. But, grousing aside, these snags are only minor distractions from an absorbing human drama. Whether you see the cochlear implant as modern miracle worker or deaf community gate crasher, here, it's the antithesis of glue: the stuff that breaks up families.