“THE SOUND OF SILENCE”: Harmonic dissonance

Peter Sarsgaard

My rating: C+ (Opens Sept. 27 at the Screenland Tapcade) 87 minutes | MPAA rating:

Published September 26, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene

Before it goes off the philosophical rails and disappears up its own nether regions, “The Sound of Silence” casts an eerie spell.

Our protagonist is acoustic specialist Peter Lucian (Peter Sarsgaard), a self-described “house tuner.”

Peter is paid to visit the apartments of his fellow New Yorkers, bringing a suitcase filled with tuning forks and tape recorders.  His job is to study the “sound environment,” identifying and eliminating aural anomalies that may be responsible for sleeplessness, anxiety, and a whole host of psycho-physical modern maladies.

For instance,  he may discover that the musical voice of a client’s heating system creates dissonance when heard in conjunction with the imperceptible sounds emitted by an electric toaster. Time to get a new Sunbeam.

Sounds like woo-woo, but Peter has recently been written up in The New Yorker. So there.

Michael Tyburski’s debut film (the screenplay is by Ben Nabors)  is nothing if not out there. In mood and overall story arc it bears more than a little resemblance to “The Conversation,” Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 classic about a sound technician whose specialty is surreptitiously recording conversations under impossible circumstances.

Peter is pretty much obsessed with his  inquiries.  He often walks through Manhattan wearing sound-cancelling earphones; at other times he stands in public places twanging his tuning forks and taking acoustic readings.

He’s studying “harmonic resonance,” all so that he can develop a sort of unified field theory of sound.  His research has already drawn the attention of an industrialist (Bruce Altman) who has big plans to monetize it, but Peter is a purist.  His dream is to have all his findings published in a scholarly journal.  Only then will he consider the commercial applications.

Rashida Jones, Peter Sarsgaard

“The Sound of Silence” works best in its opening passages as we are introduced to Peter and his world.

Fairly early on he is hired by Ellen (Rashida Jones) to acoustically exorcise her apartment…she’s not sure she believes in all this stuff but it’s worth a shot if it can rid her of chronic exhaustion.

Another film would find a romance here, and there are hints of an Ellen-Peter attraction. But the fact is that he’s way too consumed by his science to tolerate anything as plebeian as a normal human relationship.

Perhaps he should spend more time on human interaction. We learn late in the film that even among acoustic experts Peter is viewed as part of the lunatic fringe.

And to make things worse, a colleague (Tony Revolori) may be willing to peddle their findings for personal gain.

For two thirds of its running time “The Sound of Silence” tracks pretty well.  But then the whole thing goes haywire, dipping into material that makes no sense thematically, emotionally or intellectually.

At least not to me.

| Robert W. Butler

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene

Posted in

Leave a Comment

Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.