Sound and Fury

Nov 8, 2000 at 12:00 am

Sound and Fury is a documentary about the continuing controversy over cochlear implants, a device which can allow deaf people to hear. The implant itself isn’t physically dangerous and, though the results are variable, if the recipients are young enough they can often come to hear and speak in a manner generally considered normal.

The controversy, which initially is surprising and a little baffling, arises from the resistance that many deaf people have toward the procedure. While one may take it for granted that the ability to hear is a precious thing, some deaf people see the implants as a threat to “deaf culture,” that community bound together by sign language and a common perspective. It would seem a thin reed of resistance, but as the film progresses one begins to understand why it’s so often an intractable stance.

One child being considered for an implant is Heather, whose parents Peter and Nina are both deaf. At first they try to keep an open mind about the process, but as they see how deaf children are assimilated into the hearing community, they harden against it. What may seem to an outsider as a desirable end seems to them a betrayal of the culture from which they derive both identity and self-esteem (the religious and racial parallels are obvious).

Meanwhile, Peter’s brother and sister-in-law, a hearing couple, are considering the implant for their newborn deaf son. The ensuing family conflict is both painful and enlightening.

There are no easy answers to all of this and the film doesn’t take sides, but one can’t help but leave it with the impression that if deaf people don’t want their children to hear, it’s hearing peoples’ fault — that what we see as an empowering act they see as turning their children over to an unkind world.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday-Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].