, ,

Sweet Nothing In My Ear, a movie for and about deaf people and the choices of cochlear implants.

I was laying in bed one night, scanning channels and came across ‘Sweet Nothing in My Ear’. I hit info and up came that Jeff Daniels was starring, so I figured what the hell–five minutes and I had to see it through to the end regardless of how late at night it was.

The portrayal of deaf communication for hearing listeners is fantastic, The voice-over approach was excellent for the hearing world, subtitles and sign language for the deaf world. Obviously not everyone who watched the film would be able to understand sign language on it’s own, so I loved how they tackled that problem, it really broke the barrier, and got across exactly what the characters themselves were trying to say; deaf people are no different nor less able than hearing people!

The acting is great, I was impressed with Jeff Daniels portraying emotion over his son and wife, especially since the last time I had seen him was when he was hanging out with Jim Carrey and driving a Dog-Van! I love Jeff Daniels he is a great actor. Now the synopsis of this movie and my full review below.

Here is my synopsis of the movie.

This movie centers around Dan and Laura Miller who have been married for several years. They refer to each other as their “best friend,” but their relationship begins to change when their only son, Adam, loses his hearing at the age of four. At Adam’s parents accept this change because Laura is deaf herself. Though as the years go on, Dan begins to explore the idea that with a surgical procedure and cochlear implants his son may be able to hear once again.

Throughout the movie, situations arise where hearing would be advantageous in everyday life. In one scene Adam gets hurt because he couldn’t hear his father or see his sign language warnings. This particular situation reinforces Dan’s standpoint towards the surgical procedure. On the other side of the coin, other moments show how being deaf helps prevent distraction.

A rift forms between Dan and Laura when Dan starts to favor the procedure and Laura and her deaf parents oppose it. Soon what opens up is a larger issue of deaf pride, also ethical issues around Cochlear implants and its effect of the deaf culture, as Laura’s father Max, a deaf pride advocate, puts it, “The majority always thinks each minority wants to be like them”, as he doesn’t consider deafness a disability, and hence remains against the implants. Dan, on the other hand, sees this a deaf prejudice against him and others who can hear, when he simply wants to give his son a better future.

Soon, they take the dispute to a child custody hearing, which is playing throughout the movie little bits at a time. Later on, Dan (who had been staying somewhere else during this dispute) returns home to talk to Laura, signing how he misses his best friend. Laura too, admits that she misses her best friend.

While they both have clearly established their standpoint on whether Adam should get the cochlear implant, they both agree that their son needs both of them, just like they need each other.

My detailed review and personal feelings and views on some of the scenes and the movie as a whole.

I feel this movie is an important look at the world of deafness. A view that is seldom seen on television. The creators take us to a situation not often seen on television. I found it warm and touching in many ways and I’ll explain more in a few.

This is a small project by all accounts, yet it takes the viewers behind the reality of people that face a hardship most people don’t know anything about, and even into the discrimination from ignorance. In the case of the Millers, what seems to be a happily adjusted family, the wife, Laura and the young son, Adam, live in a world where sound is absent. The father lives in the hearing world and faces prejudice directed at his wife and child.

When young Adam is taken to a hospital to be treated from a nasty fall (The accident I reffered to earlier where Adam couldn’t hear or see his fathers warnings.). The intern that takes care of the wound, suggests a cochlear procedure so the boy can hear. Dan, the father, begins to ponder on the benefits Adam would receive, but the mere thought of it triggers a confrontation with Laura, who is reluctant to have her young son submitted to an operation with what she thinks is a risk she wouldn’t like to take.

During their investigation the fighting escalates until they separate over it. But before that you get a few looks into the implants I now have. You can see the piece I attach to my ear, you will learn some about what the implants can and can’t do. My understanding of sound will be the same as yours someday but I must remove the device and recharge the batteries. I am a deaf person who can hear but at the end of the day I am still deaf.

This movie tackles this subject with tact and a clear candor. It tackles other topics I will cover in a moment. For now I’ll tell you the computer adjustments, the surgery, the descriptions of the device and the operations. So much is so clear in it’s presentation and it was presented thoughtfully and completely.

I’ve had to choose as well do I want to be deaf or do I want sound. As I’ve said before it’s been a hard road for me. It’s been a lot of work. But today while I am still learning I am thankful my parents didn’t choose for me. I was left the choice to do this or not. I don’t think of being deaf as a disability perse though I’ve used it as a crutch.

I’ve never been part of the “deaf world” portrayed in this movie. I grew up with hearing family, I grew up around hearing friends and while i have a few deaf friends over the years and those in my life have learned sign for me. But I’ve never been full part of the deaf world.

The episode of Adam getting hurt is what triggers a war between Dan and Laura, who decide to separate and they become involved in a custody battle. At stake is what Laura perceives the loss of the deaf culture for Adam. After all, she has lived a somewhat happy life in an loving environment with Dan. Her parents, who are both deaf as well, never reveal a family secret that involves her.

This movie is a bit different from what is shown in some family oriented channels. The casting of Jeff Daniels as Dan Miller, was a stroke of luck for the people involved in the film. Mr. Daniels is a natural who is good in anything he plays. Marlee Matlin, a deaf-mute actress is appealing as Laura. The supporting cast adds another dimension to the story.

This is a film that goes where others don’t dare to go. It uses actual deaf actors and actresses. It’s touching, well told and deep. It gives a glimpse of the deaf world I’ve struggled to define here.

My world while different than portrayed here is similar is some ways. I’ve faced the discrimination, the isolation and the feelings of exemption or exclusion. I cried a bit watching this movie because to me this movie was close to home. I watched the war between Laura and Dan and that was the war in my head. Am I losing part of what makes me or am I gaining something new. I always dreamed of hearing but when it was a reality for me I was scared. I felt like the mother like I’d lose something important, something that makes me who I am.

In the end I realized I wasn’t losing something that defined me. I was choosing something that would help me in life. I am not less because I choose the surgery, I’ve lost nothing that defines me as a person. The mother Laura was invested in her deafness as a defining part of who she is. That part of Deaf pride was explained well in the movie.

For anyone who wants a glimpse into the deaf world, a glimpse into implants or a glimpse into what it means to live deaf should watch this movie. So many difficult concepts we presented in a caring and thoughtful manner.

The scene with the little boy who had his implants turned on for the first time brought me back to that day. It’s exactly like that as they adjust the volume and the moment sound first happens. It was incredible, scary, confusing and intense all in one day, all in that first moment where you hear something. It was so well portrayed I paused the movie. For me I wish I could describe the emotions and this movie with few words showed it incredibly well.

Over all this was one of the best movies for and about deaf people I’ve ever seen.

One thing I disliked was that they used the “snake bite” sign for cochlear implants instead of signing “c” “i” – which some people who have chosen the CI route may also find a little off putting. That said I still feel both sides really were equally portrayed; I could detect no bias besides the sign that was chosen for CI.

The most important thing to me was ultimately displayed in this film – that this is an intensely personal decision a family or adult child must make, one that is right for them. It is not for the deaf community, or the hearing world, or a judge to decide – it is the family, and that was, to me, the message of this film.

~Michelle Styles – April 19, 2014