New York City is not known as a quiet place. It’s teeming with cars, construction, and concrete. Which makes it an odd yet perfect setting for The Sound of Silence, a film about a man obsessed with demystifying silence, and all the sounds it encompasses.
Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) is an audiophile turned self-taught scientist who works as a “house tuner”, or someone that will come to your house, listen to it, and recommend sounds to restore harmony and balance. Catering to a generally wealthier clientele, Peter has created a job for himself that supposedly helps people with fatigue, anxiety and all sorts of ailments. We seem him content in his routines, helping people and spending his free time recording sounds around the city. But things start to change when he meets Ellen (Rashida Jones), a fatigued woman whom he just can’t seem to help.
True to its name, The Sound of Silence is a quiet film, mostly focused on ambient sounds and quiet dialogue. Peter is certainly a fascinating protagonist, but an archetype easily recognizable once we start to spend some time with him. He’s socially awkward and utterly convinced that the work he’s doing is revolutionary. He embraces a shabby professor aesthetic as he refuses to work with faster, more modern technology and claims that his findings are “a universal law, and the scientific community needs to know about it.” A hipster that refuses to believe he’s a hipster. His world starts to unravel when he runs up against the same critique time and time again — he doesn’t have the formal training for his experiments to be scientifically proved. We see the button-upped man start to show cracks, heightened by his magnetic draw to Ellen. Jones doesn’t get too much to work with here, mostly oscillating between being downtrodden by a breakup and mooning over Peter.
To be fair, Sarsgaard portrays Peter with the right mix of outwardly cold and inwardly unsure, but the character still ends up coming across as a pretentious know-it-all throwing a tantrum. Between the quirky career, quiet dialogue, classical score, and flat tones, it all feels very indie film familiar. While the premise is interesting, The Sound of Silence is ripe for accidentally falling asleep and quickly forgettable as another quiet indie.