RiverRun 2019: The Sound of Silence

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Peter Sarsgaard appears in Sound of Silence by Michael Tyburski, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Eric Lin All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Dir.Michael Tyburski, USA, 2019, 85 min.

An unshaven, middle-aged man stands in the middle of Central Park with three tuning forks in one hand and a small hammer in the other. He taps each fork and lifts them to his left ear. The tone is a clear G-major. Peter Lucian, the man behind this experiment, packs up his tools and goes back to the Cold War fallout shelter he calls home in order to record his findings.

Lucian is a man who makes a living by “tuning” the homes of anxious, troubled New Yorkers. Throughout the film, Lucian attempts to prove his theory on how the inaudible, ambient sounds of day-to-day life can have a profound effect on mood and behavior. The idea sounds preposterous, even comical to an extent. However, co-writer Ben Nabors said that The Sound of Silence isn’t meant to be a comedy, despite how RiverRun chose to label the film. 

“If this [film] were ever to be filed in a Blockbuster video, which will never happen, it would be in the drama section of that video store,” he said in a phone interview. “[However,] I think approaching the film with a sense of humor and an openness, as people do approach comedy, is a helpful point-of-view. Humor was really important in approaching the characters, the dilemma [of the film] and this concept of the house tuner. I think that humor is disarming, in a good way, for audience members. It allows you to loosen up and emotionally expose yourself to a story.”

The Sound of Silence muses on conflicts such as free will versus destiny and the overlap between both the creative and scientific worlds.

“Beyond the log line, it’s fundamentally a film about obsession, commitment to ideas that maybe don’t yet exist and pursuing something that only you believe in,” he said. “I think, to the individual, those stakes can feel very high, but maybe to an audience that isn’t directly involved in that experience [it] can be a very personal, introverted journey.

“I think humor and [the use of] a real-world setting are strategies that [my writing partner] and I followed in order to make the film more relatable to the audience.” Nabors continued.

The Sound of Silence succeeds in this aspect of conditioning the audience to relate with Lucian and his obsession with the experiment. Nabors said that he can empathize with Lucian’s obsessive and committed nature.

“I hope that a lot of people relate to [Lucian]… to look at the long story of the film,” he said. “It was a 10-year pursuit and that’s a long time in which [my partner] and I see something that other people can’t see and we have the obligation of trying to motivate people into believing [the story].

“I don’t think [that process] is unlike the scientific process that we portray in this film.”

The Sound of Silence screens on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the UNCSA main stage in Winston-Salem.

— CR

You may also enjoy these Riverrun 2019 reviews:

Ode to Joy: In this film, Martin Freeman plays a man with cataplexy, or a condition that causes him to fall asleep if he experiences joy. When he meets a woman and falls in love, managing his disorder becomes harder.

A Scientist’s Guide to Living and Dying: This drama, co-directed by and starring UNC School of the Arts alum Nitzan Mager, centers on a scientist named Amy, played by Mager, as she mourns the loss of her husband Chris while preparing to give birth to his child.

Find the full list of reviews here.