The Sound of Small Things makes it clear early on that sound is as much a character in this film as the leads themselves opening on the sound of sheets rustling as a couple wakes up in bed together. Sam (Sam Hoolihan) and Cara (Cara Krippner) are newly weds who have just purchased their first home together and are settling in to life as a married couple. Sam and Cara play the role with the excited and cautious emotions you would expect from two people just starting out on their lives together. Cara looks at Sam with loving eyes when he talks to his friends and Sam is always aware of making sure Cara is comfortable and happy.
While they are the picture of normal newlyweds in many ways there is one aspect of Sam and Cara’s relationship that is unique – Cara is deaf. She does not use sign language to communicate instead opting to read the lips of the person talking to her. This allows things like Sam (an amateur drummer) to practice at all hours without disturbing Cara since she can only feel the vibrations of his playing making her condition seem like one of the ways their relationship works.
When two of Sam’s friends come to visit, we begin to actually hear about Sam’s relationship with Cara (and their sudden marriage) rather than just seeing the couple together. Cara became deaf due to an accident that happened not too long ago, but Sam knows few details beyond that since she doesn’t like talking about it. His friends react as most people would, slightly confused about why someone you tied your life to would keep you slightly in the dark about something so pivotal. His friends react as most friends would, asking enough questions to get Sam (and the audience) thinking about their situation while not pushing the issue.
When a past girlfriend comes back into Sam’s life, his relationship with Cara starts to take some slight missteps and the limits to their communication starts becoming more and more obvious. He takes phone calls out of the room or while shielding his mouth to keep Cara from figuring out what he is saying or who he is talking to and it is clear when Sam meets up with his ex that the one thing he is longing for is conversation.
Director Peter McLaran takes a voyeuristic approach to his film looking in on these people’s lives through windows or around corners working to give the subconscious impression of having to observe situations when you cannot hear what is being said. While the film is slow moving it catches you by surprise in the end when the almost unassuming, documentary style filmmaking gives way to a bit of a twist that leaves you questioning the entire film up until that point, but more importantly, how we observe and communicate with people.
The Upside: The Sound of Small Things highlights how sounds affect communication from simple conversations to a phone or doorbell ringing or a smoke alarm sounding and makes you question what it would be like it you had to live without these sounds.
The Downside: The film’s voyeuristic style and unusual focuses on inanimate objects can grow tedious (and edge on the side of boring), but the payoff in the end made the narrative worth it and had me wanting to watch it over from the beginning with new eyes.
On the Side: What was the deal with Cara’s ear tattoos?