The Sound of Silence’ Review: Peter Sarsgaard Excels in a Sonic Drama That’s All Signal, No Noise — Sundance
While it seems right up there with other flimsy 21st-century career paths like social media influence Instagram model or branding consultant not long into The Sound of Silence you will believe that “house tuner” is a legitimate profession. An ideally cast Peter Sarsgaard plays one such specialist ironing out the discordant sonic kinks that cause depression anxiety or stress in the homes of people living in that most cacophonous of cities, New York. Debuting feature director Michael Tyburski and co-writer Ben Nabors’ lyrical character study, expanded from their 2013 Sundance award-winning short Palimpsest, deftly balances the cerebral with the soulful in a story of transfixing originality.
There are echoes of the work of Michael Almereyda here in the coolly intellectual approach, graced with roiling emotional undercurrents and sly humor. The intriguing mood in particular recalls his recent features Marjorie Prime and Experimenter the latter also starring Sarsgaard.
All of his clients are skeptical of his methods, but all of them end up being satisfied — until he meets Ellen (Rashida Jones), whose chronic exhaustion is seeping into every aspect of her life. After closely examining her apartment, laying in her bed, and determining which note her appliances strike, Peter offers a simple solution: buy a new toaster. The nearly imperceptible sound it emits interferes with her living space’s natural room tone and is the apparent source of her ongoing sleep issues.
“The Sound of Silence” wouldn’t have much drama if this consultation proved as effective as those that came before it, of course and Tyburski charts the ensuing anxiety with a subtlety befitting his protagonist. This film is quiet in more ways than one, drawing viewers in but compelling them to hang on every word. That’s largely due to Sarsgaard, whose performance is akin to his turn as Stanley Milgram in Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter. He fully inhabits his oddball character, making him not only believable but convincing in the way he carries out his strange duties.
Peter is like a wellness guru you’d see on Instagram, only his brand is too subtle and soft-spoken to be an influencer and his technique is too sophisticated to fit into 280 characters. Recently written about in the New Yorker, he now has the chance to monetize his gifts in new ways — but resists. This is about universal constants, he says, not commerce. Peter’s priorities are understanding the sonic elements of everyday life and helping his clients (in that order), with allowing corporations to co-opt his findings ranking somewhere near volunteering for a root canal.