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New Film 'The Sound of Silence' Quietly Explores Noisy Life


This image released by IFC Films shows Peter Sarsgaard in a scene from "The Sound of Silence." (IFC Films via AP)
New Film 'The Sound of Silence' Quietly Explores Noisy Life
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With the right marketing, you can get people to buy almost anything. This is especially true in Manhattan, where many wealthy New Yorkers live.

In the new film The Sound of Silence, lead characters Peter and Ellen meet because she has paid him to “tune” her apartment.

No, Ellen does not live inside a musical instrument. Peter, played by actor Peter Sarsgaard, is a "home tuner." His especially strong sense of hearing enables him to hear small things that most others cannot. They can include an ice maker, toaster or other simple machinery.

Rashida Jones plays Ellen. She is tense and sleepless. Some friends suggest she turn to Peter for help. The skill he brings to his work had been reported about in The New Yorker, a respected magazine.

Peter travels around New York City with his tuning devices and his headset. He tests wind movements in parks and makes house calls.

At Ellen's place, he lies on her bed to try to recreate her usual mornings. Then, he explains the problem: her toaster. He advises her to get a new one.

The Sound of Silence is based on a short film from the same writer and director, Michael Tyburski.

Peter makes the lives of his customers better. He helps them sleep better or improves their love relationships. He is more centered on helping others than seeking riches. But, he longs for recognition in the academic world. He wants his scientific findings to gain wide acceptance.

So, when a sharp businessman offers him the chance to join forces and make some real money, he is not interested. He does not want to sink that low.

At the same time, Ellen is showing more interest in Peter, finding his intensity appealing. For a while, we do too, especially when he explains that Bach and Beethoven, no less, used neurological methods to affect their listeners.

But even Ellen questions Peter’s expertise. She finds it hard to accept his claims that her home is producing the musical note of C Minor. He also tells her that unseen forces are governing her choices.

However, he stops trusting in his expertise as his effort to help her fails. And Ellen chooses to keep believing that she has some control over her life.

The Sound of Silence is humor and seriousness combined. There is a painful scene in which Peter meets an academic he greatly respects. She is a leading specialist in the field of sound. When he asks her if she has seen the work he sent her, her answer is unkind, but honest.

Critics have been mixed on the success of The Sound of Silence. The Los Angeles Times calls the movie, “fascinating, original and, yes, deeply resonant.”

The Hollywood trade magazine Variety, however, says the film feels “undernourished” in its new, long-version form. It calls The Sound of Silence “a deeply silly movie that takes itself incredibly seriously…”

The movie has been presented at several film festivals since the start of the year. It opened to the general public in limited release on Friday.

I’m Caty Weaver

Caty Weaver adapted this report for VOA Learning English based on stories by the Associated Press and other sources. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

character - n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show​

tune - v. to adjust (usually a musical instrument) so that it makes the correct sound when played​

academic - adj. of or relating to schools and education​

neurological - adj. of or relating to the scientific study of the nervous system and the diseases that affect it​

scene - n. a part of a play, movie, story, etc., in which a particular action or activity occurs​

fascinating - adj. very interesting or appealing​

original - adj. not like others : new, different, and appealing​

undernourished - adj. not getting enough food or not getting enough healthy food for good health and growth

resonant - adj. strongly affecting someone especially with a particular quality​

festival - n. an organized series of performances

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