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DVD Review: From Silence To Sound

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From Silence To Sound tells the story of Justin, a young man from Oklahoma who, from birth, has coped with advanced hearing loss. Through interviews with both Justin and his family, we learn of his difficulties growing up – at home with both sets of his separated parents, as well as the impact his lack of hearing has taken on him, both personally and professionally. Justin, however, is fortunate to have his insurance cover surgery for a double cochlear implant, which he elects to take. Although still widely untested, the surgery will offer Justin his best and perhaps only chance of recovering some auditory ability. From Silence To Sound details out his desire for the surgery and the post-operation therapy that eventually renders it a success.

Although the film is meant to play on your emotions of "one man overcoming the odds", it's undercut by a few things that place it more in the category of typical sentimentalism than truly inspirational. First, the film deals almost exclusively in reflective interviews after the operation. There is footage towards the end of Justin just after the surgery and as he goes through tests and adjustments to train his implants to transmit signals correctly to his brain. But other than that, family members and doctors are simply recounting the difficulties that Justin faced before the surgery and how he would be aided by a successful operation. Although this content is touching and helps you connect with his plight, it leaves a positive outcome as a foregone conclusion, and diminishes any suspense to the tale as an actual story.

Second, and perhaps more striking, Justin is never at any kind of crossroads with electing for the surgery. With basically no available hearing, his decision to get the surgery doesn't carry the same risk as it would for someone with just minimal hearing. As explained in the film, if a cochlear implant isn't successful, then it can damage and perhaps wipe out what little hearing there was to begin with. So someone with trace levels of hearing would have to calculate the risk. Justin, although he could obviously greatly benefit from a successful implant, seems to have a no-brainer decision to make, as his hearing is already near zero. If the surgery fails, he in effect is no worse off than he was. And if it succeeds, then it's an obvious gain.

The greater impact of the film lies more in its educational emphasis. A cochlear implant – and especially a double for both ears – is still a relatively new procedure. Justin is the first in the state of Oklahoma to receive the operation, but there are still few patients who have gone before him. The film is careful to explain not only how we hear on a basic level, and how it can become damaged, but also how this surgery works to circumvent that damage. Both the medical explanations for Justin's hearing loss and the post-operation therapy exercises help to illuminate the mechanics of hearing that are often taken for granted.

On a technical level, the film comes across as low budget. Although not uncommon for documentaries, this one doesn't rise above its limitations with creativity. Fixed interview shots are competent but vanilla, and the editing is functionally minimal. Even its standard-definition film quality is low grade with artifacting and lack of crispness. It's not distracting, but neither is it anything better than that. At roughly 48 minutes, it also isn't long, however this feels like the right amount of time for the subject. The pace is efficient without feeling rushed or, otherwise, drawn out. But that also makes it feel a bit less than feature-length, which is something to keep in mind when considering this as a purchase.

In short, the film is not bad, but its striving to be a dramatic tale falls flat. The outcome is telegraphed from the beginning, the camera work and editing are rudimentary, and the disc itself is short on actual content. What is does do well is explain the background of hearing loss and how medical advancements are coming together to offer solutions to elect candidates. For those interested in the topic, this could be a good rental.

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About David R Perry