Director and co-writer Michael Tyburski’s The Sound of Silence is, fittingly enough, a quiet film. In telling the story of a room tuner — a man who solves his clients’ problems by identifying dissonant sounds in their living spaces, say, a refrigerator hum at G that clashes with the E flat buzz of a toaster — it does not proclaim its message or declaim its methods. Even its most impassioned moments avoid the raised voice and, with one sad and telling exception, the dramatic gesture. Or perhaps “muted” is a better word, given the emotions that roil beneath lead Peter Sarsgaard’s strained expression, and the film’s shadowed palette of New York City’s grays and browns, (A tiny red tag on a map, pinned there to mark an anomaly, practically blares forth from the screen.) And its habit of silencing the city’s din so that this or that single thing may be heard. Or maybe even “muffled” — the viewer is asked to pay close attention, to catch after things that might easily be missed: a personal history suggested by a misheard question, the promise of a steady green light.
Or maybe the quiet is surprising instead of fitting, since the movie is all about sound. Sarsgaard plays Peter Lucian, a man whose success in helping people live better through sonic harmony is intriguing enough to merit a piece in The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town, but whose “passionate amateur” research into the larger implications of his work can’t catch the attention of the right people. The right people being the academic community, who can validate his search for “universal constants,” as opposed to grubby capitalists, who just want to package his genius and sell it to the masses. (Say this for grubby captitalists: they know a good thing when they see it.)
Lucian is a man with a theory, a pure soul desperate to extrapolate from what he knows is true to what it might imply, and if you’ve ever known such a man, you will appreciate the depth and clarity of Sarsgaard’s performance. And you will likely be grateful for the aforementioned anomaly, arriving in the person of an exhausted woman (Rashida Jones) who cares enough to challenge his conclusions without dismissing him outright — a tricky business, aided by a few thunderous booms.