SOUND AND FURYNR
For more than a decade, since doctors began human trials on cochlear implants-electronic devices which allow the deaf to hear-debates on the benefits of becoming 'hearing' have divided the deaf community. Those who view themselves as part of a 'deaf culture,' and believe that deafness is not a disability, are opposed to the implants. Others who have embraced the innovation and endured painful implantation surgery are often ostracized by deaf friends and family. In Sound and Fury, director Josh Aronson follows the Artinian family, a microcosm of the international controversy over cochlear implants, as they confront decisions about whether or not to implant four-year-old Heather and a newborn boy.
The family consists of brothers Peter and Chris, the children of hearing parents, their wives and children, and two sets of grandparents. Peter is deaf and Chris is hearing. Heather, who asks for an implant, is the child of Peter and his wife Nita; they have two other children who are deaf, and the couple are strong advocates of deaf culture. Peter is against implanting Heather, and in the end so is Nita. Chris' wife Mari was born to deaf parents, and Mari signs, but when their newborn is diagnosed as deaf, there is little hesitation-they want to know whether the cochlear implant will make their son hear. Mari's parents are horrified, while Chris' parents are delighted. Aronson, who followed the family around for a year, does a good job of catching key family discussions and interactions, especially between Heather and her mother.
Hearing audiences will be convinced that Peter and Nita are reactionaries holding onto a culture that will soon disappear because of the advent of cochlear implants. Clinging to the idea that Heather and their other children do not need to participate in a hearing world, the couple move to Maryland so that the children can attend a school where they will learn to sign and to participate in deaf culture. The hearing grandparents, who have gone so far as to say that their son and daughter-in-law are abusive in their decision to deny Heather the implant, are devastated by the couple's decision to immerse their grandchildren in a deaf environment. Chris and Mari, on the other hand, put their 18-month-old infant through a difficult surgery-the implants require cutting through the skull-and through an equally difficult process of adjustment. Although the couple is torn by the arguments between them and Mari's deaf parents, they stand firmly by their decision not to 'limit' their son.
While Aronson gets that close-up, emotionally wrenching type of film you can make when you follow a family around for a year, what Sound and Fury lacks is objective information on the cochlear implant itself. For viewers who know nothing about the implants, Aronson includes the family's discussions with consultants and a few bloody shots of implantation surgery, which are rather provocative and don't explain anything. The film isn't for audiences accustomed to absorbing information through talking-head documentaries.
At the end of the film, no hearing person in the audience would deny Heather the cochlear implant she clearly desires, but Peter and Nita do. Many parents deny their children opportunities that would allow them to transcend the socio-economic, religious or cultural boundaries they grew up with which plant them firmly in one community or another. Parents do that either out of genuine fear that their children will be outcasts, or out of the morally unjustified fear that their children will be lost to their authority and influence. Peter and Nita, who suffered terribly in the hearing world, think that even with a cochlear implant, Heather will be viewed as 'disabled' by the hearing. However, in one brief but telling scene between Heather and her mother, it's clear Nita fears Heather will surpass her.
Sound and Fury isn't the last word on the controversy, but it puts things in human terms. It allows the hearing audience to understand Peter's passionate arguments for maintaining deaf culture and his mother Marion's equally compelling arguments for giving Heather an implant. In the process, it raises the thorny issues of parental control and the rights of a child, and highlights yet another aspect of the archetypal struggle of minority cultures for survival and acceptance.