Have you ever watched and enjoyed a movie, but by the time it ends, you’re not really sure what it was trying to accomplish?
That’s how I felt after watching The Sounding, the feature debut of its co-writer, director, and star, Catherine Eaton.
Eaton co-wrote the film with Bryan Delaney. It’s the first feature for both, but they had some pull, landing an admirable cast, up for the challenge of a story about a young woman named Liv (Eaton).
For all intents and purposes, Liv is an ordinary woman. But she has an extraordinary story — she hasn’t spoken a word in years with no discernable explanation.
Liv’s grandfather, Lionel (Harris Yulin), in ill health and concerned over his grandaughter’s future in light of his imminent passing, calls on the son of an old friend, a neuropsychologist named Michael (Teddy Sears), to help Liv when the time is right.
Lionel tries to clarify to Michael that he is not to treat Liv but only be there to help her adjust to life without him.
As the inevitable time nears with Michael’s probing conversations and interest in Liv, she utters her first words, reading to her grandfather when he can no longer do it for himself.
Despite the challenge that Michael accepted not to treat Liv as a patient, his tact begins to change when Lionel passes.
Sears plays Michael as a man fascinated with Liv for her ethereal nature as well as her condition and clearly has her best interests at heart. But he’s also torn between allowing her to live as she is and ensuring she’ll thrive.
As Liv grieves her grandfather’s death, the progress she made seems stunted, and a long swim to calm her leads to her unfortunate committal to psychiatric treatment when Michael fears for his life.
The bulk of the film follows Michael as he tries to understand Liv and crack her code. At the same time, Liv communicates through Shakespearan passages, dramatically and effortlessly speaking her mind without effectively getting her messages across.
Eaton and Delaney cleverly work The Bard’s words into the script.
Their use of some of his more well-known passages express Liv’s frustration and doubt that anyone has her best interests at heart, and they also willfully cut those working against her to the core, often without their knowledge.
It’s borderline silly at times and possibly as frustrating for the audience trying to keep up with Liv as Liv is to communicate. But it works.
Eaton is a solid performer, and her sparkling blue eyes command attention.
Through her portrayal, you hope Liv finds the happy medium of being who she is and without compromise and effectively communicating so that others don’t believe her to be psychologically challenged.
The Sounding is beautifully filmed, and the ethereal Liv is a fairylike presence on the rocky coasts of Maine, practically pirouetting through the woods.
The cinematography was reminiscent of the film The Sounding evoked, Nell, starring Jodie Foster, about a young woman who lived in the wild, forming her own language to communicate.
But any expectation that there would be a denouement similar to Nell fell flat. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but by the time the credits rolled, I was left scratching my head about the film’s message.
While the narrative was built around Michael and Liv working together to find her place in the world, it ended with the world putting them in their proper place instead. And maybe that’s the message.
We need to accept people as they are without changing them to fit societal norms. You’d think it would be a given in 2021, but somehow, it feels like we reach but never achieve that ideal.
When you’re still pondering a film long after it ends, it’s a success, and The Sounding gets under your skin. Give it a shot. You can find The Sounding on Amazon Prime.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.