When it comes to the human mind, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy. And somehow, when we try to communicate and fully live, we are often as limited as unbound by words, words, words.
Up and coming neurologist Michael (Teddy Sears) discovers this when called to a remote island off the coast of Maine. He’s been called by his old mentor, Lionel (Harris Yulin), to help protect Lionel’s granddaughter Liv (Catherine Eaton) — a luminescent young woman who has been mute all her life, apparently by choice.
You can be forgiven for suspecting that The Sounding might be the set-up for a horror film, but writer/director/star Eaton has something much different in mind — an examination of the spirited, and through that, a celebration of some of the greatest poetry in the English language.
There’s a relaxed pace to the first half of the film as Eaton establishes the characters and their idyllic setting. Lionel is a man running out of time, yet savoring every moment he has left. He fears what will happen to Liv when he’s gone, but bringing Michael in doesn’t seem like the solution he’d hoped. The brash younger man has a difficult time adjusting to the rhythms of this lifestyle, and unable to accept that maybe he isn’t there to save anyone.
And Liv? She seems wiser in her silence, and more in control of herself, than either man is willing to admit to themselves. But the drama turns when Lionel succumbs and Liv finally speaks — using only dialogue from Shakespeare.
It shifts the tone and the energy. Fascinating as a characterization, and deftly handled by Eaton, Liv’s Shakespearean verbalizations are dramatically appropriate, bordering on the manic and forcing a conflict. What starts as an elegaic film occasionally veers into melodrama, yet Eaton holds it together — proving how light, nimble, and outright spot-on Shakespeare’s words can actually be for almost any situation.
How could Sears hold up in the face of such a roaring storm of life energy, full of sound and fury? It’s a deceptively difficult role, requiring the ability to radiate well-meaning decency. Let’s face it; Eaton is going to get all the best lines, but somebody has to be able to consistently reflect energy back to her. Sears has a sensitivity to his persona that serves him well, a leading man who can hold steady and not disappear in the face of Liv’s forcefulness.
Along that path, it might have been nice for more focus on Yulin’s role — the inspiration for Liv’s love of Shakespeare, played by an actor who has been a master of the craft for decades. He’s one of those actors who built a steady career of being solid in everything he’s in, and Eaton has given him a moving role, even if it’s out too briefly.
The Sounding has its flaws; some of its turns feel arbitrary to get to satisfying set pieces. There’s a sense that Eaton wanted to create more of a mystery than she actually has. But when the film clicks, it burns brightly, and when it just meanders to let us feel life, it’s beautiful.
Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at the Hammer Theater in San Jose
Sunday, March 5 at 4:15 p.m. at the Hammer Theater in San Jose
Tuesday, March 7 at 9:10 p.m. at the Century 20 (Screen 3) in Redwood City
Friday, March 10 at 2:15 p.m. at the Century 20 (Screen 10) in Redwood City