Peter Sarsgaard Tunes Houses In ‘The Sound Of Silence,’ A Love Story For People Who Love NPR


Before The Sound of Silence began, the Sundance festival programmer who introduced it called it “lyrical,” “reflective,” “philosophical” and “boldly quiet.” Immediately I thought to myself “oh no.” Those descriptors all tend to be film festival-ese for “it’s dry but give it a chance,” which isn’t necessarily the first thing you want to hear before a movie.

The Sound Of Silence lived up to its pre-apology. Michael Tyburski’s film, adapted from the short Palimpsest, by Ben Nabors, is a clever, proudly “small” film, a peculiar little story about a “house tuner” named Peter played by Peter Sarsgaard, a music theorist who visits people’s houses and fiddles with their appliances to create a soundscape to optimize their well-being. “I see the problem, your toaster is producing a C flat,” he’ll tell a bemused homeowner, smiling gently as he wraps a radiator joint in lead tape.

It’s scholarly to the point that it’s bloodless, a dowdy tweed jacket of a film.

One of his early clients is a recently separated woman played by Rashida Jones, who seems to have a problem Peter can’t quite lick. So he keeps coming back, trying different things, going to see her work environment. Eventually, we come to realize that she’s the love interest of sorts, more through proximity and process of elimination than chemistry. What else would she be doing in this story? They display affection mostly through the frequency with which they engage in philosophical conversations. He believes the sounds around us shape our feelings. She believes life is all about the choices we make, humans with free will, and environment is only the backdrop.

Yes, I believe I heard an NPR podcast about this, a debate over the existence of free will. Just as the Vikings imagined heaven as an endless series of battles and feasts, it seems there’s a certain brand of NPR listener that imagines the perfect relationship as an extended panel discussion. This is a movie for those people.

Sarsgaard meets with a smiling capitalist one day who has read about Sarsgaard’s work in the New Yorker and says he wants to work with him on ventures to sell “bespoke home environments.” Sarsgaard is moderately horrified, and the idea itself and at the prospect of training consultants to do his work over video chat for customers all over the world. He tells the man his work is “about constancy, not commerce.” This is also the last time anyone in the film references a world beyond New York.

It’s an intriguing premise, lyrical and with an artfully crafted soundscape. Jones and Sarsgaard share stimulating discussions in which they share neither verbal chemistry nor physical touch, and by and large the film seems to be populated by characters who frown slightly when they hear a swear and sleep with v neck sweaters on. It’s dry but not bad if you give it a chance.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can find his archive of reviews here