CODA is a 2021 comedy drama movie directed and written by Sian Heder.
Emilia Jones is the leading actor of the movie who is playing the role of the only hearing person in a deaf family. The movie is a remake of 2014 French film named “La Famille Belier”. It has three deaf supporting actors, Troy Kutsor, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durrant who were the only deaf actors on the set. The movie revolves around a deaf family, mom-dad-son, where the daughter of the family is able to talk and hear. As the only hearing member of this family, she can sing and wants to enter a music school. Her family fish for living and she assists them to do the job. The movie’s major focus is on both abled and disabled people and beautifully portrays their lives. CODA is being noticed owing to its different look at disabled or deaf people in a pleasant way that we rarely see in other movies. Here in this movie, we aren’t facing some depressed and outcasted deaf people with gloomy atmosphere. Doing its best to signify one of the post-modern issues, it is successfully pictured and nominated for several awards such as the best motion picture drama and the best supporting actor for Kutsor as a deaf actor for the first time in the history. The significance of the movie is due to its depiction of marginalized people regarding disability studies.
The movie has a real setting, set in Gloucester, a harbor city where some people’s job is fishing and the main locations are the city, its harbor and wide sea with its beautiful jungle and nature. Most events occur at school, harbor, sea, Ruby and Mr. V.’s houses. The scenic realism and atmosphere are worth noting in this movie due to the people, their communications and concerns. I guess choosing this city is because of its liveliness where the spirit of life can be seen. The feeling that the set transforms is warmth, love, caring, letting go and future. The sea has a gift, not only does it brighten the spirit of people with calmness and peace, but it gives them their needs. The sea conveys the continuity and letting go of whatever is blocking your way. As school and Mr. V’s house concern about progress and future.
The second main point in the movie which is eye catching and I really enjoyed is the performances. Actors are incredible, specially the deaf ones. As we know one of the issues in the disability field is making movies and casting abled people instead of disabled ones. One of the positive points of the movie is casting deaf actors which could be so tough but they’ve done the best of themselves. Their interplay with other actors and the way they’re all matched is outstanding. All these three are real actors and have acted before, in fact one of them is a screen writer too. The leading actor, Ruby, is awesome having cooperation with these deaf actors. As she is a singer, she could make interesting singing scenes. Although she isn’t a star, her performance is so touching that you can put yourself in her shoes in some scenes and sympathize with her. The actor of Mr. V.’s character is a good choice as well. The face, body gestures and facial expressions all make us see him as a music teacher who pushes his students well. But the only supporting actor who I suppose could act better or the director could pick a famous or superior actor, is Miles’s. He didn’t have the spirit the role needed, sometimes his acting was discouraging. He wasn’t passionate enough in romantic scenes or didn’t present the life-likeness that Ruby did.
Talking about props in the movie, I can say musical instruments played a key role. The piano, the guitar and the hands-free are all integrated with music. The piano is a tool for the music teacher to create songs and meditate. The guitar is an instrument which makes Miles’s parents see their dream for him is fulfilled. He can present his emotion and interest through the guitar. But the most important instrumental props in the movie are hands-free and the boat. Hands-free helps Ruby listen to music, distract herself and be saved from the silent world of her house. The noise family members make because of their situation really annoys her, so hands-free makes her escape and be sunk in her own world where there is sound and words. The boat also is the family’s main prop by which they fish for living. It’s more a shelter or in the other words a support which signifies security for all members of the family. They meet their needs by the boat as their last resort.
One of the things that caught my eyes at the beginning of the movie was colorful costumes. Red and blue clothes show activation and peace. The clothes were rightly designed based on characters’ profession, needs and personalities. Fishermen had dirty and stinky labor clothes while teenagers were wearing casual, cozy and sport clothes, mostly shorts, jeans, shirts and T-shirts that make them feel more comfortable. And makeup was really natural in the movie which can signify the simplicity. Unlike other teenager movies with lots of teenage characters wearing heavy makeups or weird accessories, Ruby, her friends or even her mom had simple and nice makeups.
Using light is another important feature in the movie which makes it happy and pleasant. We don’t have dark scenes or shadows which represent gloomy and fearful atmosphere. We mostly see the light penetrating from the trees in the woods. Most scenes are filmed in the light, we rarely see dark scenes.
The camera angle suits the movie, we see that it doesn’t get close to the characters, in fact, there is no close-up. It always keeps distance to take the background and around of the actors. It doesn’t even have that much movement. It is more like an observer. When characters are jumping, riding a bike, sailing or singing, it stays aside and puts them in a regular rectangle frame, so it can give a delightful sense to the audience.
Plot of the movie is really integrative. It doesn’t jump into different topics. It knows its way, so it follows it. It has done well in telling the story, the opening and ending. The characterization and narration are thorough. Characters, their feelings and actions or reactions are shown perfectly. They are well scrutinized and no vague point is left in the movie. Although deaf characters are deaf, the convention of seeing depressed and abandoned disabled people is broken. They are socially active. However, they are deaf they communicate and even go to gatherings. They don’t exclude themselves from the society, waiting for others’ help. They even make fun of others. We know that disabled people can be capable of taking many actions, but the society and culture always think little of them.
Analyzing the characters, I can say Ruby is a helper who is tired of helping her parents and can’t stand their disability at some point. As a child born in a deaf family, she hasn’t been able to talk like others as she says, she talked “funny” and as an adult she’s been mocked for her family and fishing. She’s somehow condemned to tolerate and put up with her disabled family. In a society which disabled people are the “Other”, Ruby is the “Other” in her family. They are deaf, she isn’t. They can’t talk, she can. Her mother tries to change her mind about singing, claiming because they can’t hear, she’s going to sing, as if they were blind, she wanted to paint.
There is a dichotomy of deafness and music in the movie. Parents and a sibling who can’t hear and a girl who sings. They even go to her concert, sit there, get bored, talk about groceries, look at others to figure out what is happening and although they can’t hear anything, they join other families so they won’t be othered and marginalized.
Frank as Ruby’s father, acts like a normal father with no disability. He appears bold and a fighter in some scenes. Unlike his disability, he is capable of giving a speech and encouraging other fishermen to revolt. He does what a man without any hearing problem does. He drives a car, fishes, makes love with his wife, and supports his family. He is the only member of the family who understands Ruby’s talent and request. The scene he asks Ruby to sing for him is so touching, he feels the music.
Jackie, Ruby’s mom, questions Ruby’s ability and wished she would be deaf too. She is like most moms, always worried. She thinks Ruby mustn’t sing because they are deaf and she wants her to help the family. She is afraid of losing her baby child.
Leo, Ruby’s brother, is as gallant as Ruby. He wants to manage the business. His deafness doesn’t stop him from finding a girlfriend or being on social apps or even going to a bar which his father thinks they are a joke for the people there. He even fights for his right and ruins the innocent and shy image of a disabled person who can’t cry for his right.
Miles as Ruby’s boyfriend is the one with no voice. He is even following his parents dream and has no will. He’s one of the characters who could be developed in the film. We don’t find out that much about him except he has some family issues.
There are two appealing scenes in the movie; when all were sitting in the music hall and the camera got close to Frank, everything got silent. The point of view of the movie changed, we were officially deaf and disabled here. We couldn’t hear the song or people’s voice as Frank couldn’t. All was silence. We were able to see the life from a deaf person’s perspective for the first time in the movie. And also, the scene Ruby was auditioning and her family were sitting in the balcony, watching her was overwhelming. All of a sudden, she started using the sign language while singing. She wanted her family not to be marginalized in this scene. She showed her caring and passion.
Despite all good scenes and the moving plot, there was a cliché of being bullied and heart broken in the movie. The scene all were laughing at Ruby at school for her parents’ behavior reminded me of 2002 American movie “A Walk to Remember” which the girl was mocked by the boy friends and she stopped seeing him.
The final point is about the music and the songs. The choice of music; rap and pop, is in line with the past and new generations. The songs were cautiously chosen. The duet was a love song as it should be or Frank’s favorite music, rap, suits his character best.
As a conclusion, I like to end saying that although disabled people are always marginalized in the society and are also marginalized in fictions and movies or series- double marginalization- in this movie, Heder tries not to marginalize and “Other” them. Disabled characters of the film work, and make friends (as Leo uses Tinder to find a girlfriend and then makes friend with Ruby’s classmate). Nothing can confine them. Unlike the post-modern filming industry in Hollywood which is doing its best to make a culture and help marginalized groups like African American people, women or people of color, this movie has done a great job casting disabled actors and seeing them as a priority who are active enough and find their real position in the society. They prove themselves and compel the society to accept them as Leo in a scene says; “let them figure out how to deal with us” and it’s exactly what we see at the end of the movie, people welcome them in their community and find a way to deal with this family, so all we see at the end is happiness and laughing together. The movie presents a new perspective of disability and facing it.