‘The Sounding’ makes a loud case for freedom, individuality

“This above all; to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” - William Shakespeare
Posted:  Friday, January 12, 2018 - 7:00pm

Story Location:
185 Townsend Avenue
Boothbay Harbor  Maine  04538
United States

Not only does Catherine Eaton direct and star in “The Sounding,” she also co-wrote the brilliant script with Bryan Delaney. To speak or not to speak … that is a question. And, if one chooses to speak in a language of their own making, should they be forced to change, to become “normal?” Shouldn’t those of us who live our own normal be accepted? These are some of the questions raised in a film that will not disappoint. It is, in short,a masterpiece.

Eaton portrays Olivia “Liv” Williams, who at an unspecified age in her youth stopped speaking. Her grandfather, Lionel (Harris Yulin), a neurologist, brings her to his home on Monhegan Island and raises her there. Lionel conducts every test he knows of to determine why, but no organic reason for her silence is found. It is simply her choice.

On Monhegan Liv if free to be herself, surrounded by her loving grandfather, their friends and neighbors she is protected from the outside world and those who would not accept her choices. Liv is an avid reader, particularly of the classics, and identifies with Shakespeare’s works, in fact, she knows most of the Bard’s works by heart. As Lionel says in the film, “All of life is found in the Shakespeare.”

When we first meet Liv at the opening of the film, she is seated near a cliff looking out at a spectacular view from Monhegan of the ocean. Liv has been reading from a book of Shakespeare’s complete works and is tearing a page is from it to attach to a tree. As the camera moves through the wood, we see pages on many trees. As most of us know, to be on Monhegan is to feel a freedom, a separation from the “real world” - it is a magical place. Idyllic even.

Unbeknownst to Liv, her grandfather is terminally ill and has invited his best friend’s son, and former protégé, Michael (Teddy Sears) to Monhegan. For Lionel, this isn’t just a “let’s catch up” visit; he needs to find someone to protect Liv after he is gone, to advocate for her and her choices.

Michael is mystified by Liv’s mute responses to his questions when he initially tries to engage her in a conversation. After Lionel’s full disclosure of the situation, Michael, also a neurologist, questions whether Lionel did enough testing. Lionel assures him he did. But, Michael believes there is something else at the root of it. Why else would this highly intelligent (discovered through testing) woman refuse to speak?

A few nights later, after a party, Lionel is reading Shakespeare to Liv, but with great difficulty – repeatedly coughing, his voice is rough and failing, Lionel finally tells Liv he cannot read anymore. She takes the book from him, and begins reading, slowly, aloud, to him. This reading morphs into a Shakespearean influenced language of her own creation. What a gift. That evening, however, Lionel dies. And, Michael who happened by the room they were in heard her reading ...

The next day Liv leaves the house, taking her grief to her favorite spot on the rocks near the ocean. And stays there for three days and nights. Meanwhile, Roland (Frankie Faison), a close family friend and Lionel’s attorney, Michael, and others on the island have begun a search for Liv. When she is found, it is by some lobstermen who come upon her body floating in the water. Liv had decided to swim out to sea. After she is brought back home, Michael decides she needs psychiatric care and makes a call to a close friend and fellow neurologist/psychologist to have her committed to a facility in Portland. This action is wholeheartedly not supported by Liv’s friends on the island including Roland. Michael may have gotten her into a facility as he has wanted to do from the get-go, but Roland issues a restraining order against Michael prohibiting him from treating Liv. Or, even seeing her.

From this point on, when Liv speaks, it is only in her original Shakespearean-based language. She meets the doctor’s attempts to talk about her “condition” and possible treatment with contempt. Liv is actually quite terrified and angry, as any of us would be, and those feelings manifest physically into what the mental health professionals deem rebellious behavior. Liv’s journey in the mental institution is gripping and traumatic. As her condition deteriorates, Michael, who has been getting updates from a neurologist friend at the hospital, and conducting research on the outside, fears Liv will end up spending the rest of her life there on medication.

In a desperate attempt to change the course Liv is on (thanks to him), Michael convinces his friend at the facility to sneak him in. One of the most powerful scenes in the film occurs during Michael’s “illegal” visit. During a heated argument with Liv, he speaks to her in the way she understands: through the words of Shakespeare.

Eaton, a Broadway, movie and television actress and producer, delivers a performance that is moving, honest, compelling, mesmerizing. Sears, as Liv’s foe, is perfectly cast, digging deep within to bring Michael to life with passion and sincerity.

The entire cast of “The Sounding” is as brilliant as the screenplay itself. This film opened the 2017 Maine International Film Festival and won the Audience Choice Best Film award. “The Sounding” has won numerous film festival awards nationwide since it premiered in early March of 2017.

Siddhartha Khosla’s musical score and David Kruta’s cinematography complement the film beautifully. “The Sounding” is one of the best movies I’ve seen. Don’t miss your opportunity! The Harbor Theater will screen the film on Thursday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m., but get to the theater before 6:30 when Maine Film Center directors Mike Perrault and Ken Eisen will present an introduction to the film followed by a Q&A segment. “The Sounding” will be shown again on Friday, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m. (just the film).