Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Tribe: Seeing the World through Deaf Eyes

Do you hear that sound? That is what nothing sounds like. The funny thing about nothing is that, on this planet, it does not exist. Even the deaf hear, through their fingertips.

I spent about ten years in the deaf world. I was professionally an interpreter for the hearing impaired for that time. I attended their churches, went to their parties, attended their classes, visited deaf professors, went to their concerts (yes, they have concerts) and hung out with students. And in all that time there is one word that I would never describe the deaf world, which is silent. Every conversation is punctuated with guttural and popping sounds. Their lives are filled with loud music, because some hard of hearing folks can hear it, barely, and others can feel it. There are hearing aids making loud pitched noises that the owner is unaware of. There is always banging and loud pounding to get people's attention and because no one is going to complain about the noise.

So the idea that The Tribe is mostly silent is the opposite of what I expected. These deaf people are more like very active ghosts than real deaf folks, more reminiscent of the shadows in Vampyr I just saw. And I think it goes along with the point. At first, the decision to not translate the sign language I thought was to make a film directed toward the deaf. But I know ASL, and while the folks in the deaf school used a variant of ASL, it was mostly unknown to me. Only the deaf from the region of Europe they are in could make it all out. I got enough clues to know that most of the dialogue is conversation about what is just about to happen, so no one is missing more than nuances. And deaf folks couldn't get it anyway. Sometimes conversations are filmed from their backs, so no one could read the signs. It's all artfully done, but communication isn't the point.

In fact, it is the opposite of the point. What we have here is a form of Meek's Cutoff, where the hearing audience can understand for a couple hours what it is like to be deaf. There is a whole society around you and you can only make out clues as to what is going on, because no one is including you. And if you are not specifically thought of and spoken directly to, then events and motivations and intents are mysterious, until they are done and you had no idea what was happening. Even then, you might wonder, "why are they doing this" and only have clues as to the answer.

The deaf person's most common question to a hearing person is, "What did they say?", which is the very question the hearing person asks again and again in this movie, but knowing that they aren't going to get an answer, they just remain silent, mystified, and mostly bored until something exciting, which one could never anticipate, happened. It is a full turning of the tables.

But most hearing people wouldn't understand. They would just say, "That film was just annoying." Right on. You got it.

Still, it is a slow gangster flick. I agree with the point, and I get it. That doesn't mean I was entertained as much as I was enlightened.

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