‘CODA’ Characters, Explained: The Beauty Of Silent Love

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At the very core of Sian Heder’s coming-of-age drama film “CODA” is its beautifully written characters, which have been performed even better to make it a truly heartwarming affair. As the title suggests, Ruby Rossi is a child of deaf parents (shortly termed CODA) and is the only hearing and speaking member of her family, consisting of her parents and an elder brother. The film charts Ruby as she struggles to keep up with helping her fishing family in their trade, as well as pursue her own dreams and interests in singing.

“CODA” undoubtedly spins a charm of sweet thoughts around the viewer, all while drawing attention towards Deaf culture and the differences that the aurally challenged community faces amidst a society structured around hearing people.


Ruby Rossi: The Odd One Out In The Family

The earliest and longest struggle in Ruby’s life is that she was born with hearing abilities into a deaf household—her parents and brother can neither hear nor speak. Ruby recalls the hardships that she faced during her initial days in school, as she was bullied for “speaking funny,” which is very understandable as she was the only talking member of the house. These scarring memories haunt her till the present, as she still feels discomfort and anxiety around people. When Ruby first joins the choir class of Bernardo Villalobos, endearingly called “Mr. V” by his students, their first test is to sing “happy birthday” for the teacher to decide which part of the choir they would form; and Ruby fails to sing out, for she is scared of singing in front of the others. But nonetheless, she feels enough love and affection towards her family to make it one of her primary jobs to help them out as an interpreter.

Ruby’s father, Frank, and brother Leo, run the family business of going out to fish and selling it to the company they work for. Ruby is equally involved with the running, as she accompanies them on the boat, helping them with radio calls and ship horns, and also partakes in the selling process, as she had noticed that hearing people often try to cheat her brother and father.

Despite being ready to continue with the family business full-time after high school, Ruby is unable to be happy being restricted to this small and particular role and identity. The most refreshing side of her character is her wish to dream, to want to get out of the small circle of comfort that is her family and her city, Gloucester. Although she was born and raised in a silent family, Ruby’s real passion is singing, and she does sing very well. When having to choose an additional class in school, she impulsively chooses choir, seeing her crush Miles do the same, but her passion has always been for expressing herself through her voice. But Ruby first understands the true potential of her voice and singing when Mr. V suggests that she try applying to Berklee College of Music after high school and offers to personally train her for it. She realizes that there might actually be a chance for her to leave, to create an identity of her own, and despite being apprehensive at first, she decides to give it a chance.

Ruby’s dreams are not lofty or fantastical, though. What makes her character even more relatable and lovable is how grounded her ambitions are. Ruby clearly understands what her leaving might mean for her family, as she constantly tries to protect them from prejudice, harsh and demeaning comments, and also from legal and monetary troubles. She often catches the fishing company buyers offering lower rates to her brother because he cannot hear the price that is being paid to other fishermen. When Ruby finally experiences a day completely to herself, accompanied only by her beloved Miles, she does so by not going out to fish with her family. On that very day, the Coast Guards stopped Frank and Leo and imposed heavy fines on them because they had nobody onboard to recognize radio calls and guard commands. Although Ruby vehemently argues against the blame being put on her, perhaps deep down she feels her mistake—she offers to even turn down her musical pursuits and settle into the fishing business for now.

It is also implied that Ruby feels a certain bit of discomfort, almost guilt, about the fact that she is a hearing person born to deaf parents. On top of that, her passion is singing—a practice that her parents or brother can have no idea or understanding of. She realizes the true depth of this when her father requests her to sing her song for him after the choir recital at school. Ruby starts to realize why her parents had been discouraging her from singing, saying that she might not be good enough, and since this moment, she makes it a point to try and include her family even more. When she sings at the audition at Berklee and notices that her family has sneaked into the hall, Ruby uses sign language to describe the entire song to them. Earlier, she had directly asked her mother whether they had hated her for being able to hear after being born, and at this moment she truly feels one with them, not just looking for acceptance but trying to weave them into her passion and interest.


Gerty, Miles And Mr. V: Friends To Be Proud Of

The supporting characters play equally important roles, although much shorter ones, in the film’s narrative. Gerty is Ruby’s oldest and closest friend, and she has no inhibitions against the Rossis whatsoever. It is felt that Gerty has stood by the family from her very young age and continues to support her friend till the very end—she is in fact the one to drive Ruby to Boston when she is selected for the music college at the end, and she also starts dating Leo. Miles is a shy and introvert boy who seems interested in Ruby but is too awkward to ask her out. Their bond begins to take shape when they are asked to prepare a duet for the choir recital, but it takes a very bumpy turn soon.

As Ruby invites Miles for practice at her house, they are interrupted by the loud noises of her parents having sex. Miles mistakenly shares this with a friend, and that leads to the entire school making fun of Ruby in public. However, since Miles presents his sincere apology, the two only grow closer, going on swims together and promising to see each other in Boston, with Miles learning sign language. Ruby’s music teacher, Mr. V, comes as arguably the biggest support in her life, as he is the one to continuously encourage her to pursue her ambitions in music. Mr. V trains Ruby for the audition at his own house and even helps her during the audition by playing on the piano and, in a way, leading her towards correct notes. His character comes off as the ideal teacher, one who cherishes the success of his students and aims to always guide them on the right path.


Frank, Jackie And Leo: The Coolest Family In Town 

Despite Ruby’s slight sense of unease and sympathy with her family, the Rossis have no inhibitions whatsoever about their condition. Representatives of the Deaf culture, Frank and Jackie really seem to accept their condition as a different way of life. Neither of them is fazed by the taunts and mockeries of the people around them, but they do somewhat feel left alone, especially Jackie, amidst the other fishermen’s wives. Frank has his own way of dealing with such instances. He is quick to smoke up a blunt and even quicker to call it medicinal.

Also, in an unusually fresh manner, the characters of Frank and Jackie are extremely sexually active; they don’t care about their age, nor about their condition, and find happiness in appreciating true love and physicality. As individuals, they find comfort in each other and in their family, and are not too keen on going out into the world. This is where there is a slight clash of ideas between them and Ruby, for they initially fail to comprehend why she needs to go out of their comfortable space and then to realize how much potential their daughter holds in singing. It is when Frank sees the reception that Ruby and Miles receive at the chorus recital that he first feels the paternal responsibility of trying to understand his child’s interests and talents. He does not shy away from asking Ruby to sing for him again, and then is very quick to overturn the family’s decision to have Ruby stay in the fishing business and instead drives her to the audition in Boston.

Leo is still a bit inhibited, perhaps because of his young age, he still wants to fit into the world of hearing people. When he first goes out to a bar with the other men from the fishing company, he realizes the difference that is sadly a part of him, but Leo does not let that get in the way of other feelings. He is easily angered by the drunk man spilling drinks on him and then being abusive, and he is very quick and effective in responding with his fist. Leo also expresses his conflicted ego when Ruby decides to cancel her plans for music college and is about to stay back in Gloucester—he feels that her staying back will inexplicably mean his inability to blend in with the hearing world. It is not that Leo is only driven by such a selfish reason, though; he expresses his sister’s potential in singing (as he has learned from Gerty) numerous times to their parents, and he wants her to seriously pursue music. By the end, it is, of course, with her family and her own self that Ruby connects even more, and the film ultimately becomes about her journey to understand her family.

One of the main elements that makes “CODA” such a nice film to watch is that each of the characters is flawed in their own way. None of them show any divine piousness, claiming to be above everyone else, as often happens in light-hearted coming-of-age dramas. Each of the characters has their own drawbacks, and each of them is even slow in accepting them. All of this takes the film to an even more relatable scale, which makes it such a touching experience.


See More: ‘CODA’ Ending, Explained – Did Ruby Get Selected for Berklee?


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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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