How can someone understand a melody when they can’t even hear it at all? How can someone comprehend a dream which they fail to decipher? “CODA” (a child of deaf adults) spotlights the life of a teenage girl while exploring these questions through her moving and inspiring journey.
Based on the 2014 French film “La Famille Bélier,” “CODA” follows the life of Ruby Rossi. She is the only girl with proper hearing abilities in a family of deaf adults. Ruby is their support system and their medium of communication with the “hearing people.” But Ruby has her own dreams, and when dreams conflict with responsibilities, it is harder to judge which one is important and which is not. The conflict troubles Ruby, who is just a teenager with her own set of doubts and problems.
Director Sian Heder knits an emotional yet amusing journey that will take viewers through a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
‘CODA’ Plot Summary
Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) lives with her family: father Frank (Troy Kotsur), mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant) in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She is the only hearing member in her family of culturally deaf adults and thus aids her father and older brother in their fishing business. She also interprets the sign language of her family so that they can communicate with the world through her spoken words.
Due to her cultural upbringing, Ruby talked like a deaf person, which made her a laughing stock in school. The insensitive jokes became a reason for Ruby’s anxieties, who started hating school after constant attacks. Ruby decides to leave her studies after finishing high school and join the family business thereon. In her end year, she joins the school choir and meets the music teacher Mr. Bernardo Villalobos, who recognizes Ruby’s melodious voice and urges her to pursue her gift.
In the meantime, as the family struggles to make ends meet, the authorities impose new fees and sanctions. Rebellious Frank, revolting against the local board, decides to start his own company to sell fish directly to the customers without the board’s interference. A new decision brings new challenges in the life of the Rossi family. However, the fatal one among them is Ruby’s decision to audition for Berklee College of Music in Boston. The dreams demand her to leave Gloucester and her family behind. Is Ruby or the deaf family ready for such a sacrifice, especially when they can’t even hear how beautifully their daughter can sing?
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘CODA’ Ending Explained
When Ruby shared her dream, the idea of leaving the family was not well-entertained by Frank and Jackie. The communication ended up in an argument that irritated Ruby. She didn’t join Frank and Leo for the fishing expedition the following day. For all unfortunate reasons, a sea monitor sprang up on the same day. Joanne, the sea monitor who had no idea about Frank and Leo’s disability, panicked and tipped off the coast guards. The federation canceled their license and imposed a hefty fine. Frank pleaded (through Ruby) that they would only be able to pay off the debts if they would allow them to fish. The federation agreed under the condition that they would have a hearing individual on board at all times.
Ruby understood that her family couldn’t afford a deckhand and thus decided to postpone her dream for her family. However, Leo got vexed because Ruby’s best friend and Leo’s girlfriend, Gertie (Amy Forsyth), had already told him about Ruby’s gift. But Ruby couldn’t leave her family, not when they needed her.
At the annual fall concert, Ruby performed gracefully, but it was all a dead silence for her parents. They discussed groceries while Ruby sang. Director Sian Heder designed a striking silent sequence from the parent’s point of view that suggested their alienation from Ruby’s talent or dream. However, the void was quickly filled in an emotionally transforming scene, when Frank puts his hand on Ruby’s neck while she sings a song for him. Frank might not hear, but he could at least feel the vibrations stirred by Ruby’s voice. The intensity of emotions bridged the gap of disability as Frank understood what singing meant for his daughter.
The next day, Frank and the family escorted Ruby to Boston, who gave an energetic audition for Berklee College of Music. The soul-stirring performance could make even the strongest man weep like a kid he once had been. Ruby not only gave voice to the words but also interpreted the lyrics for her family, who discreetly attended the audition.
In the end of “CODA,” the family followed Ruby’s advice and shed their cynical attitude. They tried to befriend the “hearing people” of the community and accepted them as a part of their life. The Rossi Family didn’t need Ruby anymore to communicate for them and thus accepted her departure, even before the audition result came out. Thankfully, Ruby got accepted for Berklee College of Music and ventured on towards the new chapter of her life. However, a part of her will always stay in Gloucester, treasured by her parents and her lover, Miles.
The family against a teenager’s dream is a constant exploration in coming-of-age movies. However, what sets “CODA” apart is the indescribable raw innocence that aids the drama. The stakes are not just external but equally internal and thus demands its characters to transform emotionally and psychologically.
Special mention for the climax audition scene, which has set its own league. The sequence holds an unexplainable power to stimulate emotions which still remains a core part of Cinematic Storytelling.
“CODA” (child of deaf adults) is a 2021 drama film written and directed by Sian Heder. It is an English language remake of the 2014 French film “La Famille Bélier” directed by Éric Lartigau.