Coda | Film Review | Spirituality & Practice

It is important that we sing. . . . Singing frees the soul, makes us flexible and helps us to rise and expand. Singing lets the sun in, warms our lives and inspires our spirits.
– In the winter afternoon

Ruby (Emilia Jones) is a fresh faced 17-year-old who lives near the Gloucester, Massachusetts waterfront. While her mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin) takes care of the household, she works with her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and her older brother Leo (Daniel Durant) on the family’s fishing boat. Ruby is a CODA – child of deaf parents – and her brother is also deaf. As the only hearing person in the family, she is your interpreter and mediator with the world. Now she’s a high school graduate and has been doing this all her life.

Sometimes Ruby is so exhausted she falls asleep on her desk at school and is often ridiculed by her suburban classmates. Eventually she gets up enough courage to show up for choir lessons, but when asked to sing to determine which department she belongs in, she flees the room. She returns the next day and impresses the music teacher Mr. V. (Eugenio Derbex) with her singing. Soon she is enjoying being in the choir. She is happy that Mr. V. asks her to sing a duet with Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) at her concert.

Zeal is the inner fire of your soul that pushes you towards your goal.
– Charles Fillmore

Coda is an emotional coming-of-age drama directed by Sian Heder based on the 2014 French film La Famille Belier. Heder does a commendable job of portraying both what is unique and what is universal about Ruby’s situation. When the family decides to try a new approach to making their fishing business profitable, they need Ruby to help them communicate and set up. Still, she would like to go to music school. Their numbness complicates the situation but does not fully define it. Viewers will recognize universal elements of family life here – deep love, sibling rivalry, the parents’ desire to hold on, the child’s need to free themselves.

A feel-good film with some lows and many highs. You will find yourself cheering on all the characters, a rare feat from the writers, directors and actors. And you will recognize and celebrate Ruby’s realization that singing inspires your spirit and frees the soul so that it can truly ascend.

Ruby's family supports her at the choir concert.

Go deeper

A tilt of the ear

If Coda has moved you emotionally, we have the book for you. It explores the soulful depths of music: The Musical Life: Reflections on What It Is and How To Live It by WA Mathieu. Being musical has nothing to do with playing an instrument or singing a melody, he says. It is “a way of perception, an angle of perception, an inclination of the ear”.

Another amphibious film

Children of A Lesser God is an amphibious film that introduces us to the world of the deaf and then moves into universality with equal grace as it explores the challenges we all face in love relationships. We learn that true community must not come at the expense of a deep respect for the precious individuality of the other.

Accelerated redirection

Sound of Medal offers a touching portrait of a heavy metal drummer’s spiritual journey into deafness. The result is a meditation on the intricate balancing acts inherent in every human experience. We are transported into a world in which community grows out of silence.

Both sides of the deafness

Immortal Geloved was written and staged by Bernard Rose with a heightened sensitivity for the flashes of inspiration and flights of fantasy in Beethoven’s inimitable creations. Gary Oldman is an effective portrayal of the composer’s physical suffering frustrated and cut him off from others. At the same time, his deafness served as a seedbed for some of his most moving passages.

The best things in the world need to be felt in the heart

Helen Keller (1880-1968), who was deaf and blind, worked for the American Foundation for the Blind for 44 years and traveled the world to bring new hope to people with disabilities. She exemplified the spiritual practice of zeal, which means to be truly alive in the truest sense of the word. Ruby in Coda would surely identify with these words from Keller. May they be a guide for you too:

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they have to be felt in the heart.”

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