CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) won all three Oscars for which it was nominated, including this year’s best picture race. A simple story, simply told; but one so appropriate for our times. If you haven’t seen it, definitely add it to your list.
Ruby Rossi, played by Emilia Jones in an Oscar-worthy performance, is a high-school senior in a Massachusetts fishing town. Ruby is much like any other senior, except for a couple of things that make her unique. She is the youngest in a family of four, and the other three family members are deaf.
Her father, Frank, is played by Troy Kotsur, this year’s supporting actor winner. Frank is a lifelong fisherman and owns a trawler. He is madly in love with Ruby’s mother, Jackie, played by Marlee Matlin, and, importantly, “they can’t keep their hands off each other.” (Thirty-five years ago, Matlin became the first deaf actor to win an Oscar.)
Daniel Durant plays Leo, Ruby’s very protective older brother. All four family members wake up each morning at 3 am and bring in a haul of fish for market, before Ruby gets on her bicycle to go to school.
As the only hearing person in her family, Ruby is often called on to help her family communicate with the outside world. In one hilarious scene, she has to mediate between her parents and their doctor when they have to discuss a certain problem they are both having with their private parts. In other meetings, she must stand up for her family’s fishing business in a roomful of people who are clearly not her equals and who don’t view her parents as their equals either! The responsibility that falls on Ruby for her family is huge, and not typical for someone her age.
There is one other difference between Ruby and other kids her age—she can sing. This is established early in the movie when she sings on the trawler, though neither her brother nor father has the faintest idea what she is singing or what it sounds like. In a delightful series of encounters, her talents are finally recognized by the high school choir instructor, played by Eugenio Derbez. He convinces her that she can sing very well indeed, and encourages her to apply to a prestigious music college in Boston.
Ruby must now choose between two futures. In one future, she remains a much-needed interpreter for her family, helping them interface with the outside world. In the other, she has the opportunity to follow her dream and allow the blooming of her own budding talents: the real promise of making it on her own.
CODA is tied with Dune for second place among all 28 mainstream Oscar films in audience ratings. Perhaps what makes this film resonate so much with audiences is the essential conflict in this story shared by all of us, despite the setting in a deaf family. That conflict is the eternal one between the expectations and norms of the various groups that we as people belong to, and the fundamental need for self-expression, to become one’s own person.
Ruby, as the only hearing person in a deaf family, plays a very important role. But if she is to become her own self, she can’t continue to play that role of communication liaison forever. Ruby’s family must come to this understanding, and release Ruby from their lives. Especially poignant is that Ruby’s dream is based upon something the family cannot possibly understand. They cannot appreciate Ruby’s singing talent because they can’t hear it. If they really love her, they must let her go—for something totally beyond their comprehension.
“Go!” is a command used at least three times in this film. Each time it is in a different context, but it always retains a special meaning. It is not used in a negative way to indicate contempt or anger, but rather, especially towards the end, as an expression of love and of the desire to see someone become their own person. When you get an opportunity “go” see CODA! (4.5 STARS)
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