Everyone surely remembers the viral video of the 29-year-old hearing her own voice, or the 8 month old baby hearing his mother for their first time. Combine just those two out of many viral videos along the same lines, and we have just over 32 million views.
Creators of the short film, This Is Normal, were inspired by such videos, and researched what people have said it was like both before and after the procedure. This Is Normal is the eye-opening and heartbreaking product of that. The film shows just how much it can affect the individual, and their relationships with people. (Source: Film Shortage)
The film stands at just over 19 minutes. I highly recommend watching it if you have the time. I think you'll find it's well worth it, and their clever use of sound design really drives it home.
If you are unable to watch the video, I've broken down the key points below.
The film uses audio in such a way that we hear both what other people hear, and what the deaf hear. It starts with the main character, Gwen, standing at a beach listening to the waves. There's a distortion in the sound, and she quickly takes out her hearing aid. We now hear what she hears... nothing. She walks past people laughing, talking on their cellphones, a man on his bike. The audio fades in and out to show perspective.
She visits a little coffee shop with her boyfriend and friends, who are also deaf. They make some idle chat, and eventually, everyone can tell that something is on her mind. With some hesitation, she then announces that she was tested last month for cochlear regeneration. No one knows how to take it, and they don't say much.
The scene changes to Gwen and her boyfriend fighting at home. He's angry because he wanted them to discuss it privately first, and he looked "like a fool" when he found out. She expresses that she wasn't ready to talk about it yet, that she was put on the spot. He tells her that she's deaf and to get over it. She goes on to say that he doesn't understand. Her family didn't try to learn to talk to her, people in public school didn't try to help, and no one supported her, which is the opposite of what he had.
In the end, they try to work things out. Her boyfriend says, "I love you. But this is wrong. This is your mother talking. There's nothing wrong with you. I know there will always be people telling you that you're missing something, that you can't hear because you're broken. Your whole life, all you've been able to hear is the voice that tells you you're not normal. You... are normal." She goes on to say that she loves him, and that nothing has to change. "I can still have my life and be hearing. This surgery lets me have both." He expressed he wasn't sure if it would let her have both, and they parted ways.
We then see Gwen with her mother and sister talking to the doctor, as he explains what is going to happen. The mother has some questions, and then both she and the doctor leave the room. Gwen's sister, Katie, pokes some fun at their mother for not being very understanding. And then we see one of the most heartbreaking moments of all. Katie takes out Gwen's hearing aid, and tries to use ASL, saying "I should have learned how to talk to you." and then asking how to say "I'm sorry." Gwen hugs her sister and says that she can't wait to hear Katie sing.
We now see Gwen going under surgery. When she wakes up, she hears the monitor beeping, and we see her faintly smile. Now that she's home, she finally gets to hear all of the noises. A clock alarm going off, the hairdryer, cutting fruit on a chopping block, car alarms, printers, the tapping of a keyboard. It all starts running together and becomes overwhelming.
Gwen goes to her therapist and discusses her frustrations. She can't sleep due to all the unfamiliar sounds, but she doesn't want to take a sleeping aid because she's already really unfocused. She says she can hear everything, but there's always constant buzz, distortion, or ringing. She hates the sound of her own voice, and thinks that it's awful. She starts breaking down because nothing is what she thought it would be. The therapist tells her that it's just because she keeps comparing her expectations with her reality, and that Gwen should go try to hear Katie sing.
We then see Gwen with her mother, when one of her friends from the coffee shop shows up to see Gwen. Katie announces that this will be the first time Gwen will hear her sing, and that it's really special to her. We see Gwen with mixed emotions. Happy to finally hear her sister, but conflicted due to the distortion she still hears. It fades in and out, until eventually she can hear everything crystal clear. Gwen starts laughing and seems really happy.
That is, until we see her drive away. She parks at the beach, rolls up her windows, and covers her ears, just wanting all the noise to stop.
In closing, I had never thought about the drawbacks of this surgery until watching This Is Normal. I've had hearing all my life and even I can't help but think it gets overwhelming sometimes. I can't imagine what it'd be like for those who are just now hearing it for the first time.