By Kristin Reiber Harris
This film is pure poetry. It is well cast, brilliantly acted and a good story about the human condition. I am not alone in my admiration, it won the 2022 Oscar for Best Picture.
I love being able to immerse myself in art, savor the experience and then formulate my thoughts to share with others. As you know, if you have seen this film, CODA is a very emotional experience. As a general rule, films that “make me” cry are suspect…especially if it’s for all the right reasons, i.e. something really good is happening. Spoiler alert, the film does end on a very positive note, which isn’t true for all life situations. However, I believe in celebrating the best of human nature and heck, things do go right sometimes.
I was aware that the word “coda” has a musical connotation – fittingly, the passage that brings a piece to its conclusion – but I learned after I saw the film and started doing a bit of digging that the title stands for “child of deaf adults.” Our protagonist, Ruby Rossi, is the second and youngest child of a Deaf couple. She is 18 years old when we meet her and her family. Hearing children of Deaf parents is a possibility I never had reason to consider. There is a very poignant conversation between mother and daughter about whether the mother wished for a hearing child or not. (She didn’t.) What the film makes clear immediately is that there is a very strong family bond.
The Rossi family owns a fishing boat, and the father and kids all work it together. Ruby gets up very early to work on the boat before she goes to classes at her high school. It is obvious that she is the connection to the hearing world for her parents and brother and has been for a very long time.
The story and visuals are supported by a wonderful soundtrack. In the opening scene we hear Ruby singing while she is working on the boat. She loves to sing and she’s good. The plot thickens when she gets the courage to join the high school chorus. The teacher recognizes her talent and encourages her to audition for a prestigious music school. Attending would require that she leave her family and go to Boston. We watch a young woman wrestling with this decision, all to a great soundtrack, much of it her own singing.
I had no real familiarity with American Sign Language, and it was a great education to see how expressive it is. Director Sian Heder noted that Deaf individuals must be looking at each other as they communicate, a speculation that enhances the exchange. ASL also required adjustments in filming to always have the hands of the speaker visible.
Do yourself a favor, watch this movie and celebrate great art.
NYWIFT screened CODA for our annual celebration of SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day. The following day, it won Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards. Filmmaker Sian Heder also won for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Troy Kotsur, who plays Ruby’s father, won Best Supporting Actor, making him the first male Deaf actor even to win an Oscar.