It is important that we sing. . . . Singing frees the soul, makes us flexible, and helps us soar and expand. Singing lets the sun in, gives warmth to our lives and wings to our spirit.
-- Dina Soresi Winter

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

Daniel Durant as Leo, Marlee Matlin as Jackie, and Emilia Jones as Ruby

Sometimes Ruby is so exhausted that she falls asleep on her desk at school, and she is often the target of ridicule by her suburban classmates. She finally musters up enough courage to show up at choir class, but when asked to sing to determine in which section she belongs, 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's pleased with Mr. V. asks her to sing a duet with Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) at their concert.

Zeal is the inward fire of your soul that urges you toward your goal.
-- Charles Fillmore

Coda is an emotionally rich coming-of-age drama directed by Sian Heder and based on a 2014 French film, La Famille Belier. Heder does a commendable job depicting both what is unique and what is universal about Ruby's situation. When the family decides to try a new approach to make their fishing business profitable, they need Ruby to help them communicate and set it up. Yet she would like to go away to music school. Their being deaf complicates the situation but does not completely 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 break free.

This is a feel-good movie with a few lows and many highs. You will find yourself cheering for all the characters, a rare accomplishment by the writers, directors, and actors. And you'll recognize and celebrate Ruby's realization that singing gives wings to her spirit, freeing the soul so she can really soar.

Ruby's family supporting her at the choir concert.

Go Deeper

A Tilt of the Ear

If you have been moved emotionally by Coda, we have just 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 W. A. Mathieu. He says that being musical has nothing to do with knowing how to play an instrument or to sing a tune. It is "a way of being aware, an angle of perception, a tilt of the ear."

Another Amphibian Movie

Children of A Lesser God is an amphibian movie which introduces us to the world of the deaf and then moves with equal grace into universality as it explores the challenges we all face in love relationships. True communion, we learn, must not come at the expense of deep respect for each other's precious individuality.

Sped-Up Diversion

Sound of Metal offers a touching portrait of the spiritual journey into deafness by a heavy metal drummer. The result is a meditation on the intricate balancing acts involved in all human experience. We are transported into a world where community grows out of silence.

Both Sides of Deafness

Immortal Beloved was written and directed by Bernard Rose with a heightened sensitivity to the flashes of feeling and the flights of fantasy in Beethoven's inimitable creations. Gary Oldman effectively conveys the ways in which this composer's physical ailment frustrated him and cut him off from others. Yet at the same time his deafness served as a seedbed for some of his most soul-stirring passages.

The Best Things in the World Must 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 around the world giving new hope to those with disabilities. She modeled for us the spiritual practice of zeal which means to be truly alive in the fullest sense of the word. Ruby in Coda would certainly identify with these words by Keller. May they be a guiding light for you as well:

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt in the heart."