Although hearing loss is often underrepresented on TV (with some notable positive examples), movies are another story. Over the decades, there have been numerous films focusing on people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These characters give viewers an in-depth look at what it’s like to live with hearing loss. They also provide those who live with the condition the chance to see people like themselves portrayed on the big screen.
Below are five examples of memorable movie characters with hearing loss, providing a real world (and in one example, a fantasy world) view of the challenges facing those with hearing loss—and how they overcome those difficulties to live fulfilling lives.
1. Sarah Norman, “Children of a Lesser God”
Marlee Matlin won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sarah Norman, a custodian at a school for the deaf. The film centers on her relationship with a teacher at the school who tries to get her to speak and read lips instead of relying on sign language. As their relationship grows, Sarah is met with the decisions facing many with total hearing loss—whether to adopt the strategies that help them blend in with the hearing world or stay true to who they are.
2. George Bailey, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
In this holiday classic, Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a man contemplating ending his life after dealing with a series of challenges. Single-sided hearing loss was just one of those difficulties, causing him to miss what people said when speaking on his “bad” side, and preventing him from entering military service. However, with the help of his guardian angel, George realizes that life is worth living despite its challenges.
3. Helen Keller, “The Miracle Worker”
Although there have been multiple film versions of the Helen Keller story, the most iconic is the 1964 movie starring Patty Duke as the title character. Despite being neither deaf nor blind, she displayed the raw emotion of being a child who can’t hear or see. Duke also captured the magical moment when Helen began to understand that the signs her teacher made in her hands correlated to the things around her, opening her up to experiencing the rest of the world.
4. Baby, “Baby Driver”
Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss, yet it is rarely referenced in pop culture. “Baby Driver,” a movie following the criminal exploits of a getaway driver, changed that as its lead character Baby (Ansel Elgort) has the condition, caused by a car accident when he was a child. Still, he’s not the only character with hearing issues—when he’s not driving the getaway car for his fellow criminals, Baby cares for his deaf foster father.
5. Oin, “The Hobbit”
As seen in “The Hobbit” movies, hearing loss can affect the residents of Middle Earth as well as our own world. Oin (John Callen), one of the dwarves in the quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain, is often seen using an ear horn to help him understand his companions. Despite his hearing loss, Oin is an essential member of the crew, being strong in battle and serving as the medic to his fellow dwarves.