Sound of My Voice

Why do I like being lame?

Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice wastes no time in presenting a concept, three potentially combustible personalities, and a dozen questions, the most important of which is this: is Maggie telling the truth?  It’s the most important question because if she’s not, the lion’s share of this film’s narrative is for nothing.  This is a problem that generates a compelling motivation, or “viewing style” if you will, for an audience: we’re rooting for the character presented at the outset as a charlatan.  Why?  Partly because she radiates honesty, partly because we don’t really care about the dual protagonists’ motivations, and thirdly because we don’t want any of the characters, even the ones we don’t like, to have wasted their time.

The story places us in the presence of Lorna (Nicole Vicius) and her boyfriend, Peter (Christopher Denham), late-twenties layabouts seeking to make a living in L.A. by doing what everyone who goes to L.A. hopes to make a living doing: making films.  Their film is a documentary about cults, and they’ve somehow come across a group led by a mysterious, white-veiled basement dweller named Maggie (Brit Marling), who claims to have traveled back in time from 2054, where a civil war is tearing the world apart, and she has returned in order to “save” the people she loves.  How will she accomplish this?  We don’t know.  What does her plan have to do with this group of strangers who worship her?  She doesn’t say.  All we know is that Peter and Lorna think of the whole thing as a joke, and are willing to play along with Maggie’s rituals until they can find a way to expose her on film.  They infiltrate the group, pretending to be members, not knowing what they’re getting themselves into.

Of course, as Peter and Lorna attend several months’ worth of group rituals, the things Maggie says begin to make more sense, even to the arrogant and skeptical Peter, who is emotionally gutted by Maggie in one of the film’s most effective dramatic scenes.  “She knew things about you,” Lorna says to him over a meal the next day.  Peter stone-facedly denies this and says he was just making things up, but we know he wasn’t, which presents two solid conflicts: Lorna, after a three-year relationship with Peter, doesn’t know much about him and is jealous that the beautiful and enigmatic Maggie has this effect on him; and Peter, who may have developed a fixation on Maggie similar to that of the other followers (of whom he made a terrible mockery before), hasn’t bothered with his documentary work in weeks.

During the day, Peter teaches at an all-girls elementary school, which he considers sedentary and a waste of his twenties.  The film lends particular focus to a certain student, Abigail (Avery Pohl), an eight year-old who shows symptoms of Asperger’s (indicated by her insistence on never removing her red hat and the fact that she spends the entirety of her free time building with black Lego pieces).  We know she has some connection to Maggie before it’s even revealed, but the trouble that brews is well worth the wait: Maggie, still claiming to be from the future, believes Abigail to be her mother, and “needs” to meet with her.  The guy who can make this happen?  Peter, the one teacher Abigail tolerates.  Peter’s decision whether to do this pops the bubble that has expanded between Lorna and himself throughout the story, and the payoff delivered when Maggie and Abigail finally meet rivals most films from this year – but what do you expect?  Sound of My Voice was co-scripted by Brit Marling, who is absolutely convincing as Maggie, and who wrote the best screenplay of 2011, Another Earth.  Her next film, also in tandem with Batmanglij, is The East, starring Brit alongside Ellen Page.

For better or worse, the film deprives us of the denouement that most films would drag us through.  This works if you don’t mind not having every single question answered – what will the nature of Lorna and Peter’s relationship be in the future?  What do the feds looking for Maggie think she wants the child for?  Can they legally convict her of anything?  The film makes no absolute statements about any of it (exemplified by Peter’s final line: “I don’t know”), but I think we know in our hearts, just as we do when watching election coverage, who’s telling the truth and who is perpetually full of it.

Sound of My Voice (2012); written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij; directed by Zal Batmanglij; starring Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, and Nicole Vicius.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s