Sound of My Voice

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Christopher Denham and Brit Marling vie for control.Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

High 3 StarsWhy I Saw It: Invited to a press screening, and absolutely crazy for Brit Marling and her dazzling Another Earth.
What I Thought: [Time Very Well Spent] Almost earned five unfettered, enthusiastic stars.

Sound of My Voice. Dir. Zal Batmanglij. Perf. Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Richard Wharton, Kandice Stroh, Davinia McFadden, James Urbaniak, Avery Kristin Pohl. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012.

A documentary filmmaker and his girlfriend walk the fine, dangerous line of infiltrating a cult to expose its leader without becoming themselves drawn in.

Captivating and deeply intriguing, Sound of My Voice offers a look into the fragile mind’s tendency to fall prey to pressure, and some strong minds’ tendency to take advantage of that.

Here, the strong mind belongs to Maggie, a mesmerizing young woman claiming to be from the future here to forewarn and equip the modern day open-minded for surviving what lies ahead. Either that, or she’s reincarnating Jim Jones.

Which is it? You decide. If you can. If you’re able. Indeed…

Sound of My Voice’s great strength rests in its ability to keep us clutched tightly in Maggie’s powerful orbit despite ourselves, despite that of our protagonists. Determined to resist (as would we), they nevertheless have difficulty doing so for various situational reasons (as, no doubt, would we).

Are they skilled at hiding their motives from the group, or are they succumbing? Should they get out now while they still can, or having been accepted, see this thing through to the end? Is the latter courage, or is it surrender? One can feel one’s mind being pulled to and fro between observation, curiosity, fear, and belief.

Just as Brit Marling ~ as Maggie and as writer/producer ~ would have it. She is one of those mega-talents who seems to be doing nothing, and yet communicates more than everything. Between Sound of My Voice and her magnificent Another Earth, I for one will happily follow her anywhere she chooses to lead me. Though I would prefer that I don’t have to eat a ~ well, never mind that now…

It must be said, however, that Sound of My Voice does suffer on one material level. As circumstances escalate in both complexity and intensity, we’re given several elements that unfortunately do not hang together in retrospect.

For example, our hero faces a certain problem, solvable by two viable options, and chooses the more uncomfortable and far riskier of the two. That this serves a plot point later on makes for high drama indeed, but the entire situation would have been moot had he taken the safer option earlier. Ergo, it comes across as a contrivance, however powerfully it worked. Hm.

Or consider a character’s great pains to ensure a room is not bugged. We naturally wonder from whom she hides and feel left hanging afterwards, but with further reflection realize it could just as easily have been on mere general principles to ensure her activities don’t wind up on YouTube courtesy of nefarious hotel employees. (Not to make everyone paranoid, of course, I’m just saying…).

As the credits roll, we find we have been asked to accept too many things without question. Not good, especially in a story that encourages us not to do exactly that. Had this not been so, it would have earned five unfettered, enthusiastic stars. (I can hear Maggie saying, “Lisa, you may leave.”)

Sound of My Voice‘s tantalizing ending demands that we reconsider everything we’ve just seen, and makes us happy to oblige. But in such a case everything we’ve seen must map clearly to at least one reasonable interpretation. Ambiguity is one thing; red herrings, something else.

It’s worth noting that Marling and co-writer/director Batamanglij plan Sound of My Voice as the first in a trilogy, and as such, and for its great accomplishments in other areas, I for one am very willing to forgive the stand-alone flaws. Very willing indeed…

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