Following the success of her previous film Another Earth, Brit Marling gives us a new story, on par with Christopher Nolan level brilliance, that similarly messes with your mind and your beliefs. Sound of My Voice is about a purported time traveler, only there’s no machine, no demarcation of time, no futuristic setting or locales and probably most depressing of all, there’s no real proof. So what makes this interesting? Like Nacho Vigalondo has done with did with Timecrimes, the film shows that a less-is-more approach can make for a very engaging story. Sound of My Voice grabs hold of you and never lets go, nor do you want it to. Like curiosity that killed the cat, once it gets going you, like the characters, can’t help but dig deeper to find the answers.
Peter and his girlfriend Lorna are journalists who are making a documentary. While investigating a cult whose leader claims to be from the future, they end up getting sucked into the allure and mystique of the figurehead known as Maggie. With very little proof to show of, she’s amassed a small but devoted following. Peter and Lorna’s attempts and drive to chronicle then expose Maggie fall by the way side the closer they get to her inner circle. The more they learn about her the more they find that she may not be the con-artist they suspected.
Brit Marling as Maggie is magnetic as her smile and voice are more than alluring, they’re enchanting. Leading a so-called cult, her followers revel in the tidbits she gives them about the future. In her basement, the weak look for meaning and while her story is very difficult to prove true, it’s even harder to prove as false. As she claims to be from the year 2054, Peter and Lorna view her as crazy but even so, she’s kind, inviting and at times manipulative. They say in the film that “to see her is to believe her” and that’s entirely true. For as low-rent as her organization is she comes across so believable even though she gives no tangible evidence of the future as Maggie asks people to take her simply on her word.
She’s made out to be a con-artist but the only thing Maggie’s guilty of is that she tells stories that people believe in. While some might doubt her, she also backs things up with claims that are so agreeable (or intimidating) that just can’t be proved or refuted by her followers. In a way she’s a lot like a politician, promising one thing that rarely ever gets delivered. Yet they all go along with what she says in hopes of finding out. Is Maggie telling the truth or making it up? Further can anyone believe the people who doubt her or claim to be pursuing her? Regardless of the answers given (and not given) it ends up being the kind of film that one way or the other is still worth the journey.
Painted as the so-called villain Maggie is not the only character the audience might be looking for answers from. As they try to expose her, Peter and Lorna’s motives and actions are also brought into question. Who exactly are they? How long have they been prepping for this documentary? Are they entirely altruistic. The film never tells us how the two found out about Maggie. First thing we ever see they (having already intimated contact and passed whatever check system her people have in place) are on their way to meet Maggie. As a couple, Lorna and Peter are an unlikely and equally enigmatic pair. He’s a quiet man who has his own reasons for making this doc, and she is the daughter of a famous producer who has lived a life of drugs and rehab since the age of 12. Just like the beginning of the film we don’t know how they got together but just go with the fact that they are.
Zal Batmanglij directs and tells Sound of My Voice through 12 chapters which play like a small glimpse into a much larger story. Each builds on the last and continually ratchets up the intensity as well as the mystique. Marling’s performance is electrifying throughout but nothing can prepare you for how she makes each scene ever more intoxicating. Viewing it as a whole, the beginning/end of the chapters are abrupt transitions which make you wonder it there are bits of story exposition or sequences we’re not being told (or just a crutch for bad editing). But it’s of little consequence as the content in the chapters themselves are on par with the focus, sophistication and gravity of a Steve McQueen film (be it either Hunger or Shame).
Sound of My Voice has an incredibly simple set up but its pay-off is nothing short of spellbinding. Brit Marling is a hypnotic powerhouse whose performance cuts right through you. Without her (since she both wrote and stars), it’s unlikely Sound of My Voice would be as effective or memorable. Just as quickly as the film opens, it ends leaving us with more questions than which we started. Doubtful you’ll get the closure you seek but you’ll definitely be glad you took this little trip to spend time with Maggie. Likely it will prompt more than one trip down the rabbit hole to find clues or answers that may or may not be hidden along the way. Again, simple but spellbinding more accurately sums it up.