Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice is the second film I’ve seen in the past year that portrays a Manson-type cult. (The other was Martha Marcy May Marlene.) I don’t know whether this is a coincidence or whether it says something about our current political and economic climate. Perhaps with the erosion of our civil liberties people are beginning to feel as though they are trapped in a cult. (At least I feel that way sometimes.)

Sound of My Voice was co-written and directed by Zal Batmanglij. It was co-written by, and stars, Brit Marling, who also co-wrote and starred in Another Earth. Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are aspiring film makers working on a documentary about cults. Peter supports them by working as a schoolteacher. They infiltrate a cult, whose leader, Maggie (Brit Marling) claims to be from the future. (2054 to be exact.) The members of the cult meet in the basement of a house in the San Fernando Valley. Peter and Lorna don’t know its exact location because they are always blind-folded when they are driven there. Maggie speaks vaguely about a coming civil war, and she tells her followers they must prepare themselves for it. She makes them undergo a series of increasingly humiliating rituals. Peter’s behavior during one of these meetings causes Lorna to suspect that he is starting to buy into Maggie’s claims. Maggie has a private meeting with Peter, in which she asks him to bring one of his students, Abigail (Avery Pohl) to her. When he asks her why, she says that Abigail is her mother. When Peter suggests to Lorna that they actually do this, she walks out on him.

Shortly after that, Lorna meets Carol Briggs (Davenia McFadden), who tells her she is with the Department of Justice. She says she knows Maggie’s true identity and that Maggie is wanted for armed robbery and for arson. (Presumably, the government has been spying on Peter and Lorna, since Briggs knows all about them.) Briggs persuades Lorna to help her. At Briggs’s suggestion, Lorna devises a plan with Peter (who doesn’t know that Lorna is now working for the government) to bring Abigail on a field trip to a museum, where she will meet Maggie. Briggs plans to have Maggie arrested there. The twist to this whole thing is that just before Maggie is arrested, something happens that suggests she may really be from the future.

Sound of My Voice leaves so many questions unanswered, that at the end one feels as though one has only watched the first half of the movie. Is Maggie really from the future? If so, why does she try to start a cult, and what does she intend to do with it? Did Maggie really commit armed robbery and arson, or are the police mistaken? Or does the government have an ulterior motive in arresting her? There are moments in the film that suggest that more is going on than what the characters are telling us, though nothing ever comes from this. I suppose some will say that this ambiguity is the point, but what is the good of raising questions that have no answers? It’s all too easy to use ambiguity to make a film seem more clever or more profound than it actually is. (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, for example, sometimes does this.)

Brit Marling is believable as Maggie, and the cult scenes create a deep sense of unease, but I wish the story had more meat on its bones.

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