REVIEW: Sound of My Voice [2012]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 85 minutes | Release Date: April 27th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director(s): Zal Batmanglij
Writer(s): Zal Batmanglij & Brit Marling

“Why do I like being lame?”

There is a new, legitimate voice in science fiction and her name is Brit Marling. A steadily rising actress seen in a collection of intellectually stimulating independent films the past two years, her writing talents have surprisingly proven to be an even greater asset. In fact, it’s fascinating to learn her breakthrough movies—as co-writer and star—debuted together at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Another Earth turned public heads first only a few months later, but I believe it’s her work on Sound of My Voice that reveals what she’s truly capable of achieving. Both emotionally driven films set against what potentially is a scientifically incomprehensible brave new world, they lay bare the human soul rather than stifle it under the more obvious grip of technological advancement like less ambitious filmmakers have before them.

While Marling may visibly connect these two works, it’s a treat to discover how her co-writers/directors earned a “Special Thanks” on each other’s films. Another Earth‘s Mike Cahill even went so far as providing additional camerawork to Zal Batmanglij on Sound of My Voice, revealing this trio to be the 2010s version of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Charlie Kaufman from the 2000s. I know this is a hyperbolic sentiment yet I’m not sure it’s too far off the truth. Both movies possess similar themes of loss, guilt, and hope inside worlds much deeper and mysterious than initially let on. Their protagonists are then presented with a choice—much like we in the audience—about whether or not to take a leap of faith and accept the responsibility of sitting front row to the unknown.

Constructed as a glimpse into the manipulations inherent to the many infamous cults throughout history, Sound of My Voice introduces Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius) on their first visit to the lions’ den. Prefaced with a black screen and the word “One” centered in white, this is but the start of ten chapters depicting their decision process regarding whether or not they’ve unwittingly been indoctrinated by the group’s prophet, Maggie (Marling). Her confident rhetoric tells how she’s traveled from 2054 in order to save the friends she holds dear in the future by opening their eyes to the tragedies humanity will soon face. Bound through a secret handshake, myriad tests of fidelity cultivate the blind allegiance religious zealots excel at cultivating. Maggie’s flock is ready for salvation.

I spent over thirty minutes afterwards to no avail scouring the internet to see if anyone interpreted the chapters as more than just a clumsy, unnecessary device. During my search, however, I did stumble upon what is possibly the most famous religious list of ten: the Decalogue. To my surprise, it wasn’t difficult to begin seeing correlations between the Commandments and what was happening on screen.

#1. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me — Peter and Lorna submit to the demands of cult magistrate Klaus (Richard Wharton) and in effect renounce all previous allegiances.

#2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image — In the film’s first reveal we learn that Peter and Lorna are actually documentarians looking to expose Maggie. While they were unable to capture any footage through a camera attached to his glasses, a little outside the box thinking rectifies the situation.

#3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain — As their infiltration burrows deeper, Maggie relentlessly provokes Peter so he may let go of his warped inhibitions. It results in a malicious attack of words onto her, one causing a member to rise and threaten recourse.

#4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy — In what becomes a free day from the enclosed basement Maggie makes her home due to an inability to process our present day’s atmosphere, a collective release occurs. Lorna hikes into the forest for shooting lessons; one of Peter’s eight-year old students, Abigail Pritchett (Avery Kristen Pohl), breaks from her silent shell to defame a classmate; and Carol Briggs (Davenia McFadden) arrives ready to fulfill the next day’s mission.

#5. Honor thy father and thy mother — Everyone—including the audience—catches Maggie in what appears to be a lie, but only one person dares pry for answers to expose the first crack in her idyllic sanctuary. Loyalty is questioned and an example is made to keep the rest in line.

And this continues until the final “Thou shalt not covet” leads to betrayal at the hands of jealousy, greed, and vanity—the details of which won’t be elaborated on due to them being spoilers. These correlations could be intentional or perhaps I’m completely off my rocker looking for hidden meanings and universal truths packed inside a story curious as to whether we believe. Is this woman who she says she is? Is it a scam and if so what’s the endgame? How sure are Peter and Lorna in thinking they can resist Maggie’s charms and stay objective?

The beauty of the film is that everything is left to interpretation. It could be a ruse playing at human weakness and our desire for purpose. It could be a Terminator-esque mission of a Jesus-like figure hunted by an enemy hoping to prevent her from enlisting an army. Or it could simply be an example of paranoia gaining control of our actions to force us into doing things we know are wrong, (but could get us closer to the truth), or know are right, (but could risk destroying all we’ve built). This is the tug of war played every day—fighting conscience and pleasure, right and wrong. In the end the choice I ours alone, shaping our future whether correct or not.

Does it matter if Maggie’s from the future? No. Does it matter if God is real? As long as our faith is, his existence is rendered moot. Wars have been fought in God’s name; genocides performed through his will. How we stand on religion, fate, morality, etc. will shape how we interpret Sound of My Voice by connecting the many dots waiting to be joined. So much is left open-ended and yet so much is meticulously placed for the heaviest possible impact. Denham and Vicius are caught in the web while McFadden and Pohl coldly move about the board as though pulled by strings. Marling—like Maggie—presents the blueprint towards understanding and smiles as we select our path.

[1] Writer/actress Brit Marling as “Maggie” on the set of SOUND OF MY VOICE.
[2] Actor Christopher Denham as “Peter” and writer/actress Brit Marling as “Maggie” on the set of SOUND OF MY VOICE.
[3] Actors Christopher Denham as “Peter” and Nicole Vicius as “Lorna” on the set of SOUND OF MY VOICE.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.