Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Sound of my Voice


As it was raining at the beach, I made another visit to the Landmark Cinema in west LA and watched this. If group hugs over pools of vomit and then live earthworms are your thing, then this is for you! No, that gives a very unfair picture of the film. Usually I try not to give too much away, but be warned, this time I have to.

I reviewed Another Earth here, which was Brit Marling's first feature and said then that I felt sure we'd be seeing a lot more of her - here is the next instalment, which she again co-wrote. I like the way this girl thinks - and acts.

Set in Los Angeles (of course) Pete (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are twenty-something would-be investigative film-makers. They are seeking to expose what they deem to be a cult lead by the mysterious Maggie (Brit Marling). The way into the cult is by a selection process and many fail to make the grade. When sufficient 'preparation on the outside' has been achieved, couples are given instructions to drive to a house and use the supplied remote to open the garage, drive in, close the door and wait in the car for further instructions. They are then forced to give over all their belongings, strip and shower with the instruction "be thorough with the soap". They then put on white surgical gowns have their wrists cable-tied, are blindfolded and driven to a different location. On arrival, in another garage, the cable ties are cut and they are led downstairs into a basement where they encounter Klaus (Richard Wharton) who subjects them to the most bizarre handshake routine to feature in cinema. They then join with eight other people - all wearing the same and are invited to bow in worship as Maggie enters the room pulling an oxygen cylinder on wheels behind her. She then goes into a spiel about how disorienting this will be and that the first night is always the hardest but those who have been through it will testify that what lies ahead is well worth the discomfort.

It is obvious that this film is extremely well researched. The rituals, visualisation of the basement, rites of passage and psychobabble that Maggie delivers all feel highly authentic. Maggie claims to be from the year 2054 - from their future. Things have turned a bit apocalyptic and she has come back to select a special band of chosen people to prepare for what lies ahead. It all sounds feasible - even Maggie's apparent weakness is explained by saying that someone from the future is allergic to almost everything of our time - even though it's only 40 years in the future.

The film cuts away to lady checking into a hotel room. Initially she acts most strangely, but it becomes apparent that she is a pro sweeping her room for bugs. Soon afterwards and without explanation, she ends up in the very same sauna that Lorna uses after a swim and initiates a conversation. It is clear the lady knows a lot about Lorna - and Pete and Maggie. It turns out that she is from the Justice Department and that Maggie is a wanted felon. The woman persuades Lorna to set Maggie up - and this she agrees to, without Pete's knowledge.

Away from group sessions worshipping Maggie, Pete remains highly sceptical - although much of the time he makes it appear like a mind-job. Lorna appears more open. Maggie is enchanting - on whichever level you want to operate at. There is more than a hint of some chemistry between Maggie and Pete - or is it just to soften him up? To earn a buck, Pete is a supply teacher at an elementary school. Things get turned upside down when he is invited to a one-to-one with Maggie who ditches the ethereal angelic look, lights up and swigs whisky from a bottle - offering it to Pete. She says she may be from the future but she isn't a saint. Pete smiles and begins to see his scepticism find sound foundation. As the conversation develops, Maggie produces some photographs that feature an eight year-old girl in Pete's class. Pete is astounded as Maggie asks him to bring the girl to him. He refuses as he contemplates the professional consequences. Maggie piles on the pressure eventually revealing that this girl is in fact her mother.

Buoyed by the need to set up Maggie, Lorna encourages Pete to use an upcoming school trip to set up the meeting between the girl and Maggie. Reluctantly he agrees and sets it up through Klaus with strict controls. Things appear to go awry as another 'cult' member appears at the rendezvous and changes things, but the girl and Maggie do meet. Maggie kneels and offers the girl her hand. Eventually she takes it and they begin the elaborate handshake that Klaus has previously used. As they finish, the girl asks "how did you know my secret handsake?" and Maggie tells her "You taught it to me when I was a little girl" at which point the law bust in and Maggie is taken away with Klaus. Pete looks on with incredulity at Lorna whom he assumes set him up. The film ends.

Apparently this is the first instalment of a trilogy and the story is set to continue - which is good. As the film tells its story, it raises many questions of faith, belief and doubt which it quietly parks with the viewer (at least with this viewer). The major one is of course 'is Maggie really a time-traveller?'. Whereas Another World was a film that explored emotions, this film is a psycho-thriller with an emotional twist. As I said, I found it compelling viewing. If you want to see the first 12 minutes in a trailer including diagrams on how to do the handshake, click here. If Maggie is a fellon wanted for armed robbery and arson, how was she able to do the little girl's secret handshake? Perhaps she is from the future......

The film debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival and in interview Marling said

“Playing a cult leader is so far outside of my life,” Marling says. “From an acting perspective, I believed I was from the future, and my doubts were like anyone’s doubts: can I really be an actor or writer? It’s grounded in the mundane and in emotions, but being locked in a time period that’s not your own. As a writer, it’s interesting the way sci-fi can create original juxtapositions in normal human dramas.”

Sci-fi also lets Marling investigate the nature of belief. She notes that both of the films she’s involved with at this year’s Festival are “obsessed with faith.” “In Another Earth, how do you rebuild your life when everything has been burned to ashes?” she asks. “How do you have faith in moving forward as a human being? And in Sound of my Voice, it’s a meditation on belief and the possibility of being more than what the eye can see.”


You can read the whole interview here. I hope we will see a lot more of Brit Malling - she's good. I'll give this 8.5/10.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just finished viewing this film and I am much
relieved to read that there will most likely be a sequel. I'm suspicious that the woman from the justice department is from the future also. Does
"I'll be back" ring a bell. Anyone? Ok, how about
"The Terminator". Maggie is wanted all right but
not for armed robbery or arson. See where I'm going with this? Under this contes I enjoyed the film as I did with "Another Earth".

April Doner said...

Great review, and I'm also glad there should be a sequel. Anonymous, I had the same feeling re: Justice Dept lady. She had a kinda devious look in her eye.

One thing - I believe Pete's girlfriend's name is LORNA, not Laura?

Thanks!

Duncan Strathie said...

April - thanks for your comments and for pointing out my error. British ears hearing an American accent!

Anonymous said...

I thought this movie was stupid. They never got back to the subject about why she was wanted, or 'the real reason' she wants the little girl. Too much information left unfinished. If there is a sequel, I can only see it going in the direction of the Terminator, also, in which case, it's already been done. Stupid

Anonymous said...

As a woman & mother of a young girl, the Secret Handshake is something all girls do and know, there are many playground games like that. IMO, it doesn't prove she was from the future at all.

Anonymous said...

I hate the cranberries

Kandilyn Hunter said...

Does anyone else think the little girl is her daughter, notice u only see her dad?? I also cant figure out what the dad was doing to the little girl when he injects her feet and she gets sleepy instantly and stays tired throughout the day.. I didn't like how thw dad crawled in bed with her and his laptop.. CREEPY???
I loved it and it makes u think so much after!!

Duncan Strathie said...

Great thoughts Kandilyn. If this is the first of a trilogy perhaps all will be revealed.

Some colleagues whom I showed the film to said that injecting between the toes is the number one way to inject and not let it show! What's that about?

Anonymous said...

I like the idea that the justice dept lady is looking for her for another reason ;)

Unanswered questions.. what's with the emo girl and the legos? Why did she get injected in the toe.. whatis really wrong with maggie? She needs blood and it's never explained. What is with the handshake and how did she know it? I've seen handshakes but that one had some unusual moves.

What's with the numbers? Are those chapters?

I'm going to be really angry if they don't continue this movie. It was left too wide open. I love it though :)

Anonymous said...

Anyone notice around the 105 mark when she's taking to the chick at the justice dept there is someone in the background wrapped in a sheet or something and leaves?

Duncan Strathie said...

Good questions anonymous posters.

The only one I can answer is that injections between the toes leave the least marks - so I am told!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous on 18 August 2013, remember that when justice dept. lady contacted her, they were in the steam room of a health club. In the scene where Lorna was shown the photo, they were in the shower/dressing area of the health club, and the person in the background was wrapped in a bath sheet, which is essentially an oversized towel. Bath sheet lady walking through the background of the scene was just decoration to indicate they were still in the health club (apparently an upscale health club, not an ordinary middle class health club).

On another topic, I also think justice dept. lady is actually also from the future. Why else would she be checking the hotel room for hidden cameras and microphones? If a search for hidden cameras and microphones was done today, they would bring in a crew to high tech scan the room, not have an individual do a low tech scan using 1970's style techniques of creating background noise while using low tech methods to search for bugs. Also, if she was really from the justice dept., why would she feel a need to hide her mission research and search tools in a disguised dept. store gift box? Maybe because she was trying to hide if from the real police, perhaps? Also, if she claimed Maggie was wanted for a bank robbery, why didn't she show the bank robbery photo with Maggie in it, instead of a photo of Maggie in an anachronistic dress if front of a theatre?

And, of course, this is sheer speculation, but I think Maggie came back in time to give her mother a message that could possibly alter the future. In the future, her mother may have told her that she was in a position to stop some catastrophic event (the civil war, maybe?), but did not realize it until it was too late, and Maggie was attempting to help her right that mistake by giving her the message. The secret handshake was to prove to the little girl that Maggie is who she says she is, her future daughter, but of course she was interrupted by the popo before she got the chance to communicate the message.

Anonymous said...

I think Maggie is the little girl (Abigail's) mother. When Maggie was roaming the streets I I think she had a baby & for whatever reason she lost hwe. I also thought that the lady who rescued Maggie from the bathroom at the start of the film looked like the lady who greeted Abigail from school when she went to her room to play with the Lego. I thought it was a great film. I can't wait to see the next instalment. Haven't worked the injection business out yet unless she has the same illness as Maggie perhaps?

Duncan Strathie said...

Thanks anonymous - good points.

I'm looking forward to the next instalment too.

Duncan Strathie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marsha Collins said...

Overall, the film is a great example of how people can easily let themselves be dominated by a strong personality. Like when Lorna gets dragged to shoot the target practice - she knew it was a dumb idea to go, but the woman convinced her by talking strongly.

A few other thoughts:

- The "father" of Abigail - who may have been some random dude - could have drugged the girl to show her video (on the bed) of the secret handshake, which could have been how she knew about it. Actually, Pete seemed to know the handshake the first time too - potentially also from the internet? Actually, watching the last handshake again, the girl doesn't really follow the first part - she just catches on somewhere in the middle (which is the same part of the handshake I did as a kid, actually - and I think it's easy to follow someone's lead.)

- It doesn't make sense to me that the Dept of Justice woman would have to de-bug the hotel room that she was randomly assigned - particularly when she doesn't seem to talk to anyone while she's there. she seems so flustered and paranoid.

- The real cult leader seems to be Klaus - the scene where he first tries to find Maggie, and pays that boy to find out where she is, is creepy.

- Lorna's "unchaperoned adolescence" looked cultish too, with the naked boys doing pushups! kinky

- The cult members, at the end, resort to hard-nose logistics and say "let's call the attorney", implying that they already have one in waiting! But if they were really in the cult, and committed to her emotionally, wouldn't they cry or ask questions or act emotional, instead of simply conveying the message that, "yea, this is standard, let's go on the offensive." That makes me think they are used to her getting caught for crimes.

Duncan Strathie said...

Marsha

Thanks for commenting. You make number of helpful observations and raise some good questions. Brit Marling is showing herself to be a creative film maker and if this is the first in a trilogy I'm sure these and the other questions will probably be answered. It's smart story-telling when you end up with so many unresolved questions at the end of the film.

This film has been on my blog for just over a year and it's already the second most viewed review - this film has done something to stir people's curiosity.

Anonymous said...

*** spolier ***
she is her mother!

Andrew Veliz said...

Does anyone else catch the very first time the meet maggie, there is a little boy on a chair, and it looks like he just did some type of blood transfusion. no one else has talked about that, who is that boy? the DoJ lady asked Lorna, "did they ask for a kid?" maybe she targets these kids with the same disease as her, and she needs there blood?

David Van Drunen said...

Spoilers. My thoughts so far:
Normal life version:
Maggie, not from the future. Possibly abused, attempts suicide.
Klaus, takes advantage of street kids to continue cult. ("Let's call the attorney.")
Little girl, possibly Maggie's sister. Same disease or also abused as Maggie (Maggie had the same needle marks on her feet, abuse? treatment?)
Little boy, same issue as Maggie. (Kids may have better immunity?)
FBI lady, deep undercover to subvert wide spread cult.

Or Fantastical:
Maggie and little girl and FBI all from future. (Little boy at beginning too?)

Girl, building burnt out futuristic city. Needles in feet same as Maggie to cure same time travellers disease. Marks a future "terrorist" at school.

FBI, overly prepared her room to look at one photo, more like a hit then a collection of evidence. Subverts other time travellers. (Maybe time travelling is a crime.)

For this movie I lean toward the harsh truth of abuse, (but would enjoy a good sci-fi any day).

Duncan Strathie said...

David - thanks for sharing this. Who knows where this might go? This story raises a whole heap of questions with many possible outcomes. Good storytelling I think.

Let's keep the conversation going.

Randy said...

I believe it's been alluded to, but my take is that Klaus is Maggie's father and Maggie is the little girl's mother, and the cult is an elaborate setup to "reclaim" the daughter. The "father" is somewhat equally disturbed and views the injections that sedate/confuse the girl as a means of protection; she must always be watched over when out of his sight (time at school) because of her sleeping fits and strange behavior. In his eyes, this keeps her safe from her mother/grandfather.

Just one theory though; it's really fun to read the conversations/speculations above. An intriguing story with loads of room for interpretation; I too would welcome the sequel and third film if they were ever to be greenlit.

Michael said...

I've been absolutely fascinated by this movie since seeing it. A couple of things I want to point out and see if anyone has any thoughts on:

-When the class goes on the field trip, the tour guide is heard explaining what prehistoric means and Abigail can be seen staring at a point on the timeline (in the exhibit) which says "2000 years ago"

-Abigail is actually the one to initiate the handshake with Maggie, as she is the one who began it by tapping Maggie's hand

-Someone mentioned this above, but the young boy seen in the beginning of the film giving blood definitely stood out to me as well.

-Abigail is clearly a very gifted young girl. We get to see that she created some advanced type of lego(i think?) formation in the time that she got home from school, until her bed time.

-Maggie tells the group (shortly after them eating worms) that she will be leaving soon. She would indeed be leaving as she was taken away by the police after the meeting with Abigail shortly thereafter. Did she foresee this event or was this something different from what she was alluding to?

-In the same scene where she tells them she would be leaving, she mentioned that if you listen through the silence, they would be able to hear the sound of her voice. The movie ends with her voice speaking to Peter.

One final thought- how do Maggie's actions as a time traveler in the past, affect her in the future?

Duncan Strathie said...

Randy & Michael - many thanks for the questions. This film certainly raises them for many people. I want to know the answers to all you ask too.

Director Bal Batmanglij said in an interview recently when asked about a sequel "there’s not really a demand for it because not a lot of people have seen the first film yet".
(Read more at http://collider.com/zal-batmanglij-the-east-interview/#0f86O66Fkd6w70oB.99) Perhaps he needs to look at the questions on this blog!

I posted this review less than 2 years ago and it's had 12K page hits - second most popular on the blog. Some people are clearly interested in a sequel.

How can we start a campaign?

Misty Davis said...

I know I'm extremely late but I just watched this and I took the dad and Abigail as he was giving her something to make her sleep. Nothing bad or horrible. Did anyone else notice that from the time she got home until the time he had to PRY her away(literally had to PRY her away from legos) she sat building with the Lego block things so I saw it as him making it possible for her to sleep.didn't seem like she'd do it on her own.. and the whole sitting next to her was too keep her from getting up and going back to the Lego's this was the only part of the movie that didn't confuse the hell out of me so....guess for more understanding I need to see the sequel if it ever gets made.

Duncan Strathie said...

Misty - you're not late, don't worry.

There are so many metaphors in this story that we don't understand. That's why we need the sequels! Keep reflecting on the movie.

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