Friday, May 11, 2012

Sound of My Voice

SOUND OF MY VOICE              B               
USA  (85 mi)  2011  d:  Zal Batmanglij             Official site

Another barebones indie film that must have been made on a dime, resembling in many ways the ultimate small-time film project of Shane Carruth’s PRIMER (2004), which is about the ramifications of time traveling through an invented time machine, where one seemingly has the capacity to alter the events of the future.  This film, co-written and produced by lead actress Brit Marling, from Another Earth (2011), takes a different approach, laying out the groundwork for how today’s society would be receptive (or not) to a visitor who claims to be from the future, namely 2054.  The inherent twist of this story, like it is for John Carpenter’s They Live (1988), is how few people are aware of the traveler’s presence, where there’s an elaborate preparatory process one must undergo simply to meet her, which includes driving to a specific location, switching to another van where all incoming passengers are blindfolded, so as not to know their destination, where they shower and change into hospital scrubs before meeting Klaus (Richard Wharton), who greets each individual with this 25 second handshake that couldn’t be more ridiculous, but it’s meticulously exact each time.  After that, Maggie (Marling) enters breathing from an oxygen tank.  All members of this exclusive “club” must donate blood for Maggie, as she never leaves her underground world, grows her own food in a greenhouse, and amasses what amounts to a cult following, where she describes her life on occasion, but seems more inclined to deal with the doubters among them, isolating them before throwing them out, separating couples involved in relationships, making sure all show allegiance to her.  One such couple, Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius), are investigative journalists who decide to infiltrate the cult with hidden cameras, something along the lines of Sam Fuller’s SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963).     

In another strange twist, each member is driven back to the original destination and returns home every evening, so rather than residing with Maggie, like most cults, they are only allowed periodic visits, where her mission is never fully explained.  Nonetheless, Maggie always speaks in a soft, intriguing manner, where her youthful beauty precedes her, as this may allow her to manipulatingly penetrate through predetermined wills of resistance.  Shown in a diary like day by day succession, the couple’s initial suspicion evolves over time, where after a hyper-personalized public humiliation, a kind of time traveling dressing down, Peter actually stops filming, and while he admits to having the same suspicions, believing Maggie is a fraud and a danger to the community in some as yet unanticipated way, he also seems lured under her sirenesque spell, which Lorna is quick to notice, watching a kind of interior transformation taking place.  Since so much of the film takes place in a basement, with little action to speak of, the secret of the film’s success is building dramatic tension through the personal encounters, where there is not much to go on to suggest this woman is from the future, yet she appears perfectly harmless, never revealing any ulterior motive that might raise one’s level of alertness.  And that may be what’s so confusing, as the curiosity about her motives takes place in each one of the individual person’s minds, who are also curious about one another, all wondering what the other ones think.  How can they be part of a secret cult if they’re not asked to give up individuality or anything unique, or sacrifice any part of their lives except for brief moments of their time?  She’s not asking for money or personal assets, only blood in order that she can survive, which is not so much to ask.  No one is asked to be part of a futuristic crusade to save the earth before it’s too late, though she does suggest a kind of futuristic doom is in store for everyone on an apocalyptic proportion.  

The driving force is the character of Maggie herself, as she is a curiosity.  She’s extremely well written, revealing certain personality traits, where she takes control over a communal thought process, displaying an ability to focus in on anyone who shows resistance and refuses to conform, immediately shaming them into conformity or dismisses them from the group, so they are all aligned.  Yet if she’s from the future, you’d think she’d be able to share certain aspects of people’s lives in the future, but she’s not clairvoyant, and there’s no suggestion these members are friends for life.  Everyone may have different destinations.  Instead, she seems to play upon each member’s hope that they will be a part of a better world.  The audience can maintain a healthy cynicism throughout, as so much feels omitted, like where she came from, how she got there, or why, but there’s no indication anybody’s being manipulated except in the way she expresses a commonality of thought, where perhaps she gains strength in gathering numbers, but because she continues to lead such a hermetic existence, it’s unlikely she has any grand designs, as she never leaves her basement.  There’s a plot twist that is little more than a trigger element, all designed to challenge the viewer’s perception, where Peter and Lorna come down on different sides, where each is perplexed about what to do, where their relationship is an issue as well, as their so-called solidarity comes under question.  In any relationship, there’s an element of personal trust involved.  What happens when that trust is broken?  Can it be repaired?  Is it all a misunderstanding?  This film starts questioning the heart of human relationships, while also imposing elements of conformity, which we are all subjected to.  Can that be misread?  Can we over-analyze the power and significance “others” hold over us?  One of the most mesmerizing factors is the pressure to conformity, even if it’s subconscious, which can be enormous.  Maggie is such an opaque presence, hard to define or read, where even her good or evil intentions remain carefully concealed.  The beauty of this film is it is largely defined by each audience member’s own personal expectations.  The ending remains ambiguous, stuck in a kind of philosophical limbo or no man’s land, where for all we know, the future of the world has been interminably altered—but for the better or for the worse?          

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