Traveling Through Time
by Zac Sanford
Every great cult has a charismatic leader who expertly uses language and tone to play with the emotions of their fellow cult members. These leaders find unsuspecting people looking for a purpose and a deeper understanding of life, and usually lead them to disaster.
In Sound of My Voice, Brit Marling plays Maggie, the frail and weak leader of a cult situated somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. All her food is grown specifically for her. She walks in slow movements while wheeling an oxygen tank behind her. But when she speaks, when she makes eye contact with her fellow devotees, they grasp onto every word she says.
Two fellow members are Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) and Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius). They haven't come to this hideout because they believe in Maggie's story. Peter fancies himself a documentary filmmaker. The plan is to capture video from his glasses while the transceiver in his stomach captures all the details. At first, neither Peter or Lorna believe the leader, and why should they? Maggie claims to have come from the year 2054.
During the second night in the compound, Maggie serves the members an apple (an over-used metaphor). As her devotees dig in, Maggie claims that the food is toxic, and this is how they are all slowly dying. Member after member regurgitates the apple, spewing out the poison. Well, everyone does except for Peter. Peter claims he's never been able to throw up, even as a child. Maggie digs in deep, throwing Peter under the bus for being a weak human. Soon the emotions start to flood out, including the food that was previously ingested. Later Lorna questions Peter's past, only to have him blow it off, saying that it was nothing but lies.
And that is what the script (co-written by Marling and the director Zal Batmanglij) does best, twisting the perception of those within the cult and those in the audience. As Peter gets deeper into the cult, Lorna questions his true intentions and motives. Is this really all about the film or is there something more, a connection between he and Maggie that is no longer there with Lorna? The film is delivered in small chapters with each being broken up by a single title card before entering the next section of the film. Some come across very straight forward, while others will leave you scratching your head, wondering what the connection is until the very end. What is the point of the little girl? Who is the suspicious woman checking in to a hotel and looking for bugging devices?
It all comes to a satisfying end... at least for me. The question of what was real and what may have been faked has clues and some answers, but they are thrown together so quickly at the end, that the viewers must question their own beliefs.
This is also Brit's second foray into the ultra low budget sci-fi realm. Last year she delivered (and also co-wrote with Mike Cahill) Another Earth, a somewhat lesser film to this one. She knows her way around sci-fi conventions and how to deliver a powerful story and characters within the backdrops usually reserved for aliens and other-worldly creatures. Neither of these films are loaded with special effects (except the second Earth in the previous film), as her stories try to ground themselves in a world that could possibly exist. As she continues to grow as a writer and star, I can only hope that she delves deeper into the world deep within.