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“Somewhere in the Valley there is a woman living in a basement who claims she’s from the future and she’s amassing followers.” This sums up the situation of Peter and Lorna, having infiltrated the cult of the woman known only as Maggie, never seen in public, her precise location unknown as they are blindfolded prior to being chauffeured to every meeting.
The latest enigmatic curiosity from Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice is co-written with director Zal Batmanglij and soundtracked by his brother Rostam Batmanglij, and starring Marling herself as Maggie, the woman who claims to have fallen backwards in time from the year 2054. Where she was the central performer in her previous production, Another Earth, here she remains the focus despite remaining elusively offscreen for much of the film, with the narrative carried by Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius as the troubled couple seeking audience.
Peter’s initial position is strident, applying rational standards to his investigation. “She’s a con artist. She’s dangerous. We have to expose her before she gets all these people to kill themselves.” He accuses Maggie of deceit, yet he himself is willing to deceive her in order to get what he wants, but his determination to debunk her is powered by his own traumatic childhood, the scars of which leave him susceptible to Maggie’s persuasion, and soon his need to believe that she is a fraud is compromised by his need to believe in anything.
None of the performances are showy, quite the contrary. All the characters are damaged, and it is this vulnerability which Maggie exploits. From her first appearance, barefoot in white robes with oxygen tank in tow, claiming to be “allergic to everything in this time period” and warning of the coming civil war, her infirmity makes her seem weak, but her will is steely, and she employs others as her muscle.
As the stakes are raised by Maggie’s demands on her new followers to prove their loyalty, Peter is forced into an unconscionable choice, but the film is a rumination on faith, trust and consequences, with any evidence presented marginal and no clear answers given. Maggie’s claims are extraordinary and she has no evidence to back them up – how can she, when the future she speaks of hasn’t happened yet?
Like Another Earthbefore it, Sound of My Voice is ambiguous, concluding at the cusp of understanding and so leaving the viewer questioning the truth and meaning of what has happened, yet still feels stretched even to the modest running time. While unlikely to win her any new followers, it does confirm Marling as an interesting and unconventional talent who is willing to experiment and challenge audiences, and that alone is worth applauding.