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The Speculative ‘Sound of My Voice’

By tt stern-enzi · May 23rd, 2012 · Movies
I have a question for Greta Gerwig, the odd naturalistic beauty who has bounded out of the Mumblecore underworld into the bright and glaring lights of mainstream attention, while still skipping back and forth across the great divide. 

Hey, Greta — and I want to go on the record here as a critic who is certainly smitten by your off-kilter charms, your wide innocent eyes and your gangly comic physicality that’s both sweet and sexy (I get you, I do) — but I have to wonder if you’ve begun having a few sleepless nights because there’s this other tall, alluring blonde out there. Her name is Brit Marling and I’ll be damned if she’s not sneaking up on you. I know she’s starting to creep into my dreams and I’m getting worried.

Marling is carving out a different path for herself, so on that note, you have little to fear. You’re mining the comic and the romantic, actually doing Lucille Ball one better, and you’re so much softer than Tea Leoni, another of the latter-day, would-be Ball-ers. 

But this Marling, well, she’s all about the drama, although she’s far from a diva. Her brand and flair for the dramatic is more inner-directed; it is all about what she’s holding in and it would be easy to mistake what she’s doing as nothing more than holding the frame with her pretty face. But to make that assumption is to miss the point entirely. Look into her eyes and there’s a multiverse of experience and wonder, stories waiting to be told.

I’m speculating, of course, but that’s the other part of her game.

She’s co-written two of the features she’s starred in, Another Earth and now Sound of My Voice, and each of these has played off a speculative premise. Another Earth tuned into an alternative reality where a literal separate Earth loomed in the sky and we gazed at it as possible other versions of ourselves peered back. Had our reflections out there chosen different paths and arrived as truly distinct individuals?

Sound of My Voice also plays with one of the greatest and most inherently illogical brainteasers of them all — time travel. But like the best speculative works (and for my money, I go with Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred, which sends a black woman back to the birth of the nation to reconcile her own twisted personal history with the question of race), Sound of My Voice cares little about the mechanics of the movement. 

Marling, who co-wrote the script with director Zal Batmanglij (the two are teaming up again on The East), simply explains that Maggie (Marling) woke up face down and naked in a bathtub of water and began wandering the streets until Klaus (Richard Wharton), a mysterious figure, rescued her. Soon a cult developed around her, one that Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), a pair of enterprising aspiring journalists, seek to expose.

The film kicks off with Peter and Lorna as they are brought into the fold during a secretive initiation rite that includes blindfolded journeys and funny handshakes. It sounds silly, but Voice has a cautious and quiet tone that has the ability to make believers out of skeptics. And that tone starts, and ends, with Marling. She draws the aspirants in, using the full force of her charm on Peter. He is our stand-in and we, no doubt, look at her the same way he does. We want to poke holes in the spell she’s weaving, but we just can’t stop looking at her, maybe because she nakedly unleashes her gaze on us. Rarely does a performer onscreen look into the camera and straight through to the audience, but Marling does and the effect is spine tingling.

The story falters a bit when she asks Peter to bring a young girl to her. We are meant to question what she wants with the girl and assume the worst. Before long, other characters and a more conventional plotline intrude.

But for a time, Marling has us wrapped around her finger, both through the scripted narrative and her presence. And that is what caused me to wonder, Greta, if you’re not a wee bit afraid of her. She’s a dangerous threat because she didn’t just emerge from a movement; she’s also part of the braintrust pulling the strings. 

I hear her Voice, and I don’t know about you, but I believe she might be The One. Grade: B+



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