Is she or isn't she? A time traveler, I mean. It's modern day L.A., and Maggie (Brit Marling, of ANOTHER EARTH) is living the dream. She's got her own place, needs no job, doesn't have to wear anything all day other than a flowing white sheet, and she's got an intensely devoted group of followers who go to great lengths to convene in her undisclosed location (a basement) in order to hang on her every word. But she also has to breath oxygen from a tank, and she has no real friends or family. She claims to be unstuck in time, somehow tossed back from the middle of the current century, give of take a few years. And although she can't prove it (how could she, really? The movie addresses this), her devotees, like us, want to believe her. Because time travel is cool.
Of course, thinking in formal terms, film, the medium itself, makes time travelers out of all of us. Within the enclosed running time of any given movie, we are liberally thrust through time repeatedly - mostly forward, generally skipping over mundane and presumed moments to rejoin the characters in the next scene that "matters". The characters themselves do not experience this (unless they are time travelers in a time travel movie), just us. For them, minutes, hours, weeks, years may've passed. For us, it's the next shot. We've become so used to it, we don't even realize we're time traveling any more. But we, in a sense, are. So we actually have no concrete reason to not believe Maggie, who may very well be simply enlightened to her own reality.
Or maybe she's a kook. A dangerous, manipulative, power-hungry con artist of a kook. (And, might I add, a bit of a looker.) But, the fact is, whether she's telling the truth about her temporal origins or not, she's absolutely at least a few of those things. The single most transcendent scene, the film's takeaway moment and moments that follow, involve how Maggie handles a seemingly simple request from her followers to serenade them with a popular tune from her time. The song she eventually selects is strangely sublime - both in choice and ghostly performance - even if it begs a few pointed follow-up questions. One guy gets up the nerve to ask those questions, leaving everyone - us and the fellow characters - helpless to witness Maggie's hairpin turn into classic control-freak cult leader.
SOUND OF MY VOICE will inevitably draw much comparison to last year's also cult themed MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, since they're so undeniably similar in scope, not to mention relatively close in terms of release date proximity. They each also feature a scene of the female protagonist being taught firearms in the woods. But the comparisons can almost stop there, as MMMM is all about leaving a cult, whereas SOUND OF MY VOICE is about getting involved in one. (Did I mention that Maggie is not the film's A-storyline? It's lamentably easy to forget the two protagonists, a documentary filmmaking couple, Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius), that infiltrate the group. Too bad for the otherwise intriguing film that they are ultimately very weak vessels, eventually nothing more than unintentional electrodes for the screenplay's final act of attempted daring do.
Along those lines, MMMM is the deeper, far more disturbing film, as SOUND OF MY VOICE actually warrants comparison to the 2000 rom-com HAPPY ACCIDENTS, in which we root for Marisa Tomei to couple up with Vincent D'onofrio, wondering all the while (along with her) if his claims of being a time traveler from the far future don't make him certifiable. SOUND OF MY VOICE is not romantic nor is it a comedy, but it does ask the question of whether a central character that claims to be from the future actually is, placing the fate of all that comes after on the answer to that. It's enough of a concept to hang a film on, but beyond that, it's all, as they say, in the execution.
Despite having a lot of ideas flying around on the screen (director Zal Batmanglij crams a lot of tangential nuggets into the frame), provoking, at least for this critic, ideas of filmmaking itself as time travel, and also as voyeurism (ah, the classics). Brit Marling, with the only character that sticks to the memory, does something distinct if not altogether special with her cagey loner of an antihero. The filmmaking itself is typically mini-major indie, not veering in any terribly wrong directions; ever watchable in its service to the overall halfway compelling piece, which, adds up to more of a question than a story. When the brisk eighty-five minutes of SOUND OF MY VOICE is merely an echo, you, as a filmgoer will have once again time traveled. Maybe as much as Maggie did.
- Jim Tudor