Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Sound of My Voice: Frequently Asked Questions.

Q: What the fuck did I just watch?
A: The occasionally great, occasionally ridiculous The Sound of My Voice.
Q: Occasionally ridiculous? That's not very objective...
A: I know, but this is the first film I've reviewed on this site that I think that I think has some massive plot holes, meaning that there's no way I can discuss it without admitting I don't think it's quite as clever as it believes it is...
Q: What do you mean by occasionally great then?
A: Parts of this movie are incredible. I love the scene where Peter (Christopher Denham) gets asked to puke out the apple - Denham and Brit Marling (who plays Maggie, and also wrote the film) deliver spellbinding performances, and there's so much tension you could choke on it. It's the perfect example of what this movie does right: it's genuinely thrilling, emotional, and impeccably acted.
Q: What's with the ending of this movie?
A: The ending of this film can be interpreted in two ways: either Maggie really is a time traveller, and Peter has completely underestimated her; or she's the terrorist the Justice Department believe her to be and Peter has been completely suckered into her ruse.
Let's deal with the idea that she is a time traveller. This interpretation is most obviously supported by the fact that she does that weird handshake thing with Abigail, who she claims is her mother. If Abigail really is Maggie's mum, then she could well have taught her the greeting, as Maggie claims.
Another hint to support the idea that Maggie is telling the truth is the narration that introduces the characters of Peter and Lorna. The voice is a young female one; potentially Abigail's. This could mean that Abigail and Maggie do really have the potential to span time and space - explaining why Abigail knows elements of a story while serving as a narrator for scenes that she never actually sees or experiences.
If you take this interpretation then the film ends with on a sour note, implying that Peter the unbeliever has forever altered the course of history and has destroyed humanity's one chance at redemption.
Q: But Maggie being a time traveller doesn't explain why Abigail's dad shoots her up with that drug, or why Abigail acts so weird all the damn time...
A: Well, if you believe Maggie is a time traveller, the scene where Abigail's dad (played by James Urbaniak, a talented actor sadly wasted in this film) shoots her up with something contained in a needle ultimately serves as a bit of a red herring. On first viewing, the scene has a slightly sinister quality; but if, in retrospect, you believe Maggie is what she says she is, then you could just run with the explanation that Abigail is a diabetic and/or suffers from a mysterious medical condition. We do see her lying on the ground in one scene, and therefore the contents of the needle could just be insulin or some form of medication...
Or, as the logistics of how Maggie travels through time are never explained, you could assume that time travelling is a genetic ability, and that Abigail's funny turns are hints to the idea that she too possesses some kind of hidden power. The towers she makes out of black bricks to have an eerie sense of foreboding to them - maybe Abigail too has seen into the future, and is afflicted by the power of foresight that her daughter Maggie will use to a more practical degree...
Q: Sure does sound like you're drawing at straws here...
A: I know it does. That's what I mean about this movie trying to be more complicated than it is: it contains a lot of interesting ideas, but in my opinion buggers them all up by wanting to be more than it is. It's like the plot for a much stranger, much more surreal movie has been shoehorned into the middle of a genuinely interesting thriller about cults - as though Enemy has been thrust into the middle of Martha Marcy May Marlene.
I just get the sense that Marling and co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij wanted to make a film that could be interpreted a number of different ways: which is fine. In fact, that's great. That's the kind of movie I love. I just feel like they didn't lay down enough foundation work to make any re-watchings of the film fruitful. It's a movie that wants you to read deeply into it, but has nothing really to offer you when you do.  
Q: Mind staying on topic and trying not to slag off this film?
A: I'm trying. Really, I'm trying.
Q: If Maggie is a time traveller, then why are the Justice Department after her?
A: Well, if you believe Maggie's authentic, then there's nothing to imply that the woman who claims to be from the "Justice Department" really is what she says she is. We get almost no introduction to her character: all we see is her sitting in a hotel room with a sinister looking briefcase. Sure, she could be a federal agent, or she could be a member of some dangerous conspiracy, dedicated to keeping the citizens of the future under absolute control. After all, she knows exactly where to find Lorna - maybe that's her influence in the government, or maybe it's thanks to the perks of being a shadowy, dangerous agent of some hitherto undiscovered force...Or maybe it's just bad writing, designed to make you think about something that has only shakily been explored. 
Q: Remember that whole "stop pissing on this film" thing I asked you to do before? Yeah. You're doing great at that.
Q: But if Maggie is authentic, why do the Justice Department know that she's going to ask someone to abduct a child?
A: Again, who is to say that the agent from the "Justice Department" isn't a time traveller herself, and doesn't use her prior knowledge of Maggie's plan to meet her mother to destroy Maggie, and convince Lorna that she's actually a dangerous cult leader who has gone absolutely mad?
Q: Okay. What about that whole idea that Maggie is nothing more than a dangerous cultist?
A: This is the interpretation that works best for me, as it allows a lot of the sillier aspects of the plot to be better integrated into the experience.
If Maggie is a fraud, then her plan clearly revolves around her abducting a child, for a reason that is never fully articulated. When the "Justice Department" talk to Lorna, they indicate they know that Maggie has asked to kidnap a minor. If you take the "Maggie-as-dangerous-cultist" line of thinking, then that scene implies that Maggie has attempted this before.
The reason I most like the idea that Maggie is a fake is that it adds extra dimension to the character of Peter, and by extension, the audience. If you believe that Maggie really is a dangerous figure with the incredible power to convince anyone of anything, then Peter's final line, "I don't know", reveals the fact that he has been totally suckered into her scam. This man, who is totally convinced that all forms of cultish thinking is bogus, is tricked into believing something he actively told himself that he would never believe. His character therefore has undergone a radical, and emotionally fraught change: the man who wanted to fight brainwashed thought in all its forms has become just as brainwashed as his mother.
As an extension, the fact that the ending forces us the audience to go back through the movie to try to understand whether Maggie is or isn't a fraud, means that we too have been brainwashed: we've accepted this totally ludicrous premise, and have actually (whether briefly or not) considered it, proving that utter conviction can make the most rational minded of people believe that which is technically impossible.
Q:  But if Maggie's a fraud, how come she knows that handshake?
A: I dunno. Maybe she stalked Abigail?
Q: And why does Maggie want Abigail in the first place?
A: I told you: I don't know.
Q: And why does Abigail's dad act all creepy and weird?
A: I don't know!
Q: And why does some random girl narrate part of this movie?
A: I don't know!
Q: And why do they play the most ridiculously out of place upbeat tune at the end? Why does Maggie sing a Cranberries song knowing that it's likely that at least one person in the audience will recognise it as a current song? What part does Klaus play in all this? Why would he help a cult leader when he is implied to be the leader of the cult himself? Why would the cult not do proper background checks on two new members who are pretty obviously suspicious?
A: That's it. Fuck you. I'm going to watch Enemy for the sixty first time. You're on your own, motherfucker.

1 comment:

  1. please tell me you found an explanation -_- ... !!!

    Don't get me wrong , I loved the movie and I love it when film-makers make themes as ambiguous as they can , but I feel like there is something missing in the film ... Their initial idea was to make this as a trilogy , do you think maybe that's why it is ?