To see Brit Marling is maybe to love her. She's so pretty! But I've seen both ANOTHER EARTH (2011) and THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (2011) and was disappointed both times, by scripts that feel way too workshopped, but I'll probably see her next film, THE EAST, anyway, just because I love Brit Marling, particular her hair... and her name.
First the hair, so long and shadowed, with dark blonde roots ranging up to sparking highlights to natural brown like some gorgeous ephemeral romanticist poem. She hides it a lot in these films, but mainly so when she busts it out it's like whoa, here comes the sun. The last time hair carried a film this well was Sophie Marceau's in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (see my disclaimed piece The Elektra King Hair Complex). Second is the name, Brit Marling. It practically rolls off the tongue like a drunken kitten.
Brit also looks--facially--like a girl I used to go with in college, one who drove me crazy from 1986-1988 with her on again off again interest in me. Basically she'd hook up with me just to dissuade other guys I knew from hitting on her. Whatever, she was beautiful. I sat behind her in a few classes and would write love poems to her awesome hair. "Hair like whiskey" I wrote, for in the afternoon sun her brown hair glowed golden, as whiskey does if you hold a shot to the light. Whiskey and I had to part ways in 1998 but the girl and I found each other again on Facebook not too long ago and she apologized, which I appreciate. She still looks like Marling, a bit, but is older now, of course. I guess I am older too, but I can watch these Marling movies and pretend.
Still, I always am at a loss to truly explain my rapture over gorgeous hair like Marling's. The closest I came was when sending a poem on the subject to an AA friend who probably thought I was quite mad. I think I sent it on myspace, so it's long gone -- in a swirl of ads and music videos. You can barely even find yourself anymore.
Co-written and directed by Brit's fellow Georgetown alum Zal Batmanglij, THE SOUND OF MY VOICE starts out promisingly creepy as two smirky hipster documentarians infiltrate a secretive cult and must go through a barrage of preparations including a Silkwood shower, change of clothes, blindfolds, plastic strip handcuffing and white tunics and--here's where the douche chill air of Sundance workshopped contrivance starts to make itself known--memorizing and performing a bizarre playground-style secret handshake ritual of greeting. Conveniently, the group meeting their leader Brit Marling, back in time from 2054 like the love Terminator (see my own Sundance contrivance-free opus The Hippy Detective in 'Hippy in a Hellbasket' for a similar bent, but farther in reverse).
The best scene in SOUND is a lengthy encounter between Brit and her little following where she passes them all poisoned apples and then bids them vomit the pieces back up, to return to Edenic innocence by rejecting the fruit of knowledge. It's gross but a great metaphor for cult brainwashing -- the promise of spiritual bliss by rejecting all suspicions these people are brainwashing you for their own nefarious purposes. The smirky documentarian boy is afraid to vomit along because he's swallowed the receiver to his eyeglasses camera (he's filming her on the sly), which is itself stupid, the first indicator of Sundance workshop mentality. Why didn't he just ask his girl to hide it in her vagina? And the thing is, the scene doesn't need that mcguffin aspect. Instead the film could have focused on the real subject -- the need to create memories of incest to facilitate 'awakening' - who knows what we have repressed from our childhood? How much of it can we remember? How much is real? Who knows what's holding us back? Is the hipster really just making this up to go along with the group for the sake of his film, or is this something true? Does he even know?
With the awesome acting of Marling to guide the scene it's a true highlight in the realm of cult cult cinema. Marling looks awesome in her wispy gray-white shirt and gauze-y headwrap and she carries it off beautifully. She even makes being homeless look glamorous. We see her walking around wearing a wrapped-up shower curtain like Ellen Page in The Tracey Fragments and she seems to float along like Venus on the Asphalt L.A. half-shell.
But there's problems. The long white-haired dude who acts as her agent to the outside is creepy and odd but you're never really sure what his deal is. On some level it's a case of that weird unwritten law that says no strong woman character can exist without the enigmatic older male standing behind her, granting her this power through his patriarchal embodiment of the ultimate signifier. His role is never fully explained - is he the mastermind? We never really learn. Scenes between the smirking couple are dull and drag on too long. She thinks he's weak. We think hes weak. She's hot too, but too skinny. The whole thing with the older black woman federal agent is too convenient. We never learn why exactly cults always ask their new members to kidnap children. (Do they really, Brit? Did you research this?) And the end resolution is all a bit too pat, albeit beautifully acted. Scenes of worm eating show Brit is daring, not afraid to be like Nicolas Cage in The Vampire's Kiss and eat a lower life form. She's right though, this is how the Japanese thrived in the Burmese jungle during WW2 while the British withered and died. The Brits only ate from their chipped beef rations, which went bad easily. The Japanese just dragged some creatures out of the air and earth and water and ate them, as nature intended. It is our destiny. (See also my slashfood blog post on microlivestock).
What's wrong the Sound is very similar to what's wrong with Brit's other Sundance hit sci fi film Another Earth, i.e. there's so much interesting raw material just from the sci fi concept and the distant Zen beauty and art school confidence of Marling that you really can't lose. Just look at that striking image above! But if you can't read the blurb atop it says "....opens up the vast, still largely unexplored terrain of the human heart." Yeeeesh. Don't they know some of us suffer extreme douche chills from reading such treacly blurbs?
This odd interesting sci fi concept (a second earth spins close to ours) is wasted in the end on some dull tale of martyrdom and second chance love--not to mention dopey male fantasy, i.e. that some hot drunk young thing is going to run over and kill your wife and child and then come clean your house and fuck you as repentance, and fall for you and give up the one thing that really matters in her life so you can-- oh man you can fool the average human heart terrain art film couple or critic or blurb writer but you can't fool me!
Here's what I wrote last year:
Poetry journal conceits aside the moral here is that actors love roles that require lots of emoting and screen time but less memorization of dialogue and if you let your cellist boyfriend design your score for you don't be surprised if he drowns your every muted reaction shot in tired chamber sawing and wants to make a big production of serenading you by musical saw in an empty auditorium as you visualize old Sputnik photos. You're Britt Marling, damnit! You look gorgeous in front of a big blue earth, and you're hip and this is your Darling, and this is what you're going to let yourself be seduced by?It's true, yo. In the end, the Hair of the Marling belongs cinema. It has claimed her. Long may she reign over the muted realm of indie 'heart terrain exploration' sci fi. But Jeeze, please, get someone other than these Sundance Robert McKee-reading hacks to co-write with you, Brit! And let go of all that 'where's the story's heart' Sundance workshop malarkey. Read some old science fiction, some masters, and let your natural actorly grace lead you to explore these imaginative situations as they are rather than just saddling your last act with a bunch of tropes that were cliches back in the 1930s and then perfected in 1982. Let the heart develop from your acting and from 'awake' exploration of scenes as they are. Brit, your hair deserves a lot better. Try again, and again. I am with you.... just never go Rosemary Woodhouse on us. That would be a crime. And never get old, just lead us on with your intellect and charm when all the while you love only the moon. The judgment of the moon and stars, and worms turning in their beautiful graves, is that you're laden with stony promise.
She does grant herself a really good monologue about learning to love the things that annoy you if there's no way to change them, and there's a Tarkovsky-esque moment playing Nintendo boxing and a great final shot, but why care about a guy so selfish he tries to talk his girlfriend out of going to space after she wins the essay contest and gets approval from a Richard Branson stand-in? Imagine if Charlie's uncle tried to talk him into giving up his golden ticket because his bunions hurt and he didn't want Charlie to go without him! A guy that self-absorbed deserves to lose his Marling.