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. Their scripts feel way too workshopped, the male actors way too hipster (I want to rampage through the Park Slope Food Co-op like Randy the Ram on his way down the aisles after storming off his deli job in THE WRESTLER), but I'll probably see her next film, THE EAST, anyway. Why? 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 Elektra King Hair Complex). Second is the name, Brit Marling. It practically rolls off the tongue like a drunken kitten.
Brit's hair also reminds me of some I used to sit behind in class. I made sure. I would write love poems to her awesome hair while supposedly making notes. "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 morning sun light. Whiskey and I had to part ways in 1998 but the girl, Kathy, is still a FB friend, and 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.
Their sense of humor is the same too, as in... nonexistent!
Still, I always am at a loss to truly explain my rapture over the heavenly hair Lady Marling. The closest I came was when sending a poem on the subject to an AA friend whose hair was even more long and lovely. She probably thought I was quite mad, or creepy. I think I sent it on myspace, so it's long gone. You can barely even find yourself on there anymore. Or anywhere.
Co-written and directed by Brit's fellow Georgetown alum Zal Batmanglij (He doesn't deserve her!) 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, 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. The leader is Marling, who's back in time from 2054 to teach and preach. The bulk of the film is her little basement workshops, punctuated by the documentarians and their dissolution as a couple, etc.
In the best scene, Brit is doing a workshop with 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 trauma-based rejection of all suspicions these people are brainwashing you. 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 MacGuffin aspect to be effective. 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? If we weren't molested, would it be necessary to 'remember' being molested anyway, for deep healing to occur? Is the unbearably smirky hipster documentarian 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. She 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. When we see her walking around wearing a wrapped-up shower curtain like Ellen Page in The Tracey Fragments 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 Lacan's ultimate signifier. His role is never fully explained - is he the mastermind? We never really learn. The men in the film are all uniformly little pishers who clearly weren't beaten up enough in high school. Scenes between the smirking couple are dull and drag on too long. She thinks he's weak. We think he's weak. The whole thing with the older black woman federal agent is too convenient. We never learn why cults always ask their new members to kidnap children. (Do they really, Brit? Did you research this? No, you didn't). 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.
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 MIT-graduated 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 the film "....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? Brit, I don't think you and your friend are qualified. Stick to science... and grooming! Instead, in searching for 'heart, an odd interesting sci-fi concept (a second earth spins close to ours) is wasted for some dull tale of martyrdom and second chance love--not to mention dopey male fantasy, that falls close to pandering. In this case, it's that some hot drunk young thing with heavenly hair is going to run over and kill your wife and child and then--after she gets out of prison-- come clean your house anonymously 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! Triteness and 'high concept' swamp the interesting elements like an incoming wave of insipid floatsam.
Here's what I wrote last year (in a review with Tiny Furniture):
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 friend 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 to no man, only cinema. It hath 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, and a good brush. The judgment of the worms turning in their beautiful graves, is that you're laden with stony promise. Give not thyself to emotions you know not of. Did Kubrick want to make soap operas?
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.