Cults are an inherently interesting subject to explore in film, given the insular, high pressure environment that demands conformity, tacked onto which is the inquisitive and questioning nature of people. Therein lies friction and catalyst. Another layer of intrigue is the dogma of the cult itself, what is claimed and why the followers believe it. And if they don't, what then?
Sound of My Voice is fantastic, and the first film I saw displaying the equally fantastic and talented Brit Marling. The plot, or rather the conceit is that two journalists go undercover into a cult that worships the aforementioned Marling as a woman from the future who ostensibly offers the group guidance and comfort in preparation for some upcoming event, or change.
What the film is about, though, is belief. Christopher Denham, pictured above, goes into the group bull headed and determined to expose Marlings dangerous fraud, as he sees it, motivated by both journalistic integrity and a related personal tragedy from his past. He is also the skeptic personified, and reasonably so. But what the film asks of us and him, is whether we are actually constitutionally capable of believing in something that we first encounter to be ridiculous or untrue, and if we are not, why not? This question is answered for Peter (Denham) in an emotionally tense dialogue with Maggie (Marling) that serves for me as the highlight of the film in which Peter is pushed and pushed until something has to give.
A word on Marling. The best way I can describe her screen presence in this and her other films - which are also characteristically left field and worth watching - is similar to the great James Gandolfini in that they both give off a vaguely somber, disaffected yet knowing (of what? I have no idea, of something) hue that is both engrossing and, perhaps because of it, strikingly genuine.
Do we have free will? The question is asked indirectly in Sound of My Voice, for if our I.D., personal hangups or anything else set the parameters for what we can or cannot accept as legitimate, our perspective is necessarily constricted and in turn, so are our choices. Our will if indeed we have one, is limited by what we can accept. The question of will, as well as assumption and identity is more directly the focus of Faults, another gem I'm lucky to have found.
Ansel opens the movie in a surreal comic scene in which his character is established to be down on his luck (he is using a token for a free meal) while also preeminent in his field - that of mind control, as he begins a lecture (sales pitch for his new book) on the topic. As the pitch ends he is confronted by a middle aged couple who solicit his expertise in deprogramming their daughter, Claire, who has become a victim to a cult named Faults.
Following is where the movie begins. Ansel proceeds to kidnap Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in order to trap her with him for 5 days, a period of time he supposes is adequate to break through her indoctrination. His fairly routine attempts to undermine her belief system give way to a captivating role reversal in which his surety of self is systematically eroded to the extent he is forced to doubt the very presumptions of what is and isn't permitted by physics.
What is so fascinating in the case of both movies is precisely this erosion, the process of questioning something so fundamental. Our confidence, and especially Ansel's in the roles we play in our unique narratives is not only questioned but for him cleaved in two, and what could build up the pressure to such an extent that an identity simply succumbs and breaks in order to be built anew? To quote Faults' trailer,
"Fault is a fracture, it's a place where pressure builds, until it releases."