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Tag Archives: Brit Marling
The indie film “Sound of My Voice” is both striking and contradictory: Stuffed full of ideas and twists and turns, it also plays a little thin and fragile, more like a haiku than a novel. Starring and co-written by Brit Marling (“Another Earth“), the film begins (and it’s not giving away too much to say this, as the film’s first 12 minutes are online as a kind of mega-trailer) as a young couple are finally being initiated to the inner circle of the cult they’ve joined. They’re taken from one unknown place to another in a series of cars to maintain secrecy, through the cul-de-sac anonymity of San Fernando Valley suburban homes. There, they are asked to clean and scour themselves raw before they finally meet the cult’s leader, Maggie (Marling). Maggie has a message of sacrifice and struggle, and warns of hard times to come. This isn’t prophecy, for Maggie, but rather memory. Maggie’s most outrageous claim, made matter-of-factly, is that she’s been sent from 2054 to warn anyone brave enough to listen about the collapse soon to come …
There are moments in “Another Earth,” the new indie sci-fi film from actress/co-writer Brit Marling and director/co-writer Mike Cahill, that felt as if I’d seen them before, or that the pieces were stretched thin by their ambition and not connected by anything other than proximity. It was, early on, easy to think that Cahill and Marling had taken a standard-issue early-to-mid-’90s indie film plot about fate and forgiveness and grafted it to a high-concept premise with some sci-fi notes but very little actual sci in the fi, an uneasy and unnecessary union of Hal Hartley and M. Night Shyamalan, or Allison Anders and Rod Serling.
So then, why can I not shake it? For all of those very real complaints and observations, there are moments in “Another Earth” where what we see onscreen has the grace and power of life as we know it, and where the sci-fi plot points do not make us think about that fantasy, but, rather, about our reality. Those moments are not solely about the alert, cautious intelligence in Ms. Marling’s eyes and the striking features they are set in, either, although both are substantive and used to effect here. Rather, they’re about the classic definition of irony, which is contrast through art in the name of making us seriously think about what a thing really is by linking it to what it is not.
The opening scene defines the film: Young aspiring scientist Rhoda Williams is driving home from a graduation party a little buzzed, a little distracted. She sees a new light in the sky — she knows the stars and where they should be, and knows when something is there that shouldn’t be, even while buzzed. While distracted and entranced by the light in the sky, she crosses over the lane and runs a stop sign and plows into the car of a young family, a composer named John Burroughs (William Mapother) and his wife and child. She stumbles out of the wreck, bloodied and shaken, realizing she’s killed a mother and her child.
She goes to jail; he goes to grieve. And the world goes on without them, abuzz with the fact that the object Rhoda saw is a new Earth — not another planet that can sustain life, but rather an exact duplicate, equally distant from the sun, with the same continents and lights and cities. It’s suggested, in fact, that right up to the moment someone on our planet saw it, it was an exact duplicate, and then and only then did we diverge.
Rhoda, a scientist in exile, can’t stop thinking about the possibilities on the other planet; as a human, she can’t stop thinking about what she did on this one. And so years later she seeks out the sad and medicated John, and her attempt to make amends turns to stammers, and she winds up cleaning his house. John doesn’t know Rhoda was the driver who destroyed his life (she was a minor at the time), and they grow close. And become lovers.
It is hard to not roll one’s eyes at this plot synopsis — the sort of emotional O. Henry twist that indie film has mined for years — but the bare bones of the plot do nothing to speak to the real and fragile flesh around them. There are human and small moments here among the big feelings and concepts: John and Rhoda bond in part over, of all things, Wii boxing; a flashback to Rhoda’s hopes and dreams shows her with a copy of Asimov’s “Foundation” nestled under three calculators; John coaxes an eerie, unearthly and beautiful melody from a saw. And the score — credited to a group called Fall on Your Sword — pulses under everything with sinister beauty.
Mapother is excellent. Audiences who know him only as the spooky Ethan Rom on “Lost” will get to see a slightly more broad use of his acting skills. Jonathan is broken but mending, and Mapother has a curiously all-American quality, like a modernized Grant Wood painting, that serves him well. Marling is a strong writer and performer — she had not one but two films at this year’s Sundance, with “Sound of My Voice” alongside this one — and while her other film is the stronger of these two, this is still an intriguing and assured early film from a real talent.
“For all sad words of tongue and pen,” wrote 19th-century poet John Greenleaf Whittier, “the saddest are these: ‘What might have been.’” But just because they’re sad doesn’t mean we don’t speak them. “Another Earth” is about the things many people have running through their minds: what if, why not, perhaps. Marling and Cahill’s script is short on facts and long on feelings, but they do deserve points for thinking outside the box of their small budget — and they also know how to craft an ending that will infuriate as many people as it will inspire.
With her one-two punch of “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice,” actress-writer Brit Marling had a delightful Sundance, with both the films she co-wrote playing the fest — and both being picked up for distribution. “Another Earth” casts Marling as Rhoda, a would-be scientist whose life is shattered when she drunkenly crashes into a car — and kills the mother and child composer John Burroughs (William Mapother) was driving home — after she’s distracted by the sudden appearance of a duplicate, planet earth hanging in the sky. Four years later, she finds John — and the alternate earth hovers in the sky as a tantalizing suggestion that somewhere, somehow, he could still have a family and she could still have a future.
Mixing science fiction and indie drama, “Another Earth” is a striking debut — for both Marling and director/co-writer Mike Cahill — and a welcome respite from summertime theaters full of talking robots and singing children. We spoke with Marling in Los Angeles:
In material like ‘Another Earth,’ when you’re writing and performing it, what’s the line between science fiction and magical realism? Where do you say math ends and metaphor begins?
Marling: I’ll tell you — I’ll see if this answers your question; if not, I’ll try again. I feel like in America there’s this weird thing where movies … in fantasy they’re completely fantastical or they’re completely real, and rarely are the two braided together. I feel like it’s because we don’t believe in the possibility for magic in ordinary life. When you read ‘Love in the Time of Cholera,’ that’s really grounded in reality — and magical, extraordinary things happen. A lot of Latin American writers and a lot of Japanese writers, they’re all writing about things that are grounded in a kind of realism — the mundane, the ordinary — but extraordinary things are happening. Kieslowski’s movies: ‘Double Life of Veronique,’ ‘Red …’ — I don’t know why, traditionally speaking, American storytelling doesn’t come up with that. I don’t know if it’s because we come from this pioneering origin where everything’s very practical and it’s all about the Western and shoot and destroy. Things that come from here seem to be decidedly fantastic or decidedly real, and I think Mike and Zal (Batmangli, director of ‘Sound of My Voice’) and I are all interested more in the braid of the two: The possibility that you and I are sitting here doing this interview, and then we’re suddenly levitating. It is of the ordinary, this extraordinary stuff.
The film jumps from parallel planets hanging in the sky to Rhoda and John playing Wii boxing. So how do you blend big ideas with human moments? Is it a deliberate switch, or is it process where they accrue?
Marling: Accrued big ideas: I love what you’re saying, because how do you go back and forth? Literally, it was in the same scene, they’re looking out the telescope at a duplicate planet in the sky … and then they go into the other room and play a video game. I remember when William first read the script, he was like, ‘How are we going to pull this off in terms of authenticity? How are we going to go from one moment to the next?’ I think that the truth is that life is like that. We turn on the television, we hear about some catastrophic war or the way in which people, terrible things are happening all over or impossible things that are happening, then we go and get on our laptop and start surfing the web and looking at image blogs. There is some truth to that being the way that we are, which is we’re constantly going back and forth between things that are these epic things, and then the micro details of our life, things that very clearly are happening — global warming — but refuse to deal with on a daily basis as we go to the gas pump and put the gas in so we can go to the grocery store. There’s this real separation in how we live our lives, I think. That’s in the movie, too. It’s bizarre that they aren’t always dealing with this catastrophic thing that’s in the night sky, but it’s also bizarre that we aren’t all addressing global warming. Isn’t that weird?
There was the infamous line about your work that you weren’t reading the scripts of movies you wanted to make, so you figured you would write them.
Marling: (Laughing) That sounds so bossy.
What movies do you like?
Marling: I sound so awful when you say that like that; it’s so tricky these days. What kind of movies do I like? I love ‘Red,’ I love ‘Twelve Monkeys,’ I loved ‘The Princess Bride’ growing up — I love the romance of that movie and the humor in it. More recently, I loved ‘Reprise,’ I loved ‘Edge of Heaven,’ I loved ‘Elegy,’ I loved ‘I am Love,’ I loved so many. ‘There Will Be Blood,’ Schnabel’s film ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ There’s so many great movies being made, it’s overwhelming. I think what I meant to say — and I may have said it callously and not been thinking very clearly — as an actress auditioning for things and you’ve never done anything before, the stories that I had access to that I could audition for were not very substantive. The only choice that I had was to try to do these things and eventually get to a place where you have a bit more –
Is it the thing of ‘Act like you have the job you want?‘
Marling: Yes, act like you have the job you want until you one day get it. I thought it would be easier to learn writing so that I could have some longevity as an actress. The truth is even when you get to a place where you can start to read all the great scripts and the great stories that are being made, it’s so competitive. There aren’t that many parts for women. I feel like it takes a long time to get good at being an actor, and I thought I probably won’t get any good until I’m 40. It’d be good to learn to write now so that maybe by then I’ll be able to write things well for that age and play them.
Are you terrified that you’re going to become the blonde, Silverlake, M. Night Shyamalan, that you’re going to be the person who does the trick endings from ‘The Twilight Zone’ and that’s what people will think of you when you want to be funny or do a period piece? Your star is rising, but are you worried about too much trajectory being predetermined even on launch?
Marling: I don’t think so, because I’m always trying to take on things that I haven’t done before. A thing that Zal and I are writing now, the story’s so different from both of these stories and the character’s so different from any of the girls I’ve played before. The things that I read that I get inspired to do, I get inspired because you feel this thing in your stomach like, ‘I’m so attracted to this because I’ve never been here before.’ It’s a foreign continent; I want to go explore that. I want to do it in all different ways and genres. I love comedy and I would love to do an action movie. It’s not, to me, about genres or budgets or who’s making it or why — to me, it’s: Does the story get at something in you? Does it stir that thing in you where you’re like, ‘Yes, I want to dive into the research of this and I want to go there …’ Everything about it? You revel in the discovery and uncovering of something about who that person is. I don’t know that I’ll ever be in danger of being in one trajectory … because I’d probably kick myself off of it pretty quickly.
You’ve been doing the festival circuit for a while, and you’re still doing screenings with Q&As. Is this something where it’s the equivalent of touring crappy pubs with your punk rock band and you enjoy sleeping in a van, or can you not wait to wave goodbye to that? Are there good and bad parts of working a film this intimately, at this level?
Marling: I’ve never thought of it that way. Every day I wake up and I think, ‘This is impossible and too good to be true.’ The people from (distributor Fox) Searchlight that were working on this movie, they’re so talented, they’re so committed. They believe in this movie and they have such great ideas for how to bring it into the world. The trailer they made — it’s a hard movie to pitch. Mike and I tried pitching it all the time; it’s hard. They made this trailer that somehow tells you everything you need to know but also holds back, leaves a lot to mystery. It braids with the epic conceit and the micro drama, and everything they do has that level of thoughtfulness. The same thing with this regional tour, the same thing with the way the film is unfolding and how they plan to release it. It’s all been so deeply thought out, and they have a wealth of experience in having movies like this reach as wide an audience as they could possibly reach. Most days I wake up and feel like I never even had the capacity to dream this. It’s impossible.
A young couple join a cult in the San Fernando Valley in California, but they’re actually making a documentary to expose the cult leader. The cult’s a fraud — or is it not? — led by Maggie (co-writer Brit Marling), who claims to be from the future. With its twisty plot and enigmatic tone, “Sound of My Voice” earned raves at Sundance … and didn’t get picked up for distribution. With the film at SXSW, I asked Marling if that deviation from the traditional Sundance success-story script seemed odd to her.
“I didn’t think so at all,” she said, “and I’ll tell you why: I think that these things can be looked at on a much longer timeline. You’re trying to birth a film into the world, and how the audience finds that can be in many ways. What happened with ‘Sound of My Voice’ — even though it premiered later in the (Sundance) fest, so a lot of people had even left as it was screening for the first time, let alone for the second and third — that was so interesting is that people came to those screenings and they were getting on their Twitter right as the movie was ending, and nobody was leaving the Q&As. This huge debate opened up: ‘Who is Maggie? What does this all mean?’ That debate exploded on the Internet. It’s been amazing to see the response to that. I think that response has carried into SXSW. We probably are very close to finding the right distributor, the right home for it.”
Which, I noted, is impressive for a film that crosses genres as fearlessly as “Sound of My Voice” does, jumping from intense indie drama to high-concept sci-fi. I asked if Marling and her director, Zal Batmanglij, ever said to themselves, “I can’t believe we’re doing ‘The Terminator‘ as a John Cassavetes film.” Marling appreciated the mocking compliment: “I’m blushing because it’s so funny. Zal and I love ‘The Terminator,’ we love ‘12 Monkeys,’ we love ‘Princess Bride.’ We love these high-concept movies, but then you also love the smallness and the realness of a drama like ‘Half Nelson.’ I think the question first is why can’t you marry both of those things? Why can’t you borrow genre elements from ‘The Bourne Supremacy,’ the pace and the thrilling nature of that movie, and have it meet up with the sweet romantic love of the ‘Princess Bride’ and have that meet up with the substance and the questioning of a movie like ‘Half Nelson’ — which I think asks so many provocative questions about what it means to be alive right now in this time, and how do you live a meaningful life?”
I asked Marling how she prepared to play a cult leader — and the answer, while maybe unflattering to her profession, was illuminating: “I watched a lot of documentaries of cult leaders, and I would study their behavior, but also their energy. It’s fascinating: A lot of cult leaders I found are failed actors or preachers, so it’s this interesting persona that feeds off of the attention of their devoted members, needs that devotion. It’s fascinating because it creates somebody that’s very strong and also incredibly vulnerable at the same time. The moment one of your disciples pulls their love away, you’re gutted. That became the centerpiece of Maggie for me: It’s someone who’s at once incredibly manipulative, fierce, aggressive — then at the same time, is fragile as a baby, can so easily be wounded, is in need of so much love.”
Which, in its way, isn’t a bad metaphor for the way an indie film faces the world, either. Marling and director Batmanglij were taking calls from sales agents right before our interview, but, in the end, she says it’s about more than selling the movie you made; it’s about making a movie you can stand behind. “We were not seeing, in the theaters, the kind of movie we wanted to see, so we thought maybe we should try to go write it and make it.” Marling paused, and smiled: “I don’t know if we’ve quite done it yet.”