“Sound of My Voice” opens on April 27. This independent film has garnered an incredible amount of attention, first because of it’s incredible viral marketing campaign (which involved actual cult meetings and a secret handshake) and it’s profound (and divisive) effect on early viewers.
In the film, directed by Zal Batmanglij and starring Brit Marling (and written by them both), a charismatic cult leader named Maggie is the subject of a secret documentary being filmed by new followers. She claims to be from the future. Is it all a scam? We spoke to Marling and Batmanglij about the film, cults and
Marling talks about creating Maggie. “She was hard to find. It’s funny, for a really long time, you would think that in the story that Maggie would have been one of the first pieces to come together and that’s where it came from, but she was the last thing to come into place — I think what finally broke it open for us was this idea of like her having a unique ability to see people clearly, and how much we want to be seen, and known, and understood, and loved anyway in spite of our brokenness, and badness, and messy parts. And Maggie is sort of a vicious badass, dominatrix, psychotherapist who without three years of therapy sessions is gonna get at the thing that makes you tick and push on it. And there’s some great pleasure in someone doing that to you even though it’s terrifying.”
Marling says they did a lot of research into cult leaders to create Maggie. “Oddly, actually what a lot of them have in common is they’re either ex-preachers or failed actors,” she laughs. “A lot of Maggie really came from the idea of time travel. If there was a time traveler in LA, where would she be? How would she be protecting herself? Would she talk to people about it? How would she avoid getting thrown in a mental institute. What’s actually happening there? I mean, even so far as thinking if you travel from New York to LA your immune system gets suppressed on the air plane. Well if you’re traveling back two decades in time what does that do to your body? What does that do to your hair? Everything.”
Batmanglij says that he thinks people get into cults because they feel alone. “I think that America, that were so alienated on a fundamental level — You have no community. And most people these days work from home, or a lot of people work from home, and so there isn’t even a bad job with a water cooler to go to to connect with other human beings. And I think ‘Sound of My Voice’ is about that experience on some fundamental level.
Batmanglij says that there is more to the story of Maggie, including the truth about her. “If people really connected with this then we’d love to do a sequel, and maybe a third movie. But it could also be a TV show, and so the end of the TV show, the series finale, would be, or close to the series finale, because it’s not the end end of the story, who Maggie really is, but it’s close.”