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BYT Spring/Summer 2014 Film Guide

The dynamic Georgetown alum duo of Mike Cahill and Brit Marling is back with the follow up to their brilliant Another Earth, I Origins. Expect more of a thinking man’s sci-fi, where science actually helps us learn more about being human. In I Origins, a molecular biologist (Michael Pitt of The Dreamers fame) and his lab partner are experimenting with giving non-functioning-eyed organisms sight. The eyes/Is have it.
Sexy Beast–in one word, unnerving. Director Jonathan Glazer is back after 10 years with similarly unsettling matter with Under The Skin, “a horror with a heart,” starring Scarlett Johansson as an impossibly mesmerizing and prepossessing alien with a British accent. “You don’t really want to wake up, do you?” I am sure most audience members would agree.
Director Sydney Freeland filmed Drunktown’s Finest near the Navajo Reservation she was raised in. It’s a film about young Native Americans, with some of the themes you would anticipate–alcoholism, poverty, search for an identity, finding one’s place. Yet, there is a certain levity that links the stories of Sick Boy, who has enlisted in the Army to support his family but is at risk of getting booted before basic training, Nizhoni, who was adopted by white parents and spent most of her adolescence in faraway private schools, and Felixia, a pre-op transsexual who secretly turns tricks while living with her tradition-minded grandparents on the reservation.

BYT Spring/Summer 2013 Movie Guide

BYT Spring/Summer 2013 Movie Guide

The East (May 31) – Brit Marling’s latest movie, The East, sounds like an incendiary amalgamation of The Edukators and If A Tree Falls, with a dash of Fight Club-esque nihilism for good measure. In Sound of My Voice, she played a cult leader and the protagonists were the infiltrators; here, she is the infiltrator, attempting to gain access into an “eco-terrorist” group that launches attacks against major corporations (I use quotation marks as I am not quite sure the rather-easily-slapped-on terrorist label should be bandied about quite so freely in cases involving environmental issues). The East finds Brit teaming up with long-time collaborator and fellow Georgetown alum Zal Batmanglij to once again explore the more subversive side of life (they also co-wrote and produced Sound Of My Voice). Alexander Skarsgård plays the group’s firebrand (ha!) leader and Ellen Page one of its members. The East promises to be a thrilling take on some very cogent, all too terrifyingly real issues and if Brit’s past work is any indication, expect this to be thoroughly and I do mean thoroughly engrossing. The trailer alone will give you chills.

Passion (September 7) – Brian De Palma knows a thing or two about the lurid, with a resume featuring Scarface, Carlito’s Way, and Carrie. Rachel McAdams (yes, the ebullient girl next door Rachel McAdams) and Noomi Rapace (yes, the girl with the dragon tattoo) star in De Palma’s remake of the 2010 French thriller Love Crime, which follows two women playing games with each other in a business setting. Think The Devil Wears Prada with a lot more violence and sex, maybe? While things start out with a little good ol’ taking credit for someone else’s idea – Rachel McAdams’ character takes credit for her underling’s work – they quickly escalate. I mean, didn’t Desperate Housewives teach you the jump from casserole bickering to murder isn’t all that great!? McAdams and Rapace could be the new Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis from Black Swan: things are looking pretty steamy, lack of leotards and anorexia notwithstanding.

Sound Of My Voice Movie Review

My review of Sound Of My Voice

Following in the chilling footsteps of last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sound of My Voice’s premise is simple enough: couple Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) set out to infiltrate a cult, make a documentary about it, and expose the leader as a fraud. As in Martha Marcy May Marlene, however, reality and truth are eerie, elusive concepts. The process of joining  this cult is a disorienting and de-personalizing experience. To be allowed into the cult, they have to assume the identities of believers and, in the process, relinquish their real ones. Needless to say, Peter and Lorna’s journey quickly becomes an honest-to-god identity crisis. What’s more, the line between wanting to do a documentary on a cult and being in one is as enigmatic as the cult’s enigmatic leader. Who is she? Is she just a manipulative hack, or is she really from the year 2054, sent here to impart knowledge to a select group of “chosen ones?”
Co-writers Brit Marling and Director Zal Batmanglij, both Georgetown graduates, bring a mesmerizing, minimalist ethos to this film. In Marling’s other film Another Earth, Marling’s ethereal, luminous presence embodies her walking-wounded character. Her beautiful otherness is appropriately otherworldly and futuristic. Sci-fi tinge notwithstanding, Another Earthwas grounded in its human element, yet had enough of a flight of fancy to transport the viewer to a different dimension. The existential “anywhere but here” quest that underpinned is present in The Sound Of My Voice as well. Ultimately, there is this escapist search for meaning the viewer keeps hearing about in both.

The Sound Of My Voice is a gripping look down the rabbit hole of joining a cult. It thoroughly explores the psychology of the process. The stage of “preparing on the outside,” [which includes learning the at-first-seemingly-silly but later on important to the plot elaborate hand signals] is followed by Peter and Lorna’s first encounter with Maggie, to whom they are taken blind-folded and thoroughly cleansed [literally]. They are forbidden from asking questions or making any sudden movements—they are told these precautions are necessary because of the “special”/”chosen” status that is about to be bestowed upon them. The thrust of the message is one must have a great deal of faith and that faith comes at the expense of reason—in one of the movie’s most engrossing, stomach-turning scenes, Maggie likens the eating of an apple to the ingestion of reason and logic, which is bitter. Reason must literally be purged from the minds of the cultees [by throwing up the apple] and replaced by blind devotion. She demands that everyone “stop thinking and start feeling.” In that scene, however, the viewer also gets insight into the predatory, abusive, and manipulative nature of the relationship—when Maggie inexorably extracts the story of Peter’s abuse as a child, telling him how he was powerless then but is not now, the crushing reality of one abuser’s supplanting by another is made starkly obvious. The Sound Of My Voice does a phenomenal job of asking the tough question about who joins cults—at the beginning, Peter is convinced that these people “are weak and they are looking for meaning.” Despite Lorna and Peter’s superficial veneer of normalcy and their seemingly being different from the other members, ultimately, they are both brought here by a search for meaning and are no less “damaged” than the others or than anyone else, for that matter.

. Sure, Peter and Lorna’s very hipster/I am so tired of the scene asides add some levity to the matter [ e.g. bemoaning the superficiality of getting drunk at art installations and one’s life playing out like an episode of Entourage], but this search for something substantive and meaningful belies sweeping generalizations about the cult members as “damaged people” doing damning things.