At a time when those in positions of power are increasingly trying to convince us that we live in a world of black & white in which you must choose a side, Brit Marling is screaming that the truth is grey. In her new feature, “The Sound of My Voice”, she presents a world of confusion and unease at the intersection of faith and reason and lets us watch the slow motion collision. Also at play are the dynamics of power and authority in shaping our thoughts and pulling us towards one side in order to set us in opposition to the other. I do not wish to get too much into the specifics of the narrative, because it is better to see the film with as little knowledge of the actual plot and direction as possible so as to form your own conclusions and opinions. What I find most interesting and do wish to explore here is the greater meaning behind the film’s ambiguous nature.
The brilliance of style and form here is the defining feature, and is actually more important than the details of plot to the overall message I believe Marling is trying to convey. It has become much more acceptable and commonplace in independent film over the course of it history to leave a film unresolved or ambiguous at the end and to let the viewer make their own conclusions. It has helped to elevate the art form and to challenge us to think. But what “Voice” does is even deeper and more sinister in a way that drives home its point. The ending is indeed left unresolved and ambiguous, however, the whole movie was a setup to give the viewer equal evidence on either side of the argument to make their case. If you are a believer, you are armed with adequate evidence to make a compelling case for faith by filling in the blanks to fit your worldview. If you are a skeptic, you are armed with equal and opposite evidence to make a compelling case for reason and to fill in your own blanks. If we are given both black and white, where does the truth lie?
The problem here is that the film’s approach may be too elegant for its own good. If the viewer is allowed to take what they want to justify their own worldview, will they miss the point entirely? We can see the same dynamics at play everywhere in our culture, and it is tearing us apart. As this black & white war becomes more and more entrenched, it becomes harder and harder to see a way out, because each side moves further and further away from the center, from the grey. The grey is indefinable, it is contradictory, it is incomprehensible, and that makes it is scary. People in power tap into this fear to sway people to one side or the other, a black or white viewpoint they often don’t actually fully believe in themselves, to drive their own agenda. Neither side is ever all right or wrong, all good or bad, and any feelings we have that tell us different, no matter how strongly felt and no matter with how much conviction we believe them to be our own, come from society. An idea can be independent, but any judgement about its value or nature is always dependent on society.
The ultimate meaning then, I believe, echoes the heart of every great spiritual tradition: never buy in wholly to anything coming from a source outside yourself. Question everything and put it to the only test that counts, the only one that is truly independent, your own inquiry. Access the deep well of knowledge and inspiration that is available to us all at all times, and find your answer. It will not be right, it will not be wrong. It will not be good, it will not be bad. It will simply be yours, and that is the truth.