Saturday, April 13, 2013

M is for Martha Marcy May Marlene


USA, 2011
Running Length: 102 minutes
Cast: Elizabeth Olson, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson
Director:  Sean Durkin
Screenplay: Sean Durkin
Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes

Martha Marcy May Marlene is the extraordinary story of a woman who escapes a cult (although the word is never mentioned in the film) and seeks solace at the lake house her sister and brother-in-law are holidaying in.  The film cuts seamlessly between the present and the past, showing how and why Martha joined the cult, and how she escaped from its clutches.  Present and past blur, giving us a very real sense of what Martha’s head is like, how her world has been rattled by what she’s seen and experienced, and how she can’t reconcile that with her present.
John Hawkes is scarily perfect as Patrick , the slightly older man who presides over the cult.  He sees people, and knows what they need, and uses this knowledge to draw them in.  When he sees Martha, he knows she needs a family, and very quickly offers her one.
What Martha learns through being a subservient member of this remote farming community makes it difficult to assimilate with the day-to-day life her sister lives.  She has a big house on the lake, and her husband is a prominent New York architect.  They are trying to have a baby, something Martha sees as outrageous.
Elizabeth Olson (sister of the twins) gives an incredible performance as the uncertain and confused Martha (or Marcy May, or Marlene).  She is unsure of boundaries, and has only a tenuous hold on reality.  Whatever sense of self she may once have possessed has been stripped from her.
While some viewers will complain that the ending is frustratingly ambiguous, I disagree.  It is the perfect conclusion for a film where we have been so fully immersed in the character’s head, we no longer recognize what is real and what’s not.  And those are the questions you’ll be asking yourself as you leave the cinema.  


  1. It's funny you posted this. I just put it on my Netflix four days ago :) It sounds really interesting. Not Ticket to Heaven good, but still I have high hopes for it :)

  2. Your review makes me very curious about the movie. I want to know why she's outraged that her sister and husband are trying to have a baby. I want to know why she was strong enough to leave the cult, but deteriorates when staying at her sister's. And why she has 3 names. I guess I'd have to watch the movie, huh? lol

  3. It's a movie I very much intend to watch at some point.