Martha Marcy May Marlene (5/19/12)

Martha Marcy May MarleneMovie One Hundred Twenty Five

Martha Marcy May Marlene takes us through the life of a young girl who escapes a cult and tries to fit back into society and forget her past.

Martha Marcy May Marlene begins with Martha/Marcy May/Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen) running away from an isolated farm. She ends up at a diner where a man (Brady Corbet) from the farm finds her and she is very visibly shaken by his presence. Then she calls her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), to come get her. After staying with Lucy and her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), it is clear that Marcy May (known to Lucy and Ted as Martha) has been sociologically damaged and has no bearing of how normal human interaction is. We learn through flashbacks and nightmares about the cult Martha escaped, led by Patrick (John Hawkes) as Martha struggles with running away from the only life she’s really known, despite how traumatic it was.

While the film itself is very slow and deliberate, it is also incredibly tense at times. While Martha’s paranoia ramps up, we are left to wonder what is happening as well as ponder her future. How can someone so visibly damaged ever normalize and function back in society? If nothing else, it should be readily agreeable that writer and director, Sean Durkin, took tremendous care in the subject matter and did his homework. While it would have been an easy topic to exploit, I found almost all of it to be entirely believable and realistic, which in turn makes Martha Marcy May Marlene that much more frightening.

I also must point out the tremendous acting force that is Elizabeth Olsen. While most of the world knows of her twin sisters, Elizabeth truly steps into her own for this role and plays it perfectly. Also worth mentioning is a favorite actor of mine, John Hawkes, a man who I am also pleased to watch on screen. Given the pacing and the vagueness of what is actually happening to the characters at times, I could see how some people would be turned off by Martha Marcy May Marlene, but I found it to be exciting to watch and was totally engrossed by it.

I give it 4 John Hawkes playing guitars out of 5.

Included on the DVD/Blu-Ray is a short film called Mary Last Seen, also by Durkin, that acts as a sort of prequel to Martha Marcy May Marlene that shows a young girl traveling with a young man (also played by Brady Corbet) and taken to the farm to be assimilated into the cult. I would recommend watching it after Martha Marcy May Marlene since there are a few sly nods to the film.


Rotten Tomatoes


22 responses to “Martha Marcy May Marlene (5/19/12)

  1. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, and by her performance.
    I truly enjoy your blog, btw. I think it’s a great idea and project.
    Le Clown

  2. This is a fascinating film with great performances, but how shall we interpret the ending? Is the cult-member we see watching her on the rock reality or fantasy? He seems to stop the car and her ride to seek therapy at the end but the car continues on. So did she escape or run back to her brainwashers?

    • I think if the cult was trying to get her back in the end, then Watts wouldn’t have left her so easily at the diner in the beginning. The fear that they ARE coming to get her is probably also fueled partially by Martha’s need for that attention and relationship…
      I find the possibilities to be fascinating, though.

  3. I thought this was alright. I don’t mind a slow paced film, but i thought parts of it were too slow. When they did bring the intensity it worked but it was a bit too long in stretches for my taste. An interesting take on the genre and I don’t think anyone would say Olsen’s acting was anything but great, just expected a bit more than what the movie delivered

    • A very fair criticism of the film. The peaks and valleys are certainly uneven and not necessarily in a way where the valleys build up tension for the peaks. I think the reason that it worked for me was the allure of the subject at hand, but I can see how that wouldn’t work for everyone.

      • I appreciate what they were going for (and I didn’t need to see any pagan masks or anything to that extent) I just feel like a lot of the stuff once she’s out runs a bit over.

    • My wife didn’t either and talking about it later with her it was almost like we watched totally different films since so much of the takeaway is what you make of it. I can totally understand not digging it.

  4. My main problem with this flick was that it was a little too repetitive. However, Olsen and Hawkes were great and I can’t wait to see what Olsen pulls out next with her career, because this chick is definitely going to have a big career. Good review Andy.

  5. Good callout on the excellent performances from Elizabeth Olsen & John Hawkes. This is one of those films that sticks with you. It’s like a seed that grows in the mind.

  6. Pingback: May Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

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