Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is an amazing cinematic jolt to the nervous system, plain and simple. It stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a girl who escapes to her sister and her brother-in-law's lakeside retreat after involving herself with some scary people.

   But this is not the ordinary "victim escapes near death -- victim fights  back story." By intertwining Martha's new life with scenes from her past, we are forced to confront the ambiguities of the situation -- is Martha being followed, or does she simply perceive it that way? Was Martha crazy before the events leading to her escape from the cult?

   What exactly is Martha's secret? On the surface, she seems like a normal young girl, but inside her subconscious, an inner war rages. Elizabeth Olsen knocks it out of the park as fragile, damaged Martha, running from inner demons and stuck in a constant state of shell shock.

   By making her compliant in some of the cult's wrongdoings and philosophies, Martha becomes a puzzling character, with a hint of malice in her doe-like eyes. I almost hated her for what she did to Sarah, another girl in the cult, but at the same time I felt as if I kind of understood her.

   Soon up to their eyeballs in responsibilities taking care of Martha, Martha's sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) despair at the direness of their situation. Meanwhile, memories of life in the cult and cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes in an icky, slimy, absolutely brilliant performance) lie just below the surface.

   This is a nearly perfect film, fueled by palpable suspense and great stylistic touches, including a shaky cam moment early on, that, surprisingly, works. On a final note, I was surprised that the ideology behind the cult wasn't gone into more.

   On the other hand, it kind of makes sense, since, ultimately it doesn't matter if the cult is dedicated to Jesus or free love or the God of tits and wine (to quote the great Tyrion in "Game Of Thrones.") All that matters is the influence of the cult and what cults do to people.

   This movie is about what cults do to people. To dwell on the cult's ideals would be simply superfluous. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is brilliant filmmaking, and will hopefully stand the test of time in the annals of indie films. Fin.



  1. Very cool review, Sarah. Agree with almost everything you said.

    I'd type more, but I'm late for church.

    The God of tits and wine really frowns upon tardiness.

  2. Olsen is sensational. I felt a little empty by the ending but I suppose that is the point.

  3. Great review! Love the Tyrion line. I enjoyed this movie and I thought the ending really worked. Normally, I don't care much for ambiguous endings, but not knowing what was about to happen, but you know it can't be good was a perfect way to send off. I was really bummed Elizabeth Olsen didn't get more recognition for this performance.

  4. I love anything to do with cults. I have a cult-fetish if you will. I read and watch everything I can get my hands on about The Manson Family, Jonestown, Waco, The Moon Family, even polygamists, just to name a few. My dream career was to study cults. I was going to get my PhD in Sociology and study cults...but, alas, I got married and decided it would be dangerous to infiltrate cults if I had a baby...so now I just read and watch everything I can on cults. Fascinating stuff.

  5. Good review Sarah. The performances were very good and carried this movie through some real problems, but those problems began to take over. I get that these family members aren't the best of friends, but did they honestly need to fight, again and again? It got so annoying, and so damn repetitive.

  6. Excellent review, Sarah! Beautifully written and spot on, I think. It's cool that you and I were equally impressed with this film. The fact that I felt so anxious and unsettled while watching it (and for a while afterwards) -- after having been on a streak of watching movies about war and genocide -- is really a tribute to the filmmaker's masterful skill.

    Love the "god of tits and wine" reference -- that's from one of my favorite lines in the GoT series, and it isn't even in the books.

  7. I thought the movie was interesting, but it was missing something. It is however one of those films I'll definitely rewatch in the future. Hawkes and Olsen were brilliant here.

  8. I thought this was a pretty slick film although it's one of those that falls into the recent 'ambiguous ending' craze. I wanted a little more telling ending and it honestly took away from my overall experience.

  9. Terrific piece. I was really taken aback by the film when I first saw it. The best thing, I think, is to know as little about the film as possible. Of course, it gets increasingly difficult as time goes on, but Martha's unique ability to get under the skin depends on your lack of knowledge about its twists and turns. An incredible central performance and some excellent supplementary performances is also reason to see this film.

  10. This was a really cool movie. I agree with what you said that it fouces on what Cults do to people. Good review

  11. Nice review. This was surprisingly more suspenseful than I thought it would be, and the performances were terrific.


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