“ Genre: Crime & Thriller / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Sean Durkin / Actors: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbet ... / DVD released 2012-05-28 at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Widescreen, PAL „
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I used to work in a cinema and during that time I got free tickets to any and every film that was released. I pretty much watched every film released between October 2010-2011 and when I left the job I had major withdrawal symptoms. This is one of the film I just missed out on seeing so when it came out on DVD I decided to buy it as I could tell from the trailer it was my kind of thing.
The plot of the film centres around an emotionally disturbed young girl called Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). At the beginning of the film she flees from an abusive cult which is led by Patrick (John Hawkes). Patrick is charismatic and charming but beneath this enigmatic persona lies a deeper and much darker aspect of his personality. Martha escapes to a diner where there are attempts by other members of the group to coax her back, unsuccessful they leave and she calls her sister, Lucy, to come and pick her up. She takes her to her house and Martha stays there with Lucy and her husband.
Martha tells her sister very little though her behaviour begins to alarm Lucy. Martha openly swims naked, she flouts house rules and at one point she deliberately enters the room while Lucy and her husband have sex. She is obviously struggling to readjust to living in normal society and is increasingly plagued by paranoid thoughts. The film flashes back to Martha's introduction to the cult, which aim to lead a self-sufficient life on their farm. They seem to have a harmonious and idyllic set up which Martha is keen to be a part of until she is introduced to the darker side of this cult. Patrick clearly takes a keen interest in Martha and forces himself upon her, taking with him her virginity. While Martha is clearly scarred by this first sexual experience the other women assure her that she is lucky.
It is clear that Martha's perception of acceptable behaviour has been warped by her involvement with this group of people. It becomes increasingly obvious that she was forced to compromise herself in order to preserve the peace of the group, and that eventually this became normal. In one flashback Martha is seen grooming and drugging a girl who is to experience the same ritual rape as Martha. Later members of the group, including Martha, break into a house where they steal possessions and kill the owner. As the acts become more violent and depraved it is clear that Martha's grip on reality is slipping and how in turn this has shaped her into the emotional mess she is when Lucy finds her.
Eventually Martha's behaviour becomes too much for her sister and brother-in-law. They ask her to leave their house and visit a treatment facility, which they offer to pay for. On the morning they leave Martha sees a man watching her as she swims. When they are driving the same man jumps into a parked car and begins to follow them, this is where the film ambiguously ends.
It is unclear from the ending whether or not the man is real, or a figment of Martha's increasingly paranoid mind. In any case as a viewer you are left wondering whether Martha is set to suffer further at the hands of this cruel and controlling man and if the treatment she receives will manage to heal some of her pain. In fact there are so many unanswered questions at the end of this film that you almost feel a little cheated by the ending. Having reflected at length on this though I have ultimately decided the ending seems very apt. Martha is damaged and her mind fractured by the things she has experienced. Her perception of the world has been almost irrevocably altered and so to be left questioning everything the viewer is immersed into this disjointed state of mind and ultimately shares in Martha's confusion and mistrust.
I have to say that Elizabeth Olsen (another Olsen sister) is simply incredibly in this film. She completely embodies the role of Martha and she comes across as being very believable. I also thought that many of the other characters were played remarkably well and overall the casting was fantastic.
The film is dark and disturbing in many ways. It reminds me very much of the Manson family and their related criminal history. In this way the plot seemed utterly believable and in the same breath completely heart breaking to watch. The psychology vulnerability of the human mind is what comes across so strongly in this film and how painstaking a task it can be to piece together the fragments.
This is a film that I would happily see again and again and each time I expect to pick up of slight nuances that tell a new aspect of the story. I would definitely recommend this film is you are at all interested in human psychology or the effects of trauma. It is a thought provoking and thoroughly interesting film with what feels to me like a unique concept.
With a title that is as confusing and hard to memorise as this one, it would be a safe bet to assume that "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a film that attempts to mess with your head. We see a young girl (Elizabeth Olsen) fleeing from a housing compound in the harmless looking countryside. A boy running after her calls her Marcy May. Not much confusion there. Things get more complicated when Marcy May's older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) calls her Martha. Another flashback sees the female protagonist being called Marlene. The audience is further confused and intrigued for sure. Thus starts the odd haunting and disturbing story of Martha (this appears to be her real name), a young, innocent girl who makes the childish, immature mistake of running away from her home and joining a violent cult.
The circumstances behind why she ran away from home in the first place are never clear, and it's never important enough for us to care. It's what follows after her eventual escape that grips us from start to finish. Having been almost trapped in her strict, psychosexual cult for around two years, the normal outside world is a difficult one to fit back into. It's the little things that add up to Martha being portrayed as a complete lunatic. When she goes for a swim, she does to completely naked, something that is not tolerated in the normal world. When her sister is having sex with her husband, she thinks it is socially acceptable to climb into bed with them. Lucy's husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), who was initially more than happy to see the return of his sister-in-law, who he had barely seen before, is no longer pleased to have her around, and wants her out of his house. More so, when Martha's anti-capitalist views are expressed at the dinner table. She believes wealth and material goods mean one is shallow and living a meaningless life, a concept the well-off Ted is far from impressed to hear, especially from someone who he is taking care of, free of charge no less.
Beautifully edited between the past and present, interweaving similar events in both timelines, we are shown the kind of life Martha was living before she found the courage to run away. It seems harmless at first, as the leader of the camp, the charismatic Patrick (John Hawkes) seems like a perfectly ordinary guy. But as he asks his crew to shoot live kittens point-blank, exploits members to take part in many group sexual acts, and readily gives permission for murder, alarm bells start ringing for Martha, which prompts her to turn her back on the strange cult. But it's the paranoia that keeps the poor heroine from having a normal life: afraid that she has not fully escaped, and with dreams and constant reminders that create an unbearable environment for Martha to live in, no matter where she goes or who she turns to.
Olsen, the less famous younger sister of the Olsen twins, puts on an astonishing debut performance as the damaged young girl, always so weak and vulnerable, petrified at the prospect of what might happen to her if she is not careful. She is distant and withdrawn, and clearly shows the obvious effects of a traumatised individual with natural restraint. There isn't a hint of awkward or forced emotion here with Olsen, and this is no doubt the single breakout performance of the year. Her older sister's house is not necessarily a place she can call home, further adding to her insecurities. The developing dynamic between Martha and her older sister is an interesting one: on the one hand we have a concerned, more mature sister wishing to do her part as someone clearly in the position to take charge, trying to see her younger sibling improve whereas Martha is far too mentally isolated to be able to accept any kind of amateurish help. We the audience can see the extent to which Martha's been hurt, thanks to Olsen's quiet, intimate performance and the flashbacks, but it's harder for her sister who has other things to worry about too besides Martha who quite literally came out of the blue. As Lucy's efforts are almost worthless and hardly any connection is made between the two, it's natural for the frustration and impatience to build up, adding more tension to the already delicate make-up of Martha who is on the verge of falling apart.
Patrick, the cult leader, is a piece of work, mastered so brilliantly by the frightening Hawkes. He is a master manipulator, first welcoming his new recruits with a smile and normal housework chores - cooking, washing, meditation, construction, looking after babies etc. Things take a dark turn as he expects the women to sleep with him. They are fooled into thinking that this is the right thing to do, whilst it's in fact the case that they do not have a say in the matter. This can be considered rape, but the smart Patrick carefully orchestrates this to his advantage, convincing everyone around him that this is merely a rite of passage for being a part of his cult. Hawkes is such an effective villain, so charming in the beginning to almost woo the young, clueless Martha, and yet turning into a ruthless, alarming leader within a matter of seconds, whilst keeping his appeal intact. It's a superb performance in a crucial role, and we understand why Martha fears the man so greatly, and it seems almost too possible for this smart guy to catch up on Martha's whereabouts further adding a strong sense of anxiety to the narrative.
So concerned with the film's atmosphere relating to the heroine's never-ending crisis with the nightmare that terrorises her every day, it seems as though the director (Sean Durkin) forgot to give this a proper, satisfying ending. It ends much too suddenly, so abruptly in fact that this doesn't even feel like an artistic flourish - looking more like a tacky wannabe trying to mask the fact that this could not come up with something sensible given all the excellent psychologically ambiguous build-up. The rest is fantastic - we are given just enough information on both the past and present to do our on guess-work on just how far Martha's head is messing with her. It's a very silent film, but not at all a calm or peaceful one.