A girl named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is seen leaving a
property. She takes to escaping through the woods, reaching a gas
she makes a desperate call to her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Waiting
ride, she is intimated by a bloke who saw her leave the property. When
taken in by her sister and her partner, Martha's behaviour is abnormal
becomes increasingly paranoid that whoever she escaped from is still
In flashbacks, Martha is shown entering a cult community, led by the
Patrick (John Hawkes). He encourages her to be a part of their society
submits herself and others to the group's perverse sexual rituals. Yet
eventual irrationality of the group sends Martha on a downward spiral.
paranoia in the present day though begs whether anything she recalls
or just an imagining.
I've worked out what Martha
Marcy May Marlene is about. But what about that scene that might
just a dream or the film's abrupt ending? While you may think you are
ground, this is a film that leaves an itch in the back of your mind,
what scene A means to scene D. Take note of some early vision in the
which I think is the key to Martha's highly
fragmented narrative. A long shot frames Martha leaving the property
the woods, reflecting her isolation and disconnection to the world.
who follows her out of the house, or more importantly, who doesn't.
This is a
cleverly constructed thriller by writer/director Sean Durkin because it
you with these kinds of clues, which are satisfying to decrypt when the
refuses to give any solid answers. The film has its share of stumbles
though because a crisis of some kind has already occurred off-screen,
that a lot of the tension in Martha's story has already been spent.
Nonetheless, the film grasps our interest when Martha asks her sister
has ever had a moment where she can't tell if she is recalling a memory
she is dreaming. Suddenly, the scenes in the past, juxtaposed against
Martha sleeping or waking up in the present, hold new meaning. Not only
question if the flashbacks are real but also if they are representative
of a different
personal conflict, given that Martha keeps telling her sister she had
argument with a boyfriend. Therefore, the non-linear story is not a
an intelligent method of integrating character and structure together.
characterises the dislocation faced by an individual, caught between an
uncertain past and the inadaptable nature of the present world.
After a slow start, the narrative continues to grow,
tension levels of almost unbearable peaks. This on the back of a well-cast
Olsen (the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley), whose subtle,
performance makes Martha a deeply remote and alienated figure. Watch
carefully in a late party scene and you'll realise the quality of the
relationship here between an actress and a director. Moments like this,
with her breakdown scene, and her shifts between her optimism for the
and her strange behaviour, make this one of the major breakout
performances of 2011. With an obtuse role, John Hawkes does remarkably well to
something unique in his character. He allows Patrick to be incredibly
persuasive and someone who knows how to tap into people's pain and
is a very careful manipulator, as shown in the way he talks to his
a target practice session, calling Martha a leader and a teacher. Presumably,
lack of a specific ideological basis for his community is to strengthen
possibility that it is a dream. Most bizarre is his use of sexual
the girls of the cult. One of the girls describes it as a state of
we assume that it evokes emotions of sexual belonging. You still have
how people could reach such a mental state of acceptance, which further
suggests that this is a dream world. Along with the two lead
give the film pivotal conflict, there's a very chilling scene involving
break-in that doesn't end the way you think it will. It's a very
upsetting moment, directed with maximum impact. It must also be noted
film ends suddenly, which is at first frustrating, but also true to its
dependency on ambiguity and paranoia. The most interesting films in
audiences to delve into uncertainty, drawing meaning from sophisticated
qualities. This is one of them because you will be thinking about it
afterwards, asking how A connects to D. Or was it B?