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article imageReview: ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ is a magnificent movie Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 21, 2012 in Entertainment
‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ is an exceptional first outing from director Sean Durkin about a young woman who escapes a cult after two years. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 21.
Movies about cults can often be as manipulative as the cults they are portraying. It’s widely believed the occurrences on most compounds do not truly benefit the followers, but rather their leader(s) – it’s unnecessary to convince audiences of this fact through intrusive techniques or extensive exposition. First-time feature director Sean Durkin appears to understand this, delivering a moving portrayal of a young woman’s struggle to adjust to life away from the “family” that renamed her in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), a.k.a. Marcy May, decides her adoptive family isn’t what she thought it was, so early one morning she runs away. Her biological sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who she hasn’t contacted in two years, is simply glad she’s okay. But Martha isn’t really okay; she’s undergone years of physical and mental abuse, which is sporadically manifesting in increasingly strange behaviour. Lucy and her husband (Hugh Dancy) are trying to support Martha the best they can, but Martha’s silence on the subject means they have no idea what the problem is or how to help.
Durkin does not employ the standard flashback to tell Martha’s story. He uses striking transitions to move between the past and present, zooming in on an item only to reveal a change of location and time upon zooming out. For example, jumping from a boat into a lake transforms into cliff diving with her friends. This technique is not only seamless, but each changeover packs quite an impact. Additionally, it slowly and logically allows Martha’s story to unfold, revealing her inner thoughts and memories in certain moments.
Martha suffers from post-traumatic stress, haunted by the memories of her actions and those of the people who surrounded her. Moreover, the twisted logic that was fed to her daily has warped her perception of social norms and acceptable behaviour. Based on her interactions with Lucy, she appears to have maintained many of her personality traits while picking up a few new ones, such as being very clingy and forthright.
Olsen does an excellent job of portraying Martha’s confusion and vulnerability. The supporting cast is equally up to the task. John Hawkes’ depiction of Patrick, the leader, is particularly disturbing as he brainwashes the young people around him into believing the violations of their persons and the criminal behaviour they participate in is “normal.” His interactions with Martha are especially upsetting as he charms her by preying on her low self-esteem.
The title of the film refers to the three names the main character has used in recent years. Martha is the name given to her at birth; Marcy May is the name given to her by Patrick; and Marlene is an extra role played by women in the cult.
Having selected to only focus on the two weeks following Martha’s escape, the conclusion is open-ended. However, the re-introduction of an earlier element in the final minutes seems like an unnecessary act of tormenting the audiences. The power of the performances and narrative, and the excellent direction by Durkin make this an enticing film definitely worth checking out.
Director: Sean Durkin
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes
Special features include: “Mary Last Seen”; “Spotlight on Elizabeth Olsen”; “The Story”; a making-of featurette; “A Conversation with Filmmakers”; “The Psyche of a Cult”; music video for "Marcy's Song" by John Hawkes; and theatrical trailer. (Fox Home Entertainment)
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