Sometimes people have experiences that define them later in life. For most, it is something pleasant and even more memorable that serves to shape the way we act, think and even the way we can hope. For some, their very defining moment can be something rather traumatic and damaging. Whether they know or not how much this traumatizing event in their lives has shaped their personality, is something that can or cannot be answered. This is what director and writer Sean Durkin is trying to communicate in his slow-burning drama called “Martha Marcy May Marlene” which became critically acclaimed in 2011’s Sundance.
It is easy to see this film as a character study than something that we can call as a conventional story. It takes the viewer into the mind of a young woman named Martha (marvelously portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen) after she had escaped from a violent cult led by a man named Patrick (John Hawkes). There is something to be said with the film’s title as it gives light to the different personalities one can become after one’s life experiences, but I am not going to explain this further as it would spoil the film. Upon her escape, Martha tries to find solace and reconnect with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and try to co-exist with Lucy’s well-to-do husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy).
Director and writer Sean Durkin wields the film’s premise with an almost Ingmar Bergman-like style as he takes the viewer within the depths of Martha’s own emotions and feelings; as her psyche tries to overcome the brainwashing she had endured while under the tutelage of Patrick. There is something to be said as who Martha, Marcy and May truly are, and the mystery that is Marlene. It is almost as if the 4 distinct personas are the same and yet so different. Each person had a defining moment in her life, as shown by the direction. Martha tries to find her spot in Lucy’s home and yet she struggles with it, oftentimes failing. There was a lot to be read into how Martha seemed to have surpassed what is ‘normal’ in Lucy’s eyes. It was wisely handled with the slow pacing as we get to know why and how Martha became Marcy and May. Certain key events in the past are intertwined with the present, as the ‘new’ clashes with the ‘old’. Durkin did well in choosing to interlock the two different timelines.
The script and direction by Durkin handled the scenes almost perfectly. True, there were some rough edges as I found some minor transitional issues as the film moved to one scene into the next. I was able to almost overlook everything as Elizabeth Olsen simply carried the burden of the film flawlessly and naturally. You can definitely read the guilt, the shame, the fear and the confusion from her eyes. Olsen was amazing in her portrayal, and I was truly impressed how she made the simple shots speak a lot in terms of narrative impact. The editing by Zachary Stuart-Pontier and the cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes worked so well together in expressing the raw emotion of each scene and its underlying moment. There was a scene with Martha being taught how to handle a gun and one where she became the pupil and then the teacher that spoke a lot in her character development. It is troubling that such an innocent woman would see such things as normal as exhibited in the scene where she walks in on her sister while she was having sex with her husband.
However, a film like this can fail if the protagonist did not have a capable supporting cast. John Hawkes as the cult leader, Patrick was really scary. He was effective in his portrayal as he handled his role with a disturbing vehemence that made such an impact. Hawkes was charming and convincing that I could see why his people would follow his words. Sarah Paulson was very effective as Martha‘s sister. She was able to connect as the one so affected by Martha‘s problems and yet, she struggled as to how she could help her, as Martha becomes more enigmatic, guarded and even dangerous. Despite the fact that the film had scenes shown at random at times, the two connected in a very natural and convincing way. I did however, have mixed feelings of Hugh Dancy‘s performance; it was not a fault of his, but his character seemed limited to the mere husband who worries and misunderstands. Maria Drizzia was strong as Katie despite her limited screen time. One would understand Martha if they read into the effects of Katie on her.
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” may not be a perfect film, but it is a worthy Indie film that deserves a look. It is refreshing to see Olsen grow into such a mature role and she never turned away from the film’s more sensitive and challenging scenes that she has been defined as a serious actress. There is something more to the film than someone trying to cope with her new life and for her there may be a war that may never have an end. There is something real and sincere around this film, as Martha is lost within a sea of potential challenges and madness. Again, the past often shapes who may become, whether by our own choice or not.
***1/2 out of **** The dawn is upon a farm-like residence. A single woman creeps down the stairs of the farmhouse and walks right past a few women, still fast asleep. She opens the door, walks right off the porch, crosses the street, and runs into the forest that lies across from the estate. The woman's name is Martha (Elizabeth Olson). Or at least that is her given name. Why she was fleeing the farmhouse is unknown for some time; although what we do know is that she makes … more
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE Written and Directed by Sean Durkin Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy and John Hawkes Martha: Do you ever have that feeling where you can’t tell if something’s a memory or if it’s something you dreamed? Instantly uncomfortable, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, is unlike any experience I’ve had at the movies. It is at times both eerily quiet and dishearteningly noisy; it is painfully present but yet also lost in a haze … more
Anyone interested in a little extra insight into this film should check out my interview with star, Elizabeth Olsen. She plays Martha, Marcy May AND Marlene! ;) Anyway, here is the link ... http://blacksheepreviews.blogspot.com/2011/1...ws-elizabeth-olsen.html Thanks for reading!