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Martha Marcy May Marlene

A movie directed by Sean Durkin

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  • Sep 17, 2011


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 of what is real and what is imagined. It inspires great sympathy and even greater anxiety. Its tension is palpable and its style is distinct and effective. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a truly accomplished piece of filmmaking from writer-director, Sean Durkin, a first time feature filmmaker. With that in mind, it is just plain shocking across the board.


As skillful as Durkin proves to be, he has help, led by a star-making turn from lead actress, Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen, who incidentally is the younger sibling of Mary-Kate and Ashley (and I’m sure never tires of seeing that repeated in print), is incredible as Martha. We meet her when she is Marcy May, her name changed when she entered a seemingly loving commune. Her new family turns out to be an abusive cult, led by recent Oscar nominee, John Hawkes (WINTER’S BONE), but the warmth they show her is still enough for her to leave behind the family she had always known. Olsen carries so much depth in her composure, her face and general demeanor are cold and lifeless. Still, there is fight inside her that breaks through the surface from time to time, hoping to make its presence more permanent. Olsen makes Martha’s struggle so grave, you feel as though she could slip away from everything at any moment, never to return. She is simply captivating and I could barely breathe as I watched her push back from hell.


Durkin takes this towering performance and drops it in the middle of a world of bewilderment, bouncing back and forth in time and place between Marcy May’s time with her adopted “family” and Martha’s attempt to reintegrate into society with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). At times, many of them in fact, she cannot distinguish between the two experiences and subsequently, neither can we. Her transition is never simple and both situations place rules on her that she struggles against, leaving it open for debate as to which scenario provides her with real love, if any. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is as disturbing as you would expect from what I’ve described but it is also just as revelatory.

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LUNCH rating is out of 10.

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September 18, 2011
You're so lucky to have seen this. I added a notification to my fandango profile so I can be reminded to see it once it is released here on 10/11/2011.
September 29, 2011
I'm hoping to score an interview with the director and Elizabeth Olsen. I had one scheduled during TIFF but it was in direct conflict with my interviews for The Artist. I had to choose one and it was so hard to make this choice considering how much I love both films. Hope you like it. I can't wait to see it again.
More Martha Marcy May Marlene reviews
review by . October 04, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
A Fine, Distinctive Character Study That Mesmerizes and Hits The Right Emotions
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 …
review by . March 15, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
***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 …
Quick Tip by . October 27, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
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!
About the reviewer
Joseph Belanger ()
Ranked #24
Hello Lunchers. I am a thirty-something guy making his way in Toronto. I am a banker by day and a film critic the rest of the time. Sensitive, sharp and sarcastic are just a few words that start with … more
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About this movie



Director: Sean Durkin
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Release Date: 12 October 2011 (Sweden)
Screen Writer: Sean Durkin
Runtime: 120 min
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"MMMM, MMMM, Good"
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