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Martha Marcy May Marlene

A movie directed by Sean Durkin

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A fine discovery of the lost Olson sister.

  • Mar 15, 2012
***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 her way into town, only to meet up with an old acquaintance of the house in a diner. For whatever reasons, she does not want to go back to the farm with him; and so he leaves without her. Shortly thereafter, Martha phones her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) to tell her about her escape and return to society - and at this point, existence -, to which the sister's immediate reaction is to come and pick up her kin at the spot. This is what she does; the two embrace - they haven't seen each-other for some time - and with that, they return to Lucy's own house, which is by a lake.

It is at this house that we meet Lucy's husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). The two have enough on their hands - they're trying to enjoy time to themselves, relax, and perhaps even have a baby - aside from Martha making a return, but they have open arms, and it's with those arms that they welcome Martha into their home. It's safe to say that things never quite go over too well. Martha is not adept to society and its rules. She swims in the nude, she always seems shaky, and she interrupts Lucy and Ted while they're making love; by lying on the unused portion of their bed like a dog might. Martha is clearly off; and Lucy would like nothing more than to know why. Her sister is deceptive; and will not reveal the important information to her. Perhaps she will have to talk her way into obtaining certain updates on the life of Martha; although there's also the slight chance that information might come her way whether she makes an attempt to acquire it or not.

We learn through several flashbacks that Martha was running from a cult that she had joined and was a part of for some time; it's implied that she was staying at the farmhouse for many years on end. The leader of the cult is a skinny yet undeniably powerful man named Patrick (John Hawkes), who enforces everything he can onto his followers. If he wants sex, he will get sex; and if he wants Martha to shoot a dying cat and put it out of its misery, then she will do just that. This is ultimately where the cult gets abusive; we see that Martha has brought home with her emotional scars and physical bruises from her various violent and sexual encounters with both Patrick and other cult members. It's assumed that her escape was a result of deciding that enough was enough; she had come to her senses - although not completely - and wanted to return to normality. But these were traumatic things that Martha endured; and such experiences are not so easily remedied. I don't think she realizes this, since Martha is not very sane after all that she went through, but if her kin only knew, she might understand.

Martha's behavior becomes increasingly strange while she resides in the same house as Lucy and Ted. She tries her hardest to adapt. She even goes out on the lake with Ted - in his boat -one day, which ends with a few comments and thoughts of both the disturbing and insightful variety. But no matter how serious or devoted the attempt; Martha cannot forget what the cult did to her, what PATRICK did to her. Everything she hears, everything she feels, everything she sees; it is his to claim. And he isn't even among her. So we are lead to think. But we can't be so certain. As the story progresses, Martha's paranoia gets increasingly more serious by the day; eventually distorting the fine line that rests between delusion and reality. By this time, the film blossoms into something far more sad and tragic than it ever was; a clever, deceiving, intelligent study of the battle scars that many people keep with them for the rest of their lives. The style of the film adopts a sense of demented and innocent confusion that mimics that of Martha; thus allowing us to sympathize and possibly even love the character, even if she is, unmistakably, a loony.

The title probably has you scratching your head. You already know a part of it. But if you know that one part, then congratulations, you know the other three. The Martha part comes from the titular character's given name; with Marcy May being that which Patrick gives to her when she's first welcomed into his cult, and finally Marlene, which is the name that all those who are within the cult use when they answer the phone. These names are important in the context of the film; they haunt the dark dreams and memories of Martha, forevermore. Patrick and everything that he ever said or did (directed towards Martha) shall always linger with her, never to leave her side. Oh, the poor girl. I don't think I could live with that.

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a film of a few firsts; for its director, Sean Durkin, and for its star, Elizabeth Olson. Yes, the latter is the sister of Mary Kate and Ashley; the lesser known and most talented of the three, from the looks of it. Prior to this film, which should signify a breakout for the new-found starlet, Olson had yet to be discovered; but now, someone has seen her talent, and used it in some particularly interesting ways. Olson is absolutely convincing as far as a paranoid schizophrenic goes; she should have at least gotten an Oscar nod for her work here. John Hawkes is also ridiculously good as the sadistic and ruthless Patrick; and Hugh Dancy is able to break free of the boundaries of his role in one particularly great scene, in which he loses it on Martha. I admired Durkin's ability to assemble all these fine talents into one place and give their individual roles - and the film as a whole - some considerable balance. While some might think it's just another minimalist independent debut feature, I think "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is one of the most emotionally satisfying and intelligent films of this past year in cinema. It's an experience so richly distressing that I can describe it no more.

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March 16, 2012
I saw Olsen in "Silent House" and I have to say, she can act and hold a film. I am going to see this one asap.
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 . September 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … 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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