Martha Marcy May Marlene

February 16, 2012 by staff 

Martha Marcy May Marlene, Cast – Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Danc

Screenwriter – Sean Durkin

Director – Sean Durkin

Certificate– 15

Running Time– 101 mins

Ambiguity can be a taboo word in cinema. A word that can scare off viewers. A word that frustrates audiences who want their movies to have a clear plot structure with a definitive ending. And a word that has recently seen a backlash from certain critics, accusing filmmakers from using ambiguity as a cop-out for their films having a non-ending. If you fall into any of the above, you may find this Sundance winning picture, from first time director Sean Durkin, a frustrating experience. For the rest of you, welcome to the first great independent film of 2012. A startling, powerful, poetic, and yes ambiguous film that offers no real dramatic conclusion, but doesn’t suffer at all for it.

The film begins with Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, fleeing the farmhouse commune where she has been living for the last couple of years, full of panic, calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson)to come and pick her up. Taken in by Lucy and her husband in their beautiful lakeside holiday home, she attempts to adjust to normal life after her time living under the control of the quietly terrifying Patrick (John Hawkes), but struggles as the effects of the psychological abuse becomes apparent. As Martha pushes Lucy to the limit with her increasingly paranoia and odd social behaviour, the story of Martha’s time in the cult like commune is played out.

Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of former tween stars the Olsen twins, is clearly the talented one in the family. She is quite magnificent in the central role, fully believable in conveying Martha’s acceptance of life in the cult and in her desire for affection from Patrick (who convinces the female members of the cult to have sex with him in order to be ‘cleansed’). She is equally compelling when her desire for affection turns to fear, and her social faux pas with her sister and brother in law are often master classes in sheer awkwardness (skinny dipping in the lake and getting in the bed while Lucy and her husband have sex). In her first film role, Olsen really is a revelation, perfectly capturing the conflicting emotions Martha goes through.

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