Film Review – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene (M)

Directed by: Sean Durkin

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Criminally neglected during this awards season, the tongue twister titled Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of those powerful indie gems that wont get a huge audience but will haunt those that see it. With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, it is a shame the Academy has not recognised this near perfect film.

This multi layered effort is more impressive for the fact it was created by a first time feature film writer/director. There are more experienced and seasoned film makers that could take notes from the fresh and evocative storytelling structure of this terrific film.

Martha, (Elizabeth Olsen) as she is known by her biological family, wakes one morning from the room she shares with several other young women in a rural farmhouse and escapes through the woods. Here, she is known as Marcy May, a name given to her by the influential but creepy Patrick (John Hawkes) who leads the mysterious cult in upstate New York where young women are welcomed then made to work and raise his children.

Martha calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) who she has been estranged and out of contact from for two years, and stays with her and her husband Ted (Hugh Darcy) in their modern and isolated holiday home by the lake. Ted is not as welcoming or patient with Martha and her bizarre behaviour (swimming naked and laying in bed while the married couple make love) as Lucy is.

At this point we are not let in on why Martha decides to flee her other “family” but the events that motivate her are slowly revealed with the help of some stunningly skillful editing techniques, in which we are seamlessly transported between present day and Martha’s memories. What is clear, is that after spending so much time living by their rules, this lost soul has problems adjusting to a more regular and stable life, while constantly in a state of stifling paranoia.

Torn between lifestyles, unsure of her place in the world, racked with guilt over the things she has been seduced into doing and shattered by things that have been done to her, Martha is one damaged young woman. And she is brought to life by the lost Olsen sister no one knew about: Elizabeth. Writer/director Sean Durkin has created a deeply complex character and has drawn some extraordinary talent from this newcomer, who up until this moment, has lived in her twin sisters’ footsteps.

Much has been made of the final scene in which an abrupt ending could drive some audience members into a fit of unsatisfied rage. But think about it for a minute and it becomes another beautiful moment in this impressive film that will have you debating for a long time.

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