Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

By Kathleen Coyle

Dir: Sean Durkin

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

Rating: ★★★★

An early scene sees the present Martha May (Elizabeth Olsen) swimming in a lake next to her sister’s upscale house, before sliding into a past scene where she swims naked with other members of the cult she has escaped. This effortless movement between one time period to another instantly grabbed hold of me and asked: what has happened for Martha’s life to have changed so drastically?

Alternating from past to present, the truth comes seeping through the surface over time and reveals how gradual conditioning within a cult of polyamorous relationships has affected Martha. Often through nuances like the struggle to choose a type of drink, or repeating mantra-like phrases that are bewildering to her sister in the civilised world.

In a flashback where the cult leader (who sleeps with Martha whenever he feels like it) strums the guitar and dedicates the song to ‘Martha’, Martha herself seems mesmerised by the seemingly romantic nature of the song.  However, the lyrics that focus on her physical body, along with the repetition of the chorus: ‘She’s just a picture – that’s all’; reaffirm the role of the brainwashed females who are used solely for pleasure and procreation.

An on-going question that is never really answered, but continually hinted it, is the reasons that drove Martha to replace her old life with an alien existence in the first place. During a quiet moment where Martha and her sister are sat side by side, it is devastating to realise that the relationship between two endearing characters has been ruptured due to a lack of communication and understand of the other sibling. Rather than feeling frustrated by the lack of solid answers, the hopelessness of the situation reinforces the abandonment felt by Martha who has struggled continually to find her place within a family, and society as a whole.

A film that moves from disturbing to truly chilling as writer Sean Durkin explores what it means to live, and what it to means to die – this one will stay with you for a long time.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);