While Lucy and her husband attribute Martha's disappearance - as well as her erratic behavior - to a bad incident with an ex-boyfriend, the truth is far more sinister; Martha has just escaped a cult and its enigmatic leader, and she struggles to piece together her sanity in the wake of this brutal experience.
In MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, a young girl named Martha, who has been using the name of Marcy May while living in a cult for the last two, years, finally escapes the clutches of its leader, the mysterious Patrick. She escapes to her sister Lucy and brother-in-law Ted's summer home in Connecticut, while telling them that she has just escaped her abusive boyfriend. Lucy, who had not seen her sister in years gladly takes her in giving her a place to stay. But6 soon it becomes clear that Martha can't adjust to the "real world", as the short time in the cult, as seemingly molded her lifestyle. Even sooner, over a two week period, Martha begins to experience repressed memories as they slowly resurface. She finds herself haunted by memories of rape and other abuse, as the visions seem to grow more potent. Soon, the memories reach their peak, making it all the more difficult for Martha to tell what is from her past and what is occurring in the present, as she becomes more and more paranoid.
While the title of this film, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, does little to lend a clue as to what exactly it is that the film is about, in a nutshell, the film is about how one is effected after leaving the controlling ways of a cult. In the film, we have a young girl named Marcy, who has been in a hippie-like cult for the last two years, under the watchful eye of the cults enigmatic and charismatic leader Patrick. After enduring the likes of psychical abuse and rape, Martha is able to escape the group, and winds up in the care of her older sister, Lucy. At first Lucy seems calm but reserved, but slowly, the memories of her time in the cult begin to haunt her, and soon she loses her grasp of reality, as she begins to have difficulty separating the past from now.
Having a great interest in the Charles Manson case, as well as his "family", what first drew me to MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE was the similarity of the two. In fact, after seeing this film, i'd say that there is no denying that Manson and his followers had a major influence on the film. John Hawkes' "Patrick", character is very Manson-esque in the way that he delivers speeches about things such as death, and due to the fact that his followers she him as a superior being of some sort. Also in the film wwe she things such as home invasions, and even murder, which is also similar. But this is not a film such as HELTER SKELTER, in which the cult is the majority subject, this film is more about how someone copes with the trauma of being used and abused by a cult - which is something that I have always wondered about. The way in which MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE works is through the use of parallels. Throughout the film, Martha struggles to adjust, as in the cult, she was thought to live life one way, but in the outside world, things are done differently - say for instance, modesty when it comes to nudity and sex. In addition to the social hangups, Martha begins to play out memories of her days with Patrick and her cult family, with many of these memories of the past paralleling with the present. These memories are presented in a seamless manner, as they overlap with the present day scenes. I have to say that the editing showcased in the film is phenomenal. Although the resurfaced memories take us in reverse for a good portion of the film, it's continuous editing makes it easy to what some might expect. I've seen online that a few people have commented on the film in regards to its "lack of character development", but on this, I must disagree. I for one, felt that the flashbacks, while not overly complex, were indeed enough to build up the Martha character, and reveal just what she experienced in the cult. Sure, while the film may be a bit slow for most, I thought that it progressed, and built up the story nicely. This of course, eventually leads to Martha's flashbacks becoming increasingly more and more intense. While watching the film, I kept thinking that it was like watching something fill up until it finally explodes, which is what occurs in the film's final hour. the stress and trauma builds in Martha until she just can't take it anymore, which in turn makes Lucy and her husband Ted, finally come to the realization that Martha's problems are much more deeper than a supposed squabble with an abusive beau, To sum up the majority of Director Sean Durkin's MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, it is a very good film. It is a film that up until the end, I was prepared to rate much higher, but the keywords here are "the end". Ah yes, it is the film's conclusion that has warranted the most complaints for the film, and it is something that I agree on. I am usually all for the ambiguous, open-ended ending that leaves the audience guessing, but in the case of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, I felt that this type of ending killed most of the momentum that the film generates previously. While, I won't
give it away here, because there are other places to find it out, it is meant for the audience to draw their own conclusions. Now, this is all and good, but sometimes a film can try to be clever, and be too clever; this is definitely one of those times. By the time the ending hits us, the film has such momentum, and could seemingly go anywhere, so imagine how I felt when the ending, which feels lazy and tack on, brought everything to an abrupt screeching halt. It is an excitement killer for sure, but with that said, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, still comes out as being a good film - I just wish that it had a better ending, one that doesn't feel as though it is trying too hard.
The main reason that this film remains a good one after all is said and done, in of course due to some fantastic acting by the cast. Leading the way in her supposed debut performance is the new and extremely talented Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen, who happens to be the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, here proves that she can indeed act circles around her older sisters. I have to be honest, when I found out who her sisters were, I must admit, I was preparing for the worst, seeing as the twins, have never been known to be standouts. But then I see the film for myself and get the complete opposite, via a raw and realistic performance from Olsen. As I said, it felt real, and very honest, which is exactly what this role called for. After this film, you can count me as a new fan of Miss Olsen, who seems to be headed to stardom, as she seems to be very dedicated to the acting craft. And were there any doubts regarding John Hawkes in this film. John Hawkes is in my opinion a great actor, and going into this one I was remembering his performance from WINTER'S BONE, which was kind of endearing. Here, it's a bit of the opposite, as he steps into that Manson-like persona, a fits it well. His 'Patrick character may not be over-the-top, say the real Manson, but he still embodies the eeriness and prophet-like demeanor, and on that alone, it is still quite effective. Hugh Dancy and Sarah Paulson have supporting roles here as "Ted" and sister "Lucy" respectively, but neither as substantial roles. Of course they are important to certain aspects as the film's plot, however yhe roles aren't written in a way which the film relies on them. With this said, both Olsen and Hawkes make MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE what it is to be completely honest.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, is a well made film all-around. For an independent film, it's solid with great performances as well as technical specs, such as its editing throughout. As I said, it is still worth a look, however, you too might also be letdown by its, in my opinion, very disappointing
As for the Blu-Ray, the picture quality isn't perfect, but I guess it is all one can expect from the film's budget. The film has a color palate that is sort of muted, so at times, the colors look a little washed out, with a dim white tint over them. TO me, the picture looked decent, but definitely not the best i've seen on the format. The special features include 5 brief documentaries, chronicling the making of, the film's star, Elizabeth Olsen, as well as the film's story, etc. Also included is Sean Durkin's short film, MARY LAST SEEN, and a music video of John Hawkes performing "Marcy's Song, a song which he performs in the film. MARY LAST SEEN is about 14 minutes in length, and was shot for just $500. Content-wise, Durkin wanted to shoot a short film to sort of warm up for the MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE feature, and so the story is along the same lines as well as the style being the same. However, this film explores how someone would be initiated into a cult, rather than leave it. In my opinion, the feature ended up being a much better realization, MARY LAST SEEN, is a little flat and ends on a rather uneventful note. But as far as being a collectable, it is fun to have,
IMPRESSION OF THE FILM
I went into MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE wanting to love it. As it turns out, I came away from it really liking it, although a little disappointed that it did not end any better than it did. The ending to me, is one that wanted to come off as being clever, but I thought that it was just a little "too" ambiguous. It's one thing to leave the audience guessing, but don't do it to the degree that it nearly kills your movie in the end. I enjoyed this film for the most part, and will be seeing it numerous times, because there are elements here that are worth revisiting. I recommend MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, but I know that the film's reception is surely to be mixed.
Special Features include
- Five behind-the-scenes featurettes:
* The Making of Martha Marcy May Marlene
* The Story
* The Psyche of a Cult
* A Conversation with Filmmakers
* Spotlight on Elizabeth Olsen
- Sean Durkin's Mary Last Seen short film
- "Marcy's Song" music video by John Hawkes
- Theatrical trailer