Movies

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Who's that girl?

|

Apart from having one of the most easily forgotten titles in recent recall, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a movie without a point. As a demonstration of the sinister nature of hippie commune-cults, the picture conveys a lesson that was already learned-to-death, literally, in the 1960s. It's all empty foreboding and shuttered import, and you walk out of it shrugging.

And yet the movie gets under your skin; while it's up on the screen, it casts a dark spell. The writer-director, Sean Durkin, crafting his first feature, weaves together two clashing worlds—the scrubby rural commune and a luxe Connecticut lake house—with an intricacy of tone that's striking. Most impressive, though, is Elizabeth Olsen, who plays the film's haunted protagonist and gives a breakthrough performance of the sort that launched Jennifer Lawrence in last year's Winter's Bone.  

Olsen—the younger sister of mini-moguls Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, something you'd never, ever guess—plays Martha, an obscurely troubled young woman who dropped off the face of the earth following the death of her mother two years earlier and fetched up in a Catskills commune run by a bony, inscrutable older man named Patrick (John Hawkes, another memorable presence in Winter's Bone). The commune is a collection of young lost souls, and Patrick rigorously trains them in the ways of the new paradise he's creating. By day, his flock chops wood and roots around in a scrabbly vegetable patch. There are also several babies to be tended to—apparently the issue of the ritual rapes to which Patrick subjects each new female arrival. (Following her own assault, Martha is told that the pain she feels is "part of the cleansing.") In the evening, his wards gather around a bare-board table for their one meal of the day—men first, then the women—following which the men drive off on mysterious, unexplained missions. (We later see what they've been up to in a scene of savage menace that will stir a familiar echo for Manson Family buffs.)

In addition to all this, there are regular pistol-practice sessions and occasional all-hands-on-deck orgies overseen by Patrick with hooded appreciation. We see how these kids are seduced into such activities: Patrick is a master manipulator, exerting and withdrawing his approval with smooth expertise. In one extraordinary scene, shot in a single take, we see him with a guitar, surrounded by his flock, serenading Martha—whom he's renamed Marcy May—with a song he has composed just for her, comparing her to a picture on his wall: "She's just a picture, that's all," he sings, rather unnervingly.

The movie offers us no clue as to how Martha has arrived at such a place, or what other sort of life she might be capable of living. She's clearly unstable, but there's little more to the character than that, so we're not even sure why she eventually slips away from the commune and calls out for rescue to her estranged sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who's currently living with her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), at their lakeside getaway in Connecticut. Once arrived there, Martha, having long since slipped the shackles of conventional society, proves to be an enormous pain in the ass. To take a swim, she simply sheds her clothes and jumps in the water. She asks Lucy why her house is so big, as if that were a violation of ethical norms. Alone with Ted for a moment she asks, "Is it true married people don't fuck?" And when she hears Ted and Lucy making love one night, she goes to their bedroom and climbs under the covers with them. "It's a big bed," she says, in response to their outrage. "You were on the other side."

Durkin blends the back-and-forth between Martha's two worlds into an engrossing dream state, something just short of a horror movie. And Olsen, with her blank intensity and tethered distress, manages to make the director's murky narrative signify: She draws us into the character, and we want to learn more—much more—about her. We never do, though. Can a woman so damaged ever find safe haven? The movie's ambiguously chilly conclusion offers no cause for hope.   

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be out on November 8th from St. Martin's Press. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.


Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

14 responses to “Martha Marcy May Marlene

  1. BO-RING. I’ll stick with Human Centipede, please and thank you.

  2. Apart from having one of the most easily forgotten titles in recent recall, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a movie without a point.

    Makes me think that spending $10.00 to see it may end up being pointless as well.

  3. And when she hears Ted and Lucy making love one night, she goes to their bedroom and climbs under the covers with them. “It’s a big bed,” she says, in response to their outrage. “You were on the other side.”

    “Their” outrage? Somehow I doubt Ted was all that upset.

  4. OT: AND it begins. Herman Cain tweaks “999” plan to begin allowing exemptions:

    http://news.yahoo.com/cain-twe…..22301.html

  5. Esattamente, la risposta che sto cercando, ma io don??t capisco, mi puoi dire la dettagliata?

  6. This looks like a good movie. Frustrating that the don’t explore her motivations, though. The film looks well made and intense.

  7. …the Libertarian cult, a lesson that was already learned-to-death, literally, in Somalia.

    REGULATION VACATION CELEBRATION!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QDv4sYwjO0

    Lest we be accused of misrepresenting their views, actual Libertarians have been kicking around this take on Somalia with a straight face for some time now. No shit: mises.org/story/2066

    A more nuanced completely insane view is that Somalia has been awesome-ized by Anarchism, not Libertarianism. reason.com/blog/show/117519.html.

  8. Thank you for sharing great post.

  9. Reviewing films now are we?

  10. Stupid title.

  11. Professor do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Professor: Sure, I’ll play along.

    Did you support Obamacare?

    Professor: Yes.

    Then you do not accept freewill and you are a potential tyrant.

    Professor: You just flunked this course pal.

    Hey climate scientist, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Climate scientist: I don’t believe a Creator exist let alone that one allows freewill.

    AGW Skeptic: Einstein was right: Science without the [Creator] is blind and religion without the [Creator] is lame.

    Climate scientist: Silence skeptic! We must sacrifice your rights and do what’s best for society as we see fit. Don’t you know science is a democracy fool!

    AGW Skeptic: Ben Franklin was right.

    CRU emails: Burn the Skeptic’s book!!

    Hey Hillary, Nancy, Harry, Obama, progressive intellectuals and Dems, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Choir: We must sacrifice the rights of the individual and do what’s best for society.

    Who decides what’s best? Certainly not society -see Obamacare.

    Choir: From one, many -see Obamacare.

    Al Gore: e pluribus unum – from one, many. The science is settled! Everybody knows science is a democracy – the skeptics are trying to turn science upside down – leading to backwards conclusions.

    Saul Alinsky: Pick a target, freeze it, smear it, ridicule it.

    Professor: The founders were racist capitalist pig slave holders.

    Common Sense: I see a pattern: Professor with all due respect the Founding Fathers knew they couldn’t fight the Civil War before the American Revolution or shortly thereafter and remain United States. They were wise enough to put mechanisms in place though.

    Hey JournoList, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    JournoList: We must sacrifice the profession and do what is best for society.

    Hey Bill O’Really, Dr. K., FOX News, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    FOX Choir: Why do they even have all these debates? Don’t the people know Romney is inevitable….it’s inevitable that Romney is inevitable…Romney is the only inevitable candidate….Romney…Romney…..Romney….

    Hey King George III, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    King George III: I will squash you for even suggesting it is not my divine right to rule over you.

    Hey Islamic radicals. Do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Radical Islam _____________

  12. hello,welcome to http://www.luckygrip. com,i hope everyone will more like them because of there have more nice top goods and cheaper price in there,thanks
    v

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.