The Olsen Twins must really hate their younger sister right now, because she managed to do something in one film that her sisters haven’t been able to do since they were born: Give a fantastic performance in a great film.
Martha Marcy May Marlene tells the story of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). When the film opens it shows her escaping from a cult. At this point we don’t know why, but she seems scared and that’s enough to drive the story in the beginning. She uses a pay phone to call her estranged big sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and finds herself at a large home by a lake in Connecticut with Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy).
It’s very obvious from the get-go that the relationship between the two sisters has always been strained at best. And the two year gab in communication between them hasn’t helped. Neither does Martha’s fragile mental state which begins to put a strain on Lucy’s marriage. As Martha attempts to adapt to “normal” life we begin to see through a series of flashbacks how she came to join the cult and what ultimately drove her to run.
The cult is by no means vilified, but they are certainly creepy. Led by a charismatic man named Patrick (John Hawkes) the group welcome Martha with opens arms and slowly begin to brainwash her into their way of thinking. Patrick renames her Marcy May. Slowly they bring her into the fold, sometimes in not the most pleasant ways.
As the film goes on it seamlessly switches from present to past, sometimes confusing the audience. This might annoy some viewers, but I found it an interesting way to make the audience as confused as Martha as it seems she doesn’t always know what the present really is.
The performances in this film across the board are fantastic. Of course Olsen is mesmerizing as the troubled Martha, but Hawkes gives one of his best performances to date. While completely creepy the whole film, you can also see why Martha was taken in by the cult in the beginning. Paulson is also very good as Lucy, the sister. Lucy is a cold but not completely uncaring person. She is concerned about her sister’s well being, but more focused on what is going on in her own life and how Martha’s sudden appearance effects her.
First-time director Sean Durkin does a great job creating this fascinating if unsettling world. Some viewers will be annoyed by the ending, but Martha Marcy May Marlene is a fascinating character study and a wonderful film.
This film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. This is a really good looking and sounding film. This is about as perfect as a transfer can get.
There are several publicity shorts that range from 3-4 minutes including Spotlight on Elizabeth Olsen, The Story, The Making of and A Conversation with the Filmmakers: Each gives some interesting insight into the making of the film. The Psyche of a Cult: (5 min.) Is an interesting look at how cults work. Mary Last Seen: (14 min.) This is the short film Durkin made prior to the feature that kind of serves as a prologue of sorts. ”Marcy’s Song”: (4 min.) Music video for the song John Hawkes sings in the film.
Martha Marcy May Marlene might be a hard name to remember, but you’re sure to remember the film. There was one dialogue exchange in the film that really struck me. Martha asks, “How far are we?” to which Lucy responds, “From What?” and Martha says simply, “Yesterday.” How far are we from yesterday? I think that is really a fantastic way to sum up what this film is about and even though most of us have never been part of a cult, I know we’ve all felt that one at one time or another.
Fox Searchlight presents Martha Marcy May Marlene. Written and Directed by: Sean Durkin. Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes. Running time: 102 min. Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language. Released on DVD: February 21, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.