Martha Marcy May Marlene

November 7, 2011 2 Comments

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Cults are horrifying organizations designed to destroy an individual’s sense of self and then absorb them into the oppressive unity of the cult world.  Or, we all live in versions of cults, so what’s the difference?  New director (Sean Durkin) raises such comparisons in his new film “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”  The film has generated mega buzz on the recent film festival circuit and is now making its way to public screenings.  Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the younger sister of the Olsen twins) is Martha, an apparent escapee from a hippie-like commune dominated by Patrick (John Hawks) who apparently maintains an eerie hold over his (mostly) female devotees.  Martha returns after an unexplained two year absence to her sister’s home, which she shares with her uptight and successful husband.  Tension continues to mount as Martha struggles to return to a ‘normal’ life with blaring vestiges of her recent existence.  The film’s basic structure revolves around contrasting scenes (the commune in flashback) of these two incompatible lifestyles.  There is certainly a spookiness to the tale as the extent of Martha’s trauma unfolds.  The director and actress are eerily effective in capturing Martha’ pain and confusion.  The film has been praised for its subtlety and depth.  Some embrace the unanswered questions as sensitive genius…however it does raise the question of how much murkiness is effective and how much is just plain lack of clarity. There does seem to be a genre struggle within in the film and I am not certain the director knew exactly what film he actually wanted to make…..intense psychologically or slasher thriller…who says he has to decide anyway?  I guess that’s a “you must see (the) movie” questions to decide for yourself….which cult will you join?……Jolyn Wagner

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2 Comments to “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
  1. Dave Lundin says:

    Great summary! Another way to possibly look at it is to think of your family of origin as the traumatic cult and the real world you have to adjust to as another different kind of cult. The original family cult haunts you as you try to adjust to the real world cult. What is a cult? A cohesive set of abusive values that force you to distort your sense of self to fit in? Can every organization, including a family, be defined as a cult to some extent?

  2. Bruce Russell says:

    How about this: a cult is group of people smaller than the society in which it exists and whose members are not solely linked by biological or family ties. The members of this group must be united by a shared ideology, or by their commitment to a group leader who is committed to some ideology, that is different from the ideology of most people in the larger society in which the group exists?

    On this account, families aren’t cults, and neither are most clubs. Is Mormonism a cult?

    Why are the women in the cult so devoted to Patrick, the leader of the cult? Why are they satisfied with their lesser status, compared to that of the males in the cult and, of course, to Patrick?

    Where does Marlene come from?

    Why is the ending so unsatisfying?

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