Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Directed by: Sean Durkin | 102 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Elizabeth Olsen, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner, John Hawkes, Louisa Krause, Sarah Paulson, Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Lauren Molina, Louisa Braden Johnson, Tobias Segal, Gregg Burton

It sounds quite tempting somewhere: say goodbye to the morally corrupt, hectic modern society and all associated factory farming and banking crises, buy your own farm and grow your own food. This form of organic self-sufficiency appeals to enough people that books are being written about it, that people in New York grow vegetables on the roofs and that in several countries, after starting in the English town of Totnes, several rural villages – ‘Transition Towns’ – introduced their own currency. In the Netherlands, Deventer is participating and it is under construction in Nijmegen.

The idea in ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ is not that appealing at all. In the first scene we encounter a remote farm that should appear idyllic, but in fact immediately seems strange. Why isn’t anyone saying anything while eating? Why do the boys eat separately before the girls are allowed to dine? There’s something wrong; if it was all right, there wouldn’t be a movie made about it.

These suspicions are soon reinforced when one of the girls sneaks out of the farm at dawn. By the time she’s across the street, she’s noticed and Marcy May (as they call her) starts running fast. She manages to escape, despite searching housemates and attempts at persuasion. Soon Marcy May (Elizabeth Olsen) is on the phone with an acquaintance – who calls her Martha – and she breaks out sobbing. No, it should be clear that the stay cannot be called undivided pleasure.

Martha, herself estimated to be in her twenties, is picked up by a woman, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who is a fraction older – whether it is a girlfriend or sister becomes explicit much later. Lucy is staying with her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) in a luxurious Connecticut vacation home, where Martha could come to her senses. This career man and woman clearly farm well and have little in common with the licentious, unruly Martha.

That is not going to be smooth at all. Martha and Lucy haven’t spoken in years and the former is behaving strangely. The hostess and lord suspect as much as the viewer that Martha has experienced strange things in those years, but the couple does not get the beautifully seamlessly interwoven flashbacks that gradually provide us with insight into the curious community she lived in. to see. Because Martha doesn’t want to say anything about the period, they remain groping in the dark, much to their growing frustration when their guest gets more and more confused with himself and the conventions within the household.

Meanwhile, we see in strong episodes what happened to her on the farm – where she ended up as a rudderless orphan – which can be characterized as quite a sectarian neo-hippie commune, under the dominant leadership of Patrick (John Hawkes, known for ‘ Winter’s Bone’ in which he also played one of those rural mourners that was dripping with danger). The people on the farm would probably describe themselves as free-spirited, free-spirited from the daily conventions of nine-to-five jobs, mortgages and house-tree-beast. The thought that is forcibly suppressed, however, is that they will receive a much tighter straitjacket in return, a totalitarian submission to the community and above all to the arbitrary, flawed logic and perverse practices of leader Patrick. It quickly becomes clear that ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ has nothing good to say about this form of society. If the film has also attempted to be critical of Lucy and Ted’s usual career path, it succeeds only moderately: they are far too helpful for that. There is increasing friction between Martha and Ted in particular, but this is mainly due to Martha’s curious behavior, which is not incomprehensible but ensures that she will not win all souls in this conflict. You almost want to become a banker based on this movie alone.

As more becomes known of Martha’s time at the commune, the film struggles to remain suspenseful; at a certain point the message seems clear to the viewer. ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ continues for a while, however, in which Martha starts to show more and more paranoid phenomena that may or may not have a real breeding ground – that remains in the middle. Apparently ‘MMMM’ doesn’t quite know what kind of film it wants to be: by switching between the period in the commune and Martha’s later sleepover, the oppression of the closed, strange community comes across nicely, but not completely. On the other hand, as a character study, the film suffers quite a bit from the closed disposition of Martha, who as a character just doesn’t stick well to carry the entire film. The result is a film that is neither, a beautifully shot and at times well acted drama that is entertaining but that doesn’t seem to have dared to make the choices to really make it into a magnificent whole.

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