Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

The observation of pain and the search for meaning where none exists!

Written By: Sean Durkin
Directed By: Sean Durkin

Is there a reason why Martha (for the purpose of this review I’ll be calling her Martha throughout) leaves the commune in the Catskills? Is there a reason why Martha helps someone else experience the same special night with Patrick that she underwent? Is there a reason why Martha can’t readjust to life with her sister? Why is Martha in so much pain and so unwilling to ask for help?

These are but a few of the questions that are left unanswered at the end of Martha Marcy May Marlene. I’m happy that the film didn’t bother to answer any of those questions, especially in its final moments. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film that didn’t bother to answer any question during it run time or deem it necessary to provide meaning for the events that we see transpire. It would have been disingenuous for a film that was not interested in providing the answers to all of a sudden supply all the answers as it finished.

The reason that Martha Marcy May Marlene does not seek to provide any answers is because it is a film about the observation of pain, alienation, and the power of attraction. The pain is endured mainly by Martha, so much so that it could be said that the director and writer Sean Durkin sets up all the other characters in the movie as villains. The members of the commune and Martha’s family are forces working against her. We don’t know why they are working against her. We are never allowed to understand why Martha can’t fit in either world. To know all the facts, to understand the meaning of all that we see during Martha Marcy May Marlene would be in opposition to the aims of the film. Martha Marcy May Marlene is not a work of non-fiction dispersing nuggets of information. It is a slow moving, elliptical journey that observes and nothing more.

Something that is easy to observe in Martha Marcy May Marlene are the wonderful performances of the cast. John Hawkes gives an expectedly great performance as the creepy and charming leader of the commune. Sarah Paulson continues to show that while comedy may be in her roots she is able to deliver a finely tuned dramatic performance with the best of them. The discovery in Martha Marcy May Marlene is Elizabeth Olsen. I don’t know if I can offer up any praise that her performance has not already received. She is disturbed, fragile, and dangerous all at the same time. Miss Olsen plays Martha as a wounded victim and as a caged animal just waiting to strike. Her eyes are afire with unfocused intent, but her body is in stasis mode, unable to reconcile with the fire that rages inside of her.

Mr. Durkin brings the elements of Martha Marcy May Marlene together into an intoxicating package. Answers may not be found within the form of the film, but answers are not needed for Martha Marcy May Marlene to be a powerful experience. Just as much a horror film as it is a dramatic character study, Martha Marcy May Marlene takes one of the misguided beliefs of its main character to heart. Martha Marcy May Marlene doesn’t want to take on any form, it simply exists, and it finds its cinematic way through its mere existence.





One response to “Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

  1. Pingback: Podcast Review: SophistiCult Cinema | Bill's Movie Emporium

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