johnlink ranks MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)

I came to this movie much the same way I came to WINTER’S BONE. I had heard good things about a dramatic film starring an up-and-coming actress who really gives one helluva good performance. As for plot, themes, or even a general idea of what I was in for? Nothing. And, as I have said many times, that is usually the best way to go into a movie. There will be some SPOILERS below, but I will save them all for a clearly marked paragraph at the end of the article. So feel free to read on until the warning hits.

I watched MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) on 9.28.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

To give some idea regarding how little I knew about this film, I actually had a notion that this was a film about a young woman with multiple-personality disorder. It is not about that. At all. Instead, Elizabeth Olsen (much more talented than her two Olsen twin sisters) plays a girl who begins the film as Martha, but who is assigned some other names as the film plays out.

The thrust of this movie is that Martha escapes a Manson-like cult and tries to cope with what happened to her there. The film begins with her escape and her moving in with her older sister (Sarah Paulson) and her brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), who she had yet to meet. As the film plays out, we are privy to a series of flashbacks of what life was like in the cult.

The performances here are stunning. Olsen is absolutely amazing as the socially inept Martha. We witness her attempts to return to a normal life, and we feel for her as she continually makes mistakes she does not realize she is making. This can be tough to watch, if only because we see how good Martha wants to be. Her refusal to share the truth with her sister adds to the tension, though we come to learn why it can be so hard.

The scenes in the cult are horrifying in their slow build from innocence to maliciousness. We see how a young and impressionable woman can be sucked in by the charms and then assimilated into a life of insanity. The group is led by Patrick, who is played by John Hawkes. Hawkes has quickly become an actor I will seek out between his powerhouse performances in this, and as Jennifer Lawrence’s uncle in WINTER’S BONE. He’s an absolute chameleon of an actor, and seeing his name on a cast-list will be enough to get me in the door of any movie from here on out.

Throughout the pages of this project, I have consistently harped on films which do not respect the intelligence of their audience. Often characters behave in obvious and broad strokes, shunning nuance for the dumbest member of the viewing pool. This is not one of those films. The layers in each and every character here are deep, and discerning why Martha does what she does is the great joy of this film. You could consider this a mystery story, not by its plot but by the depth of the characters. Every single character in this film is carefully considered. It is, quite frankly, one of the most finely scripted films I have seen in a long time.

And now, finally, for a few SPOILERS in a discussion about the film’s end. So if you have not seen this, you can just jump down to the scores. The next paragraph is here just for consideration of anyone who has seen this already.

I love how this film concludes. Martha becomes exceedingly more paranoid after her ill-advised phone call. My take is that the cult is not after her, and in a way that is much more frightening. Most films of this sort end definitively, with either Patrick dead (happy ending) or Martha dead (sad ending). The uncertainty with which this wraps up is much more horrifying because we realize that this girl will never be okay, never be normal. The two years spent with the cult has ruined her for life. I kept waiting for the clichés to get a hold of this film, and I am pleasantly amazed that they never did.





~ by johnlink00 on September 29, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)”


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