“Martha Marcy May Marlene”. Is it a name of girl or what? Well, explaining the meaning of the title is indeed quite a spoiler. At first you may wonder if it is a slow-moving drama about, predictably, a girl. One of last year’s Sundance Film Festival winner, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” does moves slowly. Yet, it is more to be a psychological thriller melted in a drama. It’s, fortunately, not that kind of gory film with some disturbing scenes. It did “killed” me with its slowness, and an outstanding acting from Elizabeth Olsen as the main character became one of its powers. The specific topic it raised was also another upside.
Well, okay, I hope I won’t ruined your excitement in watching the film because I am trying so hard not to spoil anything, especially about the title. In “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, we talk about a getaway of a girl named Martha (portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen) from a cult group led by an old man named Patrick (portrayed by John Hawkes). The cult group gathered some damaged young men and women, like Zoe (portrayed by Louisa Krause) or Watts (portrayed by Brady Corbet), in a remote farmhouse. Martha, who in the cult was called as Marcy May, found the cult a little bit abusive, so she escaped from the farmhouse. Then she called her sister, Lucy (portrayed by Sarah Paulson), to pick her up in a restaurant. Martha then lived with Lucy and her husband, Ted (portrayed by Hugh Dancy), in a near-lake house. The problem arose when Martha showed weird behavior living with Lucy and Ted, and some dreams and scars from the past kept haunting her.
"I am a teacher and a leader" - Martha
The lovely thing is, the plot was told in a back-and-forth timeline. We have two different timeline: the timeline in which Martha was still in the cult group and the timeline in which Martha has escaped and lived with Lucy and Ted. Both timelines were put together layer-by-layer so smoothly that somehow you could easily tell what scene was in which timeline. I love the editing: it was flawless. See, at one scene, in the lake house Martha was sitting with Lucy and when she stood up, she appeared with a different costume—we’re taken to another timeline: Martha was in the farmhouse. It’s great. The slow camera movement and storytelling tried to make us viewers focus on the characterization of the damaged Martha. We will be guided to wonder, what really happened to her and how Lucy and Ted tried to help her. Applause, of course, was addressed to Elizabeth Olsen for her outstanding performance in portraying Martha. She was great for bringing Martha as a damaged, brainwashed girl with all her unusual behaviors.
However, the way it thrilled me was ended without solution. I mean, there are many questions left unanswered in the ending. <SPOILER STARTS> Look, we don’t even know what was really taught in the cult group. We weren’t left clear about that. And we don’t even see why the girl and the boy in the cult group could be so brainwashed that they weren’t concerned doing bad things (like stealing and even killing persons). We don’t see why they could enjoy living in the farmhouse with all the weird rules. We were left with no clear background about Patrick or even the cult group. <SPOILER ENDS> Maybe it was made to focus us only on the characterization of Martha, but at last those unanswered questions were quite annoying. Yet, I was totally okay with the ending (‘though I kept watching the film until the very end to see if there are more scenes after the credits, because I was so curious) and I could accept it as a best conclusion of this complicated emotional conflict.
Finally, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” did stabbed me with its slowness. You’ll be wondering and questioning what had and would happen throughout the duration. It was emotionally tense, and its topic was quite intriguing. Its unanswered questions in the ending may end up as a debate or a discussion among the viewers, although it may confuse some other viewers who expected a conclusive, straight plot. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a good film of a personality study, and also a good example of a slow drama that thrilled. Elizabeth Olsen’s acting was great, undeniably.
▲ Good performance, slow-paced but thrilling
▼ Unanswered questions in the ending
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2011 RATING Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language GENRE Drama, Thriller RUNTIME 102 min CAST Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbet WRITER Sean Durkin DIRECTOR Sean Durkin IMDB RATING 7.0/10 METACRITIC 76/100 (Generally Favorable) ROTTEN TOMATOES 90% (Certified Fresh) MORE INFO