Martha Marcy May Marlene

It was not until after the credits and my short walk to the car that I started to understand what I just saw.  The tongue twister title, Martha Marcy May Marlene, deals a heavy dose of psychological abuse.  The young, twenty-something protagonist, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) starts the film by running away from her Catskills home that she shares with a miscellaneous group of people.  Not knowing where she is or where to go she reaches out to her estranged sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson) for help.

The title’s string of names is played by a new girl to the scene with a very famous name.  Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the famous Olsen twins, play the abused Martha.  In one of her first features outside the Olsen family film business,  Elizabeth shines as a girl struggling to find herself.  Her broken character finds resistant from both families in her life.  The acceptance of the Catskills cult lures Martha into a patriarchy system that she mistakes as a family.  Once she realizes this is not ok, she turns to her real family that formally cast her out.  Despite a series of outburst due to her time in the Catskills, her real family does everything they can for her, showing what it truly means to be family.

The film is slow to reveal what truly happened to Martha.  Instead it provides the audience with information on a need-to-know basis.  Martha Marcy May Marlene was Sean Dirkin’s first full length feature.  Serving as both director and writer, his introductions into flashbacks was really interesting.  Martha would be experiencing something in the present with Lucy and brother in law, Ted (Hugh Dancy), that would spark a memory and flashback to her time in the Catskills.  They became more fluid as the film progressed and allowed the audience to understand that the film was Martha’s mind at work. That it was her connection of events, that told the story of her time in the Catskills.  It also prepared the audience for how Martha would feel and react in the present.   The flashbacks she experienced ranged from her introduction to the cult to her induction of another member.  These were hard to watch and  features rape and senseless violence, not unlike scenes in the infamous Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange.

Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene is timely to current skepticism by the millennial generation. Struggling to find a place in the world is a common subject among twenty somethings as it seems the world is crashing in around them.  Olsen’s character acts as a representation of this sentiment.  As she will surely be one of the better actresses of our generation. This film is a exaggeration but an understandable feeling within all of us.

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