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Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

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In short, we’re primed to see her as a sexual object and this makes for much discomfort, not least in present day scenes at sister Lucy’s lakehouse. Discomforting signs of sexual abuse, from a lack of shame in being naked in front of her brother-in-law, to casually lying in bed next to the couple while they’re having sex, make that objectification problematic. The film acts on the audience like an extension of Patrick’s Id; it fills our head with conflicting ideas and controls our perceptions. In the end we’re as paranoid and disorientated as poor Martha. This is its power; a jagged psychological topography; the reconstitution of the world as a fearful and sinister place informed by experiences that only we and Martha are privy to.

Durkin never lets us off the hook. At the lakehouse, a sanctuary on paper, both Martha’s newfound security and the people who provide it are questioned. An excellent scene has Martha challenge the values of her host, the affluent and self-absorbed Ted. All things being equal it would be reasonable to suggest that her brother-in-law’s middle class values are reassuringly natural. However, by making Lucy and Ted atomised beings, with a streak of accompanying selfishness (enough for Martha to suggest Lucy would make a terrible mother), Durkin invests Martha’s repudiation of Ted’s, and by extension, the audience’s cosy beliefs, with additional sting.

It’s a challenge to our complacency but also a reminder that the communal values perverted by Patrick and his followers (who aspire to self-sufficiency but steal from nearby houses and murder the occupiers), hold a romantic allure for young people adrift amongst the debris from a broken family. This is the vacuum that predators like Patrick move to fill. Martha Marcy May Marlene shows us how and it’s not a lesson easily forgotten.

Pages: 1 2

Directed by:Sean Durkin

Country: US

Year: 2011

Running Time: 102 mins

Certificate: 15


One Response

  1. dave samuelson says:

    I was alternately intrigued, moved and horrified by this film and impressed by its masterful use of barely signaled flashbacks and Martha’s total inability to express her alarming memories.

    The lack of conclusion is particularly unsettling. Although Martha has good reason for paranoia, the mysterious car that may be following the family on the way to a treatment facility seems gratuitous.