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