Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Martha Marcy May Marlene"

This interesting film concerns a woman called Martha who has just left a weirdo hippy cult where she went by the name Marcy May and where she had to give the name Marlene when answering the phone. It begins with her leaving the cult's communal home out in the American countryside somewhere, then following her as she moves in with the sister she has not seen in years (and the sister's husband, who is increasingly annoyed by this fruitloop sister-in-law he has never previously met). Martha acts very strangely with her sister, clearly traumatised by her past; in flashback we see what was so traumatic about her life in the cult. As is the way of these kind of sinister cults, it boasts a charismatic leader (well played by John Hawkes, previously seen in Winder's Bone) who predates sexually on the group's women members, with Martha both being one of his victims and, later, complicit in facilitating his predation.

This is an impressive film, driven by strong performances not just by Katherine Olsen (in the demanding role of Martha) but by all the actors. It is technically well made and looks very appealing. And it uses music very well, both ominous incidental music and a charming yet worrying piece sung by the cult-leader to Martha.

But the film does have problems. For one thing, Martha seemed a bit more affected by her time in the cult than would seem to me realistic. It is established that she went into it as an adult and has only spent two years there, but in that two years she seems to have completely forgotten the kind of normal socialisation that we go through in the course of our upbringing. I know cults, particularly fictional cults, are great at the brainwashing, but this seemed a bit extreme. I also found the ending a bit abrupt – so abrupt that I was not sure if I had blinked and missed something really important.

cult panda

An inuit panda production

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