Martha Marcy May Marlene

Posted in Uncategorized by lmass on 15/02/2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene utilises the power of silence to the nth degree. No drama, no blood, no raised voices [barely any dialogue at all, in fact] – lots of heavy, buzzing silence which builds and creates such high tension that you find your knuckles are white before you even drew the first gasp.

Martha/Marcy May/Marlene is the lost and mysterious Elizabeth Olsen, who plays the role of troubled  space cadet with aplomb. Glazed and confused, M’s story slowly and painfully makes itself known through a series of flashbacks, which are seamlessly interwoven with the present narrative with stylish connects; underwater shots, black outs, noises. You find yourself flitting between M’s memory and real life without really noticing, and by the end it is not entirely clear what was real, whether these were memories of real events or the distorted visions of a harangued young girl.

It is the reaction of her sister Lucy which unhinges the story for me slightly. Such intensely bizarre behaviour – the scene when Lucy is having sex with her husband Ted and M steals into their room to curl up on the end of the bed, the sound of their love-making apparently comforting and familiar to her rather than private intimacy not to be interrupted – would surely stir deep worry in regards to M’s sexual experiences in the two years she has been missing. However, Lucy merely puts her to sleep – clearly troubled – but without any conscious effort, or without seeming to realise, the true extend of M’s abuse. I find it hard to believe that you would reach the end of your tether in a few short days with a sister you apparently love so much, have missed so much, and who is clearly so deeply troubled. Bruises on her head and a deeply introverted stance would surely ring more alarm bells than leaving yourself to believe the weak story of a dodgy relationship gone wrong. One’s mind might not jump to brain-washing orgy-having cults, but you might be inclined to probe a little deeper than the surface skimming questions Lucy and Ted weakly ask in between M’s stony silences.

It is her bizarre social skills that are the most troubling thing of this film, and the most astoundingly portrayed by Olsen. You are put on edge by simple throwaway comments, which are so jarring in their inappropriateness; ‘is it true that married people don’t fuck?’. Not just shy then, M’s behavior is the product of a deeply sinister time at the chilling farm, led by charismatic and ruthless Patrick, a rapist and control freak, whose manipulative control over his ‘family’ is such that murder is justifiable. M guides a young recruit through the process leading to the ‘cleansing’ – aka – rape, as she experienced herself. We see that she was uncomfortable with the experience, but is persuaded, against a better judgement she is desperately trying to repress, that is was good.

It is solitude which defines this film so well – M’s introverted isolation leads to a devastating climax which, despite being shot almost entirely off screen, is terrifyingly unsettling.


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