Martha Marcy May Marlene

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

 

By Gary Murray

 

Starring Elizabeth Olson, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Christopher Abbot, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, Maria Dizzia and Julia Garner

 

Written and directed by Sean Durkin

 

Running time 107 min

 

MPAA Rating R

 

Selig Film Rating Dollar

 

Art house films are different than major Hollywood releases.  Where the big boys come across guns a blazin’, the films of an independent nature usually have a much more subtle touch.  The latest production Martha Marcy May Marlene is yet another self-reflective study of the individual in an unusual situation.

 

Our little drama starts with a group of young people living on a collective farm.  The men eat first then the women get to dine on the scraps.  One of the women is Martha (Elizabeth Olson) and soon we see her running away from the group.  Calling her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) this young woman escapes from Upstate New York to the summer home in Connecticut.   Once there, Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) begin to notice that something is very disjointed with Martha. 

 

There are flashbacks to the beginning of the story.  We see Martha being introduced into the commune, welcomed by everyone.   The leader Patrick (John Hawkes) shows Martha special attentions and gives her a new name.  Before she knows it, Patrick takes her in his bed as if were a culmination of being accepted by the group.  Very soon though, she begins to notice that all is not perfect in paradise. 

 

Some members disappear into the night and Martha wonders what they are up to.  Another young woman comes into the commune and Martha finds that not being the new girl is its own burden.  The more she struggles to fit in, the more she finds that this is not freedom but brain washing.  These flashbacks along with Martha finding out the difficulty of adjustment back into society are the driving forces of Martha Marcy May Marlene. 

 

The problem with is in the basic premise of the film.  One keeps wondering why she doesn’t just tell her sister what happened to her.  The more it goes along, the more one begins to question the basic psyche of this young woman which is more of the point of the work.   Writer director Sean Durkin has a strong cast and some interesting moments but the entire exercise of Martha Marcy May Marlene is very much ado about nothing.

 

On the plus side Elizabeth Olsen delivers a powerhouse performance.  She doesn’t back away with the more basal aspects of this character, exposing her emotions as if it were a broken hot electrical wire.  This is her cinematic debut and the kind of a role that launches a serious film career.  The audience should be seeing much more of this great actress.    

 

John Hawkes is one of those actors that have had small parts in different television programs and films over the years.  This is another workman role that shows how he can play benevolent and sinister in the same beat. 

 

Martha Marcy May Marlene is not as good as the sum of its parts.  With some stunning acting and some wonderful camera work, it is worth a look.  In the final analysis it doesn’t make that much sense.  It is a decent effort but not a great motion picture. 

 

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