Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Ambiguity regarding the dirty details behind the split of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise’s split has led the media spotlight being thrust on ‘cult’ culture. While Scientology may be a more socially acceptable take on the matter, some of the less publicised groups that offer – to put it mildly – an ‘alternative lifestyle’ seem to have captured the media’s curiosity.
One of Blockbuster’s recent offerings on the subject is Martha Marcy May Marlene – a psychological thriller exploring the aftermath of life in a segregated cult.
In this depiction cult life requires much of the usual ingredients – charismatic leaders, subservient women, rejection of material possessions and plenty of chauvinistic sexual activity. Set in a nameless area just outside of New York, much of the action is relayed to the audience through Martha’s (Elizabeth Olsen) memories, which grow increasingly blurred as she tries to regain a sense of normality within the life she left behind.
In many ways the film merely scratches the surface of the issue, portraying a sketchy account of events and an uncertain future for Martha. Yet, it is in the absences of explanation that we gain a true insight into our central protagonist’s fragmented state of mind.
As frustrating for the audience as it may be, Martha’s refusal to verbally communicate her experiences makes her far more believable as a character. The effects of the things she has experience manifest themselves instead in her strange sightings, random outbursts and continual confusion.
Finding its merit in atmosphere rather than plot, the film is an interesting, if not sometimes limited, psychological study of a tortured mind.