Movie Review: “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Written by Rachel Ganzewinkel January 11, 2012

The marvelous, most magnificent Martha/Marcy May/Marlene.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a movie incomparable to others. It is not a movie that tries to teach the audience something, it doesn’t pull on the heartstrings needlessly, and the shocking events shown are not for shock value. It is not a movie that wraps up nicely or has a visible, traditional narrative where there is a defined beginning, middle and end. This movie is something all on its own. It simply exists.

The story follows Martha, a girl who also has the alternate personas of Marcy May and Marlene given to her by the cult-like “family” that haunts her current existence. This is a group of people who take in emotionally damaged girls who have run away and take them in under the guise that they can be loved here, they can be self-sufficient and separate from the cruel world they want to escape from. The leader of this creep-fest is Patrick (played with ultimate sleaze by the stunning John Hawkes who also wowed in last year’s Oscar contender Winter’s Bone.)

The story is told in flashback form with some of the smoothest, most interesting scene transitions I have ever seen. They add to the overall feel of the movie as the audience shares in Martha’s confusion and anxiety between her current, safe location and the hell of an existence she crawled out of. This psychological drama pulls you in and every shocking, horrifying moment is heightened to a degree the senseless violence in torture-porn horror movies can never achieve.

Elizabeth Olsen (who brings Martha/ Marcy May/ and Marlene to life) is surprisingly unbelievable, and I mean that in the best way. She was wonderful in a subtle performance that takes amazing acting abilities to pull off. She is unafraid to expose herself as an actor in every way (side note: there was a distracting amount of boob shots in this…that definitely could have been toned down a notch or two).

And when I say she was surprisingly good it is because I remember how her famous twin sisters (yes, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are related to her) are kind of not that good at the whole acting thing. My generation definitely grew up on their retrospectively lame straight-to-video movies and that’s all I could think about when I heard that Elizabeth Olsen is an actor. But I was so wrong to categorize them together. Elizabeth made Martha a real person, someone not melodramatic about her experiences.

The slow, creeping nightmare Martha underwent is not leaving her alone; is she confusing reality with a nightmare? It seems she is experiencing what it must feel like to wake from a vivid nightmare and wonder if what happened actually did indeed happen as she is now in a safe place with her sister and new husband. She is not experiencing a slow decline in sanity; she has stayed at an unhealthy low for awhile as hinted through a talk with her sister.

This movie is something that exists. It does not impose any belief or moral lesson or anything on the audience. Much like life and death, this movie is just another existence for the people in it, and for the people watching it. This movie is something, it is definitely something. It stays with you as it lets you peep into the seedy underbelly of human existence. There are no explanations for the horror that is ravished on those in this “cult” and the public they encounter. There are no explanations or guides for the audience to know if Martha is truly insane or if the things she sees back in her sister’s home are real. This is how this film sucks you in and is repeatedly able to suck the breath out of you as the psychological trauma to poor Martha/Marcy May/Marlene ensues.

My Rating: 9/10

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About Rachel Ganzewinkel

Rachel loves movies and writing and has found the perfect amalgamation in writing movie reviews for We Eat Films. In between movie watching and the real-life world of work, she enjoys tea, reading, writing, and wearing over-size sweaters (while occassionally doing some of these simultaneously).

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