Although it is a bit of a mouthful Sean Durkin’s debut feature film is not as complicated as the title may suggest.
The film opens with Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) fleeing a cult which is led by an enigmatic leader Patrick (John Hawkes). After escaping Martha moves in with her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) who struggle to understand what happened to her during her two year absence. As the film progresses we soon see the effect that the cult has had on Martha or ’Marcy May’ as Patrick preferred to call her. There are a number of flashback sequences which show the physical and psychological abuse inflicted on Martha by the cult and how it results in her exhibiting strange behaviour after she escapes.
I usually don’t like films that end without any resolution or without the characters fate being determined but in this instance it’s fine. The film has various factors which are left unexplained and the story isn’t necessarily about Martha’s future but more about her past experiences and how she is adjusting to life outside of the cult.
…loss of identity at the hands of the cult…
The four names which she uses at different points in the film all symbolise in part Martha’s confusion and loss of identity at the hands of the cult. Also her fragile state of mind has led to paranoia and a fear that that the cult may return, which is warranted because of how easily they let her go implying how easy it would be for them to relocate her.
As a first time feature film for both the director and Olsen Martha Marcy May Marlene maintains a slow and steady pace throughout while still including tense moments that collectively make the film great to watch. Olsen surprisingly conveys a range of emotions that are indicative of someone who has been acting for a while and at no point do you feel you are watching a novice. The film as a whole has authentic and intriguing performances as well as a provocative storyline which will have you mulling over the story in your mind long after you have finished watching the film.