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Martha ‘Marcy May’ Marlene, also knows by cinema goers as (Martha Marley and Me, Marie Err…, That film on at 17:45 about the girl or Mmm… Maa?) is a disturbing and bewildering film. It follows the confusion of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) after her escape from an abusive cult and it’s effect on her relationship with ‘normal’ people – her sister and brother in law.

The film maintains many levels of uncertainty throughout. Indeed, the scenes often mix time and space: within one take, Martha will have moved into a flashback or from a flashback into the present. Sometimes, it is made clear, sometimes, the audience (as well as Martha) are left in the dark as to where/when the scene is taking place. Moreover, the consequences of her escape remain ambiguous: is the cult actually pursuing her? How brainwashed is she? Is she having flashbacks or hallucinations or both?

As the film is shot from Martha’s point of view, she holds just as many answers as we do. Many ambiguous, social and existentialist questions are raised: is she more of a Martha (her birth name) or a Marcy May? Who is she happier as? Which fit in better in their respective society? Martha ‘Marcy May’ Marlene takes us deep into the mind of a cult escapee, making us interrogate the social conventions and ideologies of both the cult and her bourgeois sister. Why would bathing naked in a lake be so offensive? Why does life need to evolve around a career?

Elizabeth Olsen’s brave performance makes the film. It could have been a plain and at times rather boring story, but her portrayal is so expressive and full of ambiguous meanings that one cares for her character. This gripping introspection takes us through many painfully disturbing scenes leading up to a haunting ending. John Hawkes should also be mentioned, after Winter’s Bone, he reprises his role as a creepy, obscure character and he is really good at it.

Martha ‘Marcy May’ Marlene is not always easy to watch, but it is a beautiful and sensitive character-led film that will definitely stay with you for a  while.


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