Don't let this film's strange title (the most difficult to remember this year, next to "Crazy Stupid Love"--which one friend kept calling "Stupid Love Crazy") dissuade you from seeing this critically lauded study of a religious cult. Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," is the story of a woman trying to extricate herself from her painful past. One of our newest reviewers, Kamaria B. Porter, looks at this compelling new work in our online Culture section:
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” brilliantly explores the ways in which painful aspects of our past sometimes explode into our daily lives. Durkin makes this powerfully clear by interweaving flashbacks of Martha’s life at the cult and shots of her mundane life with her sister. At first, these transitions are an artful way to present Martha’s past. But Durkin gradually increases the pace and abruptness of these cuts, obfuscating the difference between past and present. It becomes difficult for Martha, and us, to distinguish between her memories and reality. She even asks Lucy, “Do you ever have the feeing you can’t tell if something is a memory or if it’s something you dreamed?” Increasingly, Martha cannot distinguish between her memories of Patrick and the creeping suspicion that he may be trying to recapture her.
The film is successful because it provokes reflection on questions beyond what it means to live on a cult. In Martha’s longing for community, young people may see their own struggle to find somewhere to flourish and find meaning. The depiction of Martha and Lucy, two sisters but utter strangers, may resonate with strained families. Finally there is Martha, who remains a mystery despite dominating the screen for the entire movie. Her true motivations and beliefs remain obscured, giving us only her tangled emotions. Lucy treats her with derision and Patrick with subtle intimidation, but what she most needs is a compassionate ear. Meeting Martha where she is may be the only way to reach this troubled character. But it may also be impossible.