Martha Marcy May Marlene

Elizabeth is the Talented Olsen


21 October 2011| No Comments on Martha Marcy May Marlene     by Sean Chavel


Creepy psychodrama and character study profile. Martha Marcy May Marlene is subtle in its grimness of a young woman, who in an undefined way, is damaged and disturbed. All four names refer to the character played by Elizabeth Olsen (the younger sister of famous twins Mary-Kate and Ashley), but Martha is her birth name. Martha consensually enters a cult on a rural farm in upstate New York. She is, in subtle ways, brainwashed by the cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes), who demands household duties and sexual interludes with all female residents. Martha is free to leave anytime, so they say, but certain things suggest that the men would rather prison the women. Martha does runaway and finds her married sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), living on a lake cottage with husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) in Connecticut. Naturally, the long-worried Lucy has wondered why Martha had disappeared in the last couple of years.

Ted is cordial and welcoming of Martha for a few brief interactions, then quickly tires of her. That is bound to happen when Martha outspokenly disapproves of the institution of marriage, and condemns him of being a materialistic person. Professionally successful, the self-made Ted is the first to verbally declare he wants Martha kicked out of his house, then the first to assert that she needs a mental hospital. Lucy is the kind of educated and cautious woman to wait for illustrated proof of this, the kind of person that waits too long for something appalling to happen before she would assign her sister to a hospital.

The entire film cuts back and forth between the current situation and the memories at the cult farm. The movie doesn’t vividly link the past causes as a catalyst to Martha’s present behavior at the cottage. But you are convinced, at least, that there is a link.

The ending isn’t realized either, and you want one. I would rate this film higher had it taken us to the deep end, and not just left me imagining my own deep end. Yet you can probably guess who is in the car behind and what will happen at the eventual rendezvous. Old acquaintances have psychic power over addictive-compulsive personalities, and Martha is dependently one.

The idea of the film is depressing, but the film has a dark fascination in how unstable girls get vacuumed into a lifestyle by persuasive and dominate men. Elizabeth Olsen is a tremendously astute talent – you get the feeling that as an actress she has the ability to understand the weaknesses and cravings of damaged human beings. I can’t imagine her sisters knowing a damn thing about anything that isn’t superficial. I would like to see Elizabeth in more films.

In addition, T. Sean Durkin is a talented first-time director with a true sense for creating atmosphere, both psychological and the physiological. His images stick with you like pollen, you don’t know it’s there but it permeates into your mind. You might find yourself talking about “Martha Marcy May Marlene” weeks after you’ve seen it. Perhaps get the names in order by then, too.

120 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Repulsion” (1965); “Safe” (1995); “Sherrybaby” (2006); “Winter’s Bone” (2010).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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