Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha Marcy May Marlene is the story of a young woman who joins a cult and has difficulty re-acclimating to the world after her return. For people who have not seen the film, the one question that will arise is, what kind of cult are we talking about? Are they religious fanatics? Gun nuts? Republicans? All of the above?
The cult plays an important part in the story, but it isn’t the story. The story is about what happens when Martha, a young, simple minded woman, removes herself from the cult and tries to live a normal life. The difficulties that come with trying to ascertain what is normal and can I even go back to normal plague Martha. On top of this is the looming fear that, at any moment, this cult could seek her out and reclaim her.
The story, thin as it is, is compelling enough. Compelling enough to keep you engaged, while watching the events unfold, revealing why Martha is incapable of getting past her time with the aforementioned cult. In fact, the story is secondary to the characterization that takes place throughout the film. A character is slowly and methodically formed before the audiences eyes, which is more fascinating than the cult and their machinations.
Martha is played by Elizabeth Olson, or as I refer to her, the talented Olson. She volleys back and forth between unaffected and distraught with absolute ease, and conveys the turmoil one might experience in this situation. The film is really hers and hers alone. Sarah Paulson plays Martha’s sister to a rather unconvincing degree, while John Hawkes strolls and strums about, but lacks the gravitas he displayed in Winter’s Bone. To be fair though, there are some smaller supporting roles that are carried out to a greater degree, which certainly helps the story along and strengthens Olson’s performance.
The story is weak and the cast is only so-so, with the exception of Olson. And while the story does not amount to much, the character study taking place is well worth the viewing time. Not the strongest selection of 2011, but it will likely garner support during awards season.