The late, late, late review of the excellent Martha Macy May Marlene

“Fear is the most amazing emotion of all because it creates complete awareness”– the very sinister Patrick (played by John Hawkes)

Creepy, psychological and dramatic: those are three words that can be best used to describe the creatively titled Martha, Macy, May, Marlene; an intense debut from writer-director Sean Durkin. Quad M (or MMMM, as the movie will henceforth be referred to) tells the story of Martha played by Elizabeth Olsen and her struggle to divest herself from the trauma of spending 2 years of her life living as part of a cult. The plot flirts between the past and the present (a stylistic device that draws comparison to The Godfather part 2) supplying a raison d’être in the now for Martha’s erratic and bizarre behaviour.

Home is where you go to when everywhere else becomes unbearable. Thus after Martha’s escape from the farm she reluctantly goes into the care of her older sister Lucy (Sarah Poulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). The siblings’ relationship is a fractured and distant one, not helped by Martha refusing to converse on her unexplained absence of two years or unwillingness to confide about the terrible ordeal that she has been put through. Lucy and Ted are both oblivious to what is going on in Martha’s head and so are unsympathetic and powerless simultaneously, to deal with this weirdo little girl.

The ever reliant rent-o-scumbag John Hawkes gives an enthralling portrayal of the patriarchal psychopath of the commune featuring only within Martha’s past. Hawkes’ Patrick is an unnerving creepy individual who shares a lot of the same characteristics of Glen Quagmire but without the charm or lack of ominous capabilities. While his actions are outrageously evil at the very least, the most frightening thing about him is his influence and control over his Charles Manson type family. With Patrick, Hawkes is adept at managing to convey a charismatic, persuasive nature to mask the nastier qualities that lurk beneath. This messianic/degenerate quality is best summed up in a scene where in front of the commune he sings a song that he wrote for Martha on his guitar. The song is beautiful, the words poetic but the implication behind it is much much worse considering the act he committed beforehand.

“I am a teacher and a leader”– Martha

This is an interesting choice in subject matter for the writer/director Sean Durkin. What Durkin shows through his non-linear device of past and present is that the torture, fear and torment doesn’t relent once the escape has been made.  Patrick is so far in her head that until the very end, Martha is fearful and uncertain when or where she is in this world. This draws parallel to what she feels her role in life is. Within the cult she is instructed to contribute by finding something which she is good at (which is gardening), while a heated discussion with Ted later on results in her disputing that pursuing a career is more important than sustainably existing. The effectiveness of cutting back and forth in time is to symbolically blur the lines between memory and reality. This adds both to the audiences’ and Martha’s disorientation. Durkin, his D.O.P. (Jody Lee Lipes ) and editor (Zachary Stuart-Pontier) express this visually by deliberately undistinguishing specific moments.

And first place goes to Elizabeth Olsen. Her performance is worth the five star rating alone. Look at the best actress nominations for the Oscars. None of these women has given a better performance than Olsen for this year’s awards. Olsen is the glue that sticks this intelligent film together and in this one movie has produced something better than all of her siblings’ body of work rolled into one. Powerful performances all round and stunningly directed.  MMMM is still  in uk cinema’s now.


the Olsen Twins Bona fide classic,  film oeuvre:

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