Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
I went into Martha Marcy Mae Marlene with no knowledge of the film whatsoever, except the fact that it played to rave reviews at Sundance, Elizabeth Olsen was in it and that she's related to some other famous Olsens. Funny enough, a disaster related to showing up fifteen minutes early for a screening of The Descendants and there only being front row seats left led us to this little film.
Martha is the story of a woman who has escaped from a cult and has taken refuge with her uptight sister and her sister's well-to-d0 husband. Throughout the film, little things trigger her memories of the cult and the sometimes awful things that occurred there. She's always scared that the cult leader (played by John Hawkes) will find out to where she's escaped and come for her, which causes her to not only distrust the family she's staying with, but also herself. The title makes sense as you watch her progression through the cult ranks and through her interactions with her sister and brother-in-law.
The film leaves many unresolved questions, like how she wound up in the cult in the first place, and the ending (which, of course, I don't want to reveal) leaves you wondering as well. Honestly, I felt a little cheated by the ending, not because there wasn't a definitive answer, but because what they did explore in the final scene felt undeveloped.
This is certainly a film that requires time and patience. Watching the first of it, if you don't know what to expect, it's easy to get confused quickly. I know I did, which I know caused me to miss some small details. But now that you've read this, hopefully that won't be a problem for you.
What I noticed is that I never really liked the lead character. I just watched her and appreciated the fear and uneasiness she was going through. But I never felt an attachment to her or ever found myself rooting for her. Despite that, Elizabeth Olsen does a great job at showing restraint when she needs to and emotion when she needs to. She's getting a little bit of Oscar buzz, but I don't think we'll see her contending for Best Actress. John Hawkes, as the leader of the Amish-like cult, does a great job playing the cool, calm, collected, yet scary as hell cult leader. He knows how to keep his followers in check with a soothing voice and a "if you cross me, that's the end of you" implication to everything he says. Watching him in Winter's Bone and now this, I'm convinced he should be to go-to-guy for a grizzled, sinister patriarchal character.
A particular scene that really made me gasp was a shot of Hawkes's women gardening out in the yard. The camera pans over a wide shot of each of them tending to sort part of the yard. In the distance, you can see ominous storm clouds in the sky, and as the camera stops panning, you can see two white crosses in the background (obviously implying that people are buried under those crosses). It's at this point you realize that, for at least some of these women, there may not be a happy ending.
If you decide to see this, be ready to pay close attention and have some lingering questions when you're done. But really, that's a good thing, right?
Image courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011. All Rights Reserved.