Monday, August 27, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

As you might imagine from the title, this movie is fractured in more ways than one. The young girl who plays the title character has so many roles with different identities throughout the movie that it's surprising she can keep them all straight in her head...or rather, it's not surprising that she CAN'T keep them all straight in her head, except maybe to her sister and brother in law, who seem unable or unwilling to admit that there's something obviously wrong with her that's not entirely her fault and that she needs help and that they should maybe be a little more forgiving of her eccentricities and not sulk and pout because she's not normal and she's disrupting their structured little lives. In case it isn't obvious, I don't much like the sister and her husband in this movie.

This movie isn't concerned with telling the audience much, instead allowing us to figure everything out on our own, and while it's nice to be treated like an adult who is capable of figuring a plot out myself, instead of a dumbass who must have information spoon fed to me because I can't figure out a plot twist on my own, the mental legwork it takes to piece together the plot of this movie does get exhausting, especially since the plot that must be pieced together is so harrowing. Martha is a young girl who runs away at the beginning of the movie from what we soon learn is a controlling cult with strict expectations for her behavior. We see Martha running away and hiding in the woods and making her way into town, we see a man come up to her in a diner and try to coerce her to come back with him in his truck, we see her using a payphone to call someone who is obviously related to her and sounds worried about her, we see her waiting outside the diner as time passes, we see a car stop to pick her up and we learn that the person she called was her sister who hasn't seen her in two years and has no idea where she's been. Everything we see comes in flashes from Martha's perspective and pieces of the past from her memory, which is very disorienting, because even Martha herself isn't sure exactly what's happening around her all the time.

Eventually we learn, through a series of flashbacks, the story of how Martha came to live with the cult in their secluded farmhouse, and what happened there to change her into the shadow of a woman we see today. We see that she exhibits signs of being traumatized, but that she's unsure if what happened to her was good or bad, right or wrong, we only knew that eventually she seemed to want to escape, but she's not sure how to communicate this to her sister, who is frightened by Martha's strange behavior, while her husband is increasingly more and more pissed off that his life is being torn apart by this young woman he doesn't even know. So Martha doesn't know how to talk about what happened to her, she doesn't know how to act, her sister doesn't know how to reach out to her, but she feels compelled to reach out because she's family, which leaves her feeling trapped and pulled between her sister and her husband, and it's all a big, muddled mess which is difficult to watch.

I should mention, too, that this movie doesn't *do* closure, so it might piss people off for that reason alone. It pissed me off at first, and I declared that I didn't like the movie, but after letting it sit awhile, I liked the movie better in hindsight than I did while watching it. The movie definitely has a lot going for it. Elizabeth Olson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy, and the rest of the cast give great performances. Everything is all very engaging as it sucks you into the story, which might piss you off in itself simply because the story is frustrating and frightening and often unfulfilling. This movie certainly isn't for everyone, but it was definitely compelling and worth a watch for me.

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