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Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Drama, 102 minutes
Directed by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes

I don't like to read reviews before I see a film for the first time, but my curiosity was piqued when so many critics named Martha Marcy May Marlene among their favorite films from 2011.

For some reason, I expected the story to be about a woman with multiple personality disorder. That wasn't the case, but identity is one of the main themes.

This is a film that will alienate a lot of potential viewers. The plot is non-linear and often transitions quickly from Martha's memories to her present reality. There's also a lot of nudity and a small amount of sex. Both are essential to the plot.

Martha (Olsen) is in her early 20s and we see her join a cult in the first five minutes of the film. She's uncertain of her role at first, but soon begins to feel like part of the community. The cult is led by Patrick (Hawkes) and he is quietly persuasive. He gradually asserts his will over the other cult members and sleeps with the women. He thinks that Martha looks more like a Marcy May, so that becomes her name while she is a member of the cult.

The story deals with Martha's attempt to rejoin society after she decides to escape from the cult. She makes a phone call to her older sister, Lucy (Paulson), who picks her up and invites her to stay with her and her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy). The scene involving the phone call is accompanied by some disquieting music reminiscent of a David Lynch film. In fact, with Martha seemingly capable of almost anything, you won't feel comfortable at any point in the film. You're not supposed to.

Martha has no idea of how to behave in normal society. She's used to sleeping in a room filled with other cult members and feels isolated when she's alone. Her time as a member of the cult has also affected the way she eats and drinks. She thinks nothing of swimming naked or walking in when her sister is having sex. This is perfectly acceptable behavior in her mind after her recent experiences.

The film regularly shows a scene in the present and then cuts to a scene in the recent past to illustrate the difference between Martha's two worlds. I know plenty of friends who would be irritated by the choice to tell the story in such a manner, but I think it works. It reminds me of Memento in some ways because Martha's experiences feel more immediate if we see things from her viewpoint.

I also found myself thinking about the lifestyles we choose. Lucy and Ted are typical of most people. They judge success in terms of money and possessions and take great pride in their house. When Martha says it's too big for two people, they explain that they like to entertain. They clearly want to be viewed as successful by their friends. That point is highlighted when they plan a party. Lucy dresses Martha in some of her clothes and fixes her hair. She tells Martha she looks beautiful. But the reason she does it is not to make Martha feel special, but to show her friends how wonderful her younger sister is.

There's a sense of unease throughout the film because it's possible that the cult could look for Martha. She even asks at one point how far away their house is from the place Lucy picked her up. Does she fear being recaptured, or does she have some other purpose in mind and is wondering how far she will have to travel to rejoin them?

I think that's more than enough information about the plot, except to say that the conclusion is completely open-ended. You'll have to make up your own mind about Martha's future. I haven't mentioned who Marlene is, but it's fairly obvious when you watch the film.

The acting is particularly convincing. Hawkes does a great job of quietly asserting his authority over the group and even sings a song for Marcy May. Olsen delivers an outstanding breakthrough performance and will surely pick up some other good roles because of this film. Along with Ellen Page, she'll be a popular choice when a movie requires a character in her early 20s.

I found myself thinking about the film the day after I saw it and that's usually a good sign. I think it's one of those stories which will assume greater significance on repeat viewings and I'm interested to see where Sean Durkin takes us with his next project.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon March 1, 2014
This film really drew me in, not because it has lots of twists and turns but because I found myself so drawn to the main character and her relationships with others. All she needs is understanding. Kindnesses are shown but are not enough. Spoiler alert: she finds none. None from the cult, none from family. Neither group really cares about her (who she is inside.) They expect her to be something she isn't. She is torn because she has nothing to hold onto, no one who understands who she is or how she feels. I identify with this character even though I've never belonged to a cult. I identify, as others probably do, because through much of my life no one understood me either. Whatever it is that causes it, for some there is no right place, no real home. One day you might find it, but after many years of searching. This film dares to tell it like it is. No happy ending, just heart-breaking truth. Subtle in style yet bold in honesty. As for the sudden ending, they were making a point. Having a resolve would be like giving Romeo and Juliet a happy ending. I'm sure most people would want it but it would also defy the point of the story.
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on July 5, 2013
A girl wakes up one morning and doesn't want to be in a cult or from people
who don't like to live with society anymore,so she runs away,then you see her in
a cafe,in comes one of it's members to try and convince her not to leave,but she's
not buying it ,so she calls her sister who haven't seen her in about two years,know one
knew what happen to her,so her sister took her into her home who lives with her husband,
then there is some strange behaviour that start to occur from the said sister,she would swim
naked in the lake which her sister try to cover her up in a robe,then while her and her
husband was having sex she walks in and sit on the bed,it just scared the crap out of her sister,
this movie deals with the three main caricatures Martha her sister and husband,there is some
flash back from Martha about the cult life,it's almost like the movie is trying to tell us something,
but i don't know what,plus maybe the one scene with one of it's members who picked up a girl
that he brought back to the compound is a result of how she got there,it was a long trek to that
compound I'll tell you,now the ending of this movie is a puzzle in it self,you can see her in the back
seat of the car driven by her sister with another car following,you don't know if it's the cult or another family
member that's protecting both of them..
i have to say i really like the movie it wasn't bad at all..
like the cover say,you can get away but you can never escape..How True.that is
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 6, 2012
Creepy but ultimately hollow movie (plus many SPOILER ALERTS coming up on at your own risk). The acting is first-rate and Elizabeth Olsen is a force to be reckoned with. The main problem is the flashing back and forth between the past and present gets annoying after awhile. Plus it relies way too much on cinematic tricks such as Martha Marcy May Marlene (MMMM) talking about something, say, in the present but as the camera pans it'll show her in the past as the scene continues. Clever, yes, but super annoying when it's overused.

Lastly, the cult is never explained and I'm all for leaving things up in the air but what was the point of it all? Free sex for the guys in the cult. Plus what was up with the guys singing songs playing acoustic guitars? Let alone what is the need to show MMMM being raped not once but twice in this flick.

The worst part is the fact MMMM calls her sister after two years of no contact and her sister never really questions what MMMM has been up to? Even after MMMM climbs into bed while her sister and her husband are doing the horizontal mambo and the freakout over that ends with a thud.

Even worse for some reason the DVD I got when you go to the extras nothing happens except a few scenes loop over and over. The whole thing is plain odd.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 14, 2012
MMMM tells the story of a young woman's life over the past several months through a series of flashbacks and present-day scenes. Most reviews will tell you she joins a cult; this is true. One shouldn't jump to the erroneous conclusion (as I did) that it's a pseudo-religious, drone-populated, Kool-Aid drinking cult. It's somewhat less meretricious, but all the more genuine and sinister, than that. In the film, some of the people (including the title character) "recruited" to--or who "willingly" join--the group have some lingering suspicions about the group's morals and intentions. Through the cult leader's insidious back-handed compliments and blackguardly guileful brainwashing, as well as the pressure exerted by the rest of the group (especially the men), our heroine finds herself acquiescing to the occupational, emotional, and sexually deviant demands of those in power.

How did it come to this? What happened to her in her previous/normal life to compel her to submit to her new masters (who claim to be her friends and family)? This question is partially answered further on in the film. At the beginning of the film, however, MMMM undertakes a less-than-daring-but-still-somewhat-brazen escape from the commune. She phones her sister, who initially shows some concern and interest in MMMM, with whom she has not spoken for some time. MMMM's sister takes her to her large, beautiful lakefront rental property which is quite empty, save for her husband and some choice, expensive furniture and appliances. Sadly, MMMM doesn't fit into her sister's grand plan for the appearance of riches and propriety. Witness MMMM bathing nude in the lake--whatever will the neighbours think?! MMMM struts into her sister's room and sits on the bed as her sibling engages in conventional coitus with her husband. Egad! One would have hoped that MMMM could open up to her sister, tell her what horrendous abuse and twisted mind games she's been subjected to--but it's from her sister's inclination to judge and criticize (all under the guise of caring) that MMM was escaping in the first place. Trapped between two "families" who claim to have nothing but her best interests at heart--yet ignore, denigrate, or violate her--MMMM is caught between a rock and a hard place.

While the story and acting are relatively convincing (and yes, we know it's the Olsen twins' younger sister in the starring role), I still can't entirely fathom WHY MMMM joins the cult to begin with, WHY she doesn't run away sooner, WHY she seems to have lost all appropriate social behaviour in such a short amount of time, and WHY she can't disclose her feelings to her sister. Perhaps I don't know those answers because I've never joined a cult...yet.

And, as for the ending: yes, it is open-ended. It's not really a massive cliffhanger, though. It's more of an "Oh." than an "OOOOOOOH!?!?!?"

Worth a rental, but only Oscar-bait collectors, psychology profs, or fanboys of the (up-and-coming?) Elizabeth Olsen will probably be able to justify a purchase here.
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on April 8, 2014
This movie is alright. It shows 2 hours of grim footage of someone who has escaped from a cult and is trying to adjust to living with her sister, interspersed with footage of her slowly being brainwashed and doing horrible things with cult members. It was far too long for my liking, and I honestly don't see why it was raved about for so long. It's the kind of movie you watch once and never watch again.
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on July 11, 2014
I was a bit disapointed by the story.. a lot of violence and sex scènes..
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on April 7, 2015
Solid flick. Elizabeth Olsen was fantastic. Really enjoyed it.
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on January 30, 2015
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on February 5, 2016
Was going to buy this for my wife because she likes these types of movies , but saw it on TV , so watched it on there and after it was over the only thing I was thinking was I'm so glad I didn't buy it!
The acting was fine , there was just not much to it and it had lots of potential to get good at certain points and then just fell flat ... I wouldn't recommend anyone to waste time in their lives to watch it
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