Thursday, November 3, 2011

What I Saw: Martha Marcy May Marlene

What I Saw: Martha Marcy May Marlene

When you live in a cult, you are expected to eat, dress and act in certain ways. You have to make concessions so that you can fit into the family, comply with expectations about sexuality, not disappear for too long, and be careful not to publicly challenge the man in charge.

As it turns out, the very same things are true in society at large.

While the synopsis for this film may state that it’s about a young woman learning and unlearning the strange expectations of a cult, it is equally about a young woman learning and unlearning the strange expectations of the society that we inhabit. After all, every film that is about the other is also a film about oneself.

Elizabeth Olsen, playing the multiply-named title character, brilliantly reveals the psychological trials that come with both of these indoctrinations, and writer/director Sean Durkin highlights the process by doubling each scene through flashbacks to show the contrasts--and the similarities. We have two phone calls, two swimming scenes, two portrayals of washing dishes.

On a deeper level, we also have two men who first embrace, and then scold the title character. We have two older, wiser “sisters” who explain what is and is not “normal.” And we have two depictions of how every cult, and every society, promises an acceptance that will only be granted once you give up part of your true self. We think that Martha Marcy May Marlene is confused because her true self has become as fractured as her name. But while her visions seem distant and hazy, they may still be more clear than our own, which have completely disappeared into the indoctrination of a single cult(ure), a single identity, and a single name.

Oscar Chances:

Lead Actress: Elizabeth Olsen (currently ranked 5. The Academy often has one spot for a young starlet from an independent film. I think Olsen is it.)
Supporting Actor: John Hawkes (currently ranked 10. While this may be a performance that equals his work in Winter’s Bone, I am uncertain whether the Academy will go for him two years in a row.)
Original Screenplay: Sean Durkin (currently ranked 10. Durkin is very much in the running for screenplay, particularly if there is an Olsen/Hawkes wave.)
Best Picture (currently ranked 15. The film had a better chance when there were 10 nominees, but I don’t think it will be able to live up to the new 5% rule.)
Best Director: Sean Durkin (currently ranked 19)
Supporting Actress: Sarah Paulson (currently ranked 40)
Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes (currently unranked. While beautifully shot, it’s not flashy enough for Oscar tastes.)
Film Editing: Zachary Stuart-Pontier (currently unranked. The film editing category typically rewards bigger productions, but I mention it here on principle because the film flashes back in time so frequently and elegantly.)

As always, check the Tracker Pages in the upper right hand corner of this blog for the most updated predictions in all categories!

My Lamb Score: 4 ½ out of 5 Lambs
What is a lamb score? Click HERE to learn more.
Read more of my reviews HERE.


  1. I'm looking forward to catching up with this film... if it ever comes to my town. Sigh.

  2. Great review!I loved it, as well!Hopefully Olsen gets a nomination!

  3. great review...I cant believe its her first major film.

  4. I haven't seen this one but Elizabeth Olsen might be the 'Jennifer Lawrence' at next year's award season? I've been hearing all kinds of good things about her lately.

  5. Great work! I had not heard of this before your review, thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Nice writeup. I hope to see this one soon. Olsen is getting a lot of praise.

  7. @Duke, I think you'll really like it. Hopefully an Oscar nomination or too will help get it to your area.

    @Aziza, I'm definitely predicting her. Glad you loved it!

    @F.Franklin, I find that these breakthrough performances happen more often than we think. It's just that usually the films are too small to get noticed.

    @Ruth, the roles are quite different, but the Oscar strategies will need to quite similar: Get all the Indie filmmakers to support this as their one big contender for this category.

    @Matt S., Keep an eye out for it. It's being rolled out bit by bit in different places.

    @Bonjour Tristesse, Definitely see it. You won't be disappointed.

    Thanks all for your kind words!