Reviewed by: Julia Webster
What is a cult? Answer
What are the top ten cults in the U.S.? Answer
Are you the victim of mind control? Answer
A simple test that helps to determine if the group you or a loved on are involved in could be considered a cult.
What should followers of Christ do when cults coming knocking? Answer
What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer
|Featuring:||Elizabeth Olsen … Martha
Christopher Abbott … Max
Brady Corbet … Watts
Hugh Dancy … Ted
Maria Dizzia … Katie
Julia Garner … Sarah
|Producer:||Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cunningham & Maybach Films
|Distributor:||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
“Did you ever have that feeling where you can’t tell if something’s a memory or if it’s something you dreamed?”
The darling of the 2011 independent film awards, including Sundance, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is the first full length feature written and directed by newcomer Sean Durkin. Durkin and lead actress Elizabeth Olsen were nominated for and won many of the year’s awards across the U.S. and Canada. In the extra features of the DVD, the viewer learns that the project originated in a short film called “Mary Last Seen,” which tells the story of a young girl being abducted into a cult.
The filmmaking is certainly excellent, reminiscent of the care the Coen Brothers put into each of their films, through their writing, storyboarding, and cinematography. The creepiness is depicted very well through shadows and faded coloring, combined with a minimal score and long silences. Added to this, the characters, underdressed in what appears to be a northern climate in summer, give the viewer the distinct feeling of being cold.
The story begins on a remote farm where a group of men, women, and children live together in a community. The viewer quickly realizes there is something different about this group, starting with the dinner that is served to several of the men as the women watch. The raggedly-dressed women later sit down to their own meal, which consists of bowls of thin broth.
Later, one of the young women, who had been called Marcy May, runs away into the woods, and is followed by members of the group. Finally, thinking she is free of them, she enters a café and is wolfing down a sandwich when she is found by one of the young men of the community. He encourages her to come back and she refuses.
The rest of the film follows the reunion of Marcy May, whose real name is Martha, with her sister and her brother-in-law, after and unexplained absence of two years. Martha is withdrawn and prone to odd behaviors as she struggles with entering normal society, while at the same time wanting to return to the commune. She has trouble relating to her sister and her brother-in-law, and causes disruption to the couple’s life.
Martha’s original entrance and adoption into the commune is told in a series of flashbacks, which, though confusing, mimic Martha’s disjointed feelings and memories, as she is brain-washed. The commune, which is clearly a cult similar to those of David Koresh or Charles Manson, operates by a bit of farming, but mostly by theft. A new young woman enters the group, and is renamed and “trained” by Martha as Martha had been, including drugging and animal-style sex on the first night with the charismatic (though creepy) leader. After each night’s break-ins and thefts, the group engages in sexual orgies. The name Marlene is used by the group for communicating with the outside world, usually through telephone calls. Obviously, their bodies are not treated as God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), as they indulge in all kinds of debauchery and sin (Romans 13:12-14).
The viewer can picture a wolf pack or lion pride, where one strong member dominates the group, single men follow behind him, and women are practically excluded, except for their use in mating and as hunters. But “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is not National Geographic; though it is engrossing, it is ultimately horrifying.
Foul language is heavy, with around 20 uses of the f-word and the misuse of our Lord’s names about 10 times. Sex is shown throughout the film, usually in some kind of depraved manner, and one of the nightly thefts includes a horrifying stabbing. Drug use is also depicted. Children are shown within the cult’s environment.
Though “Martha Marcy May Marlene” might be well-made and critically acclaimed, I don’t recommend it for Christian viewers.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Extreme
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.