Posted by: greercn | February 5, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

On a cold and snowy day, a movie set in a warmer season appealed.

The trailer promised lovely effects of light shimmering on water and moody soft focus on beautiful people.

Yes, “M4” gives you this prettiness, but it also asks very intense and difficult questions about what normal behaviour is.  You are rarely certain about which parts of the action are purely impressionistic, which are imaginary and which are paranoid delusions.

Martha has been in a cult for two years. There is a vagueness around the aims of the group, but the desire for communal living and self-sufficiency goes along with casual violence and theft.

The sex scenes are icky. This is not an advertisement for the joys of group hugs.

At the beginning of the film, Martha phones her sister, Lucy, to come and pick her up as she has escaped the group. But Martha only refers to “a boyfriend having lied to her” and will not explain her lack of contact, absence nor describe her time in the cult.

Director and writer Sean Durkin has a sure touch with the cult scenes and these ring true. As Patrick, the group’s leader, John Hawkes has the right mix of believability, control and creepiness.

As Martha, Elizabeth Olsen shines. Her vulnerability, physical awkwardness and increasing paranoia are deftly drawn. Each scene is open to multiple different interpretations.

Sarah Paulson is astonishingly good as sister Lucy, trying to be helpful yet frustrated by her sister’s seeming self-destruction. Husband Ted is played with great depth by Hugh Dancy, who symbolises the world of money and power that Martha has just spent two years rejecting.

There are lots of potential symbolic meanings here, for students of film. The 102 minutes passed by very quickly and the Stratford Picturehouse audience chatted about it a lot, agreeing it has elements of the best psychological thrillers.

They stayed in their seats and concentrated, which is a great blessing. This audience wanders out for popcorn and has loud chats with friends at the slightest bit of slowness in any film.

Will you like it? That depends on your feeling for arty movies.

If you like psychological and symbolic films, this is for you. It’s an original and engaging film and I will look out for anything else Sean Durkin does as he has a compelling vision that takes normal and extraordinary events and mixes them up.

His underwater scenes are extraordinarily detailed and beautifully lit. He writes terrific dialogue and has a deft touch with appropriate music and superb camera angles too.

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