Virginia Film Festival: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Posted on November 4, 2011 by


A happy ending. A traditional, Hollywood narrative. These are things we have come to expect from the cinema. The psychological thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene takes everything we know and shatters it.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
A packed Culbreth Theater awaits The Virginia Film Festival’s showing of Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Martha Marcy May Marlene was written and directed by Sean Durkin, winner of the Director Award: Dramatic at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for MMMM, which was his feature directorial debut. It follows the story of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), a woman who has escaped a brainwashing, incestuous cult in upstate New York and finds refuge with her sister and her sister’s husband at their lake house in Connecticut. While living with them, Martha begins to relive her time with the cult and has difficulty separating reality from memory.

Olsen’s riveting performance has been widely discussed and praised in the film world. What really lends itself to her incredible portrayal of Martha is Durkin’s use of sound. The amount of dialogue is kept to a minimum, thus allowing Olsen’s expressions, gestures and actions to tell the story for her. Durkin’s manipulation of sound and fragmented sense of time also creates an almost palpable tension in the audience – everyone in the theater was constantly waiting for something to happen. It wasn’t clear what we were waiting for, but we were waiting nonetheless.

When the audience realized our anxiety was never going to be appeased, shock rippled through the theater. Discussions were intense and theories were proposed, but nobody will ever know for sure the fate of poor, paranoid Martha.