Award-Winning Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) Now on DVD/Blu-ray
A young woman spends two years living in a commune where she embraces, then rejects, a stifling lifestyle under a manipulative leader. After participating in a burglary in which a man was murdered, she bravely escapes the commune. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a brooding film that cannot be easily classified, which may be why it is considered a “psychological thriller.”
Elizabeth Olsen is the young woman, Martha, who was renamed Marcy May by Patrick, the commune leader (John Hawkes). Throughout her two years in the commune, she (as well as the other women) is subjected to degrading sex acts, malnourished, overworked, and treated as inferior to the men. Making her escape, she calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who is flooded with relief to hear from her but must convince her to stay on the phone, and to allow Lucy to pick her up.
Lucy arrives in the Catskills, gets Martha, and drives three hours back to the luxurious vacation home she shares with her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Martha is clearly disturbed, will not discuss her experiences on the commune (she will only admit to have been with a lying boyfriend during her absence), and is suffering from flashbacks to her commune experiences.
Lucy wants to allow Martha to recover from whatever her experiences were at home, but two things block her efforts: Martha does not want to discuss the past, including their past together, and Lucy is too conventional to cope with Martha’s behavior (which is symptomatic of PTSD and other disorders). Martha Marcy May Marlene ends on an uncomfortable note, leaving the audience with questions about Martha’s future.
Well-acted, Martha Marcy May Marlene is gloomy—scenes of Martha’s poor adjustment to her escape and those of her life in the commune combine to portray a woman without hope. Although her sister and brother-in-law arrange for her to receive treatment, the audiences wonders if she will stay long enough to begin it.
Elizabeth Olsen is particularly effective as the troubled Martha, who joined the commune as a relatively healthy, happy woman only to lose her own compass and adopt that of Patrick¸ a man whose values allow a multitude of transgressions, including murder (for “death is love”). Sarah Paulson as the guilty-but-clueless sister gives a performance that stops shorts of emotional frigidity—sometimes we sympathize with her but never quite like her.