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Archive for October, 2011

**** out of *****

Cult-ural difference.

This seriously unnerving debut from director Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen mines one of cinema’s richest terrains: the line separating dreams and reality, the past and the present. It’s a haunting portrait of trauma — both its roots and its consequences. It’s also a film about the way social structures influence human behavior. Anchored by a revelatory turn from Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene depicts an unstable mind as it struggles to adapt to two very different worlds.

Let’s start with those two worlds. Through a dreamlike flashback structure, Martha Marcy May Marlene tells two stories at once. The first charts a young woman’s (Olsen) time in an insular commune in Upstate New York. The word “cult” never crossed my mind during Martha Marcy May Marlene, though one could easily use that label to describe this close-knit, polygamous community. The farmhouse commune follows a series of strict social rules, as dictated by Patrick (John Hawkes), a slippery dictator who exudes paternalistic warmth and menace with equal conviction. Men eat first in this community, and all women must give themselves sexually to Patrick. Everyone works to help the farm remain self-sufficient. Patrick also gets to rename you; Martha becomes Marcy May. Them’s the rules. Adapt or disappear.

The second story tracks Martha after she escapes the commune. Skittish and paranoid, Martha runs to her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), a well-off woman living with her husband (Hugh Dancy) at their vacation beach house in Connecticut. Lucy’s world is Whole Foods-fresh, upper-middle-class, spacious, monogamous —  the inverse of Patrick’s commune. Now Martha must adopt the norms of bourgeois living. No, you can’t go skinny-dipping. No, you can’t crawl into your sister’s bed when she’s fucking her husband. Yes, you have to start thinking about your career. Them’s the rules. Adapt or we’ll force you into a psych ward. (more…)

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