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BEWARE -- POSSIBLY SPOILERS:
By Rachel Galvin
It is hard to believe that in such a rustic, peaceful setting that something so wrong could be brewing. This film opens quietly with the sound of nails being pounded, dishes being set upon the table. A family meal with men eating together, followed by women eating together is the first indication that something is a bit amiss. What has gone terribly wrong is revealed piecemeal as the film shifts back and forth from Marcy May's life in this "compound of sorts" and her new life, after her escape, with her aloof and cold, but caring, urbanite sister.
In one setting, as Marcy May, she is a teacher, a leader, a gardener, a babysitter, a housewife and a bit of a concubine; she has found her "role" in this created "family." But, as Martha, with her real sister, who it appears took on a maternal role following their mother's death, she seems to not know her role. Looking lost (milling about a house much to big for her sister and her husband), unsure of herself; she is vulnerable interspersed with moments of anger and rebellion, much like a young child looking to test the waters and see where she fits in.
This film is all about her internal process and how she deals in both cultures and tries to find her way and what values really should mean something in her life. Much like Orwell's "1984," her "leader" in the "cult" spouts doublethink effectively and his brainwashing takes a toll on Marcy May and makes her wonder what is normal anymore, what is right. Warning --what he forces upon them, forces them to do, may seem a bit graphic to some. It is definitely disturbing.
One of the most effective elements of this picture is in the way that it draws you in, shows how one could be initially attracted to such a life, working among peers, everyone having their place, everyone offering love to each other... love fests and music, sisterhood, brotherhood, hard work but a community spirit. That type of bond is hard to break when the individuals within it are used to abandonment and have lived in a world where it seems no one "gets them" or "loves them." The problem arises when these new loved ones order obedience or they threaten to withdraw that love. It becomes like a drug and, here, it becomes "easy" to drink the kool-aid. But it is obvious that Marcy May isn't the only one affected mentally. Luckily, she escapes, but the metal torture and memories haunt her even as she lives in her sister's house 3-hours away.
Unfortunately, this 2-hour picture does seem to drag; yet, it does keep you wanting more. In fact, it's abrupt end left the audience groaning and left them talking... wondering, what happened next? This film also keeps you guessing. No one seemed to figure out the plotline. Was it like this film? What about that one? Hmmm... did it seem to fit any of them? To me, it seemed to set its own mold.
But the best part about it was the star, Martha Marcy May Marlene herself, played by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen's little sister, Elizabeth. Unassuming on screen and off, Elizabeth seems nothing like her sisters (who are wrapped in fame and fashion) in appearance or personality at face value. That helps add a reality factor and simple beauty to her character. Her performance was hauntingly real. Innocent and inviting, but starkly real, unleashed, pure, human and raw ... she seems like someone you know or that you would like to know, someone you would like to help, to save. Indeed, Elizabeth Olsen is someone to watch. She has officially popped out of obscurity and into the spotlight and has a great career ahead of her, especially if she keeps that charm and innocence. This film is already gaining buzz, as it should and she already has several in the works.
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" showed at Cinema Paradiso on Oct. 26 as part of the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival, which continues to Nov. 11. (www.fliff.com).