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Martha Marcy May Marlene

July 23, 2013

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Director: Sean Durkin
Actors: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

Martha Marcy

Synopsis: Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) flees a commune in upstate New York, and seeks shelter in the nearby bourgeois lakeside holiday home of her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy). This is juxtaposed with the story of Martha’s time in the commune.

Review: This utterly prototypical indie drama really is a case of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” as it has wowed many a fawning critic, but through its facade there’s actually quite a facetious and leaden drama. The film carries its surprisingly meagre thesis (Martha is ‘disorientated’ by her time in a commune and subsequent spell at her sister’s affluent pad) unbelievably heavily and portentously, even though it’s actually a dramatically mediocre dialectic. In a sense, the film’s one device – cross-cutting very demonstratively between identically rhetorical moments in the commune and the lakeside house – is very literal and obvious.

Even in its depiction of the central character, the film falls short. As betrayed by the very earnest title, Martha’s assumes the mantle of different names and identities throughout the narrative, supposedly speaking of the deconstruction of her sense of self, but, in reality she’s little more than a cipher – designed to luridly change personality whenever the drama needs to demonstrate how her character is torn between her two worlds. (July 2013)

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