Not long after Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) begins, the eponymous main character (Elizabeth Olsen) runs away from the young people’s commune she’s been living in for two years and begins to live with her sister and her sister’s husband in Connecticut–and, boy, does erratic behavior come about! Martha left the commune because she found it to be a wicked place, but her own psyche is now crashing and burning.
Is Martha attracted to communal living because she has an unhinged mind? Or does communal living associated with evil create within her an unhinged mind? Such questions arise while viewing this artistic thriller of sorts written and directed by Sean Durkin. All in all, however, not much thought is required of us re the film. For a portrait of ugly realities, it is wholly unprofound. But it’s certainly watchable: as “carefully constructed” (J. Hoberman) as it is unusual. After Martha’s craziness almost wrecks one of her relatives’ parties, she falls back exhausted on her bed before the longest fade-to–black I’ve ever seen ends the sequence. Earlier, Durkin gives us a fine sequence in which Martha’s sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), in a long shot, jumps out of her lawn chair over the sight of Martha skinny dipping in a nearby lake.
When the acting isn’t good, it is extraordinary, as in Olsen’s case. One of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth still has the marvelous eyes she had as a child as well as a perfect understanding of the character she is playing. Even when she gets emotional, her Martha is never very far from the psychotically subdued person she has perhaps always been.
(The photo is of Elizabeth Olsen and Sean Durkin.)