Getting caught between the past and the present is easy to do, especially when your past is as deeply fucked up as Martha's (Elizabeth Olsen). With a childhood spent in a presumable void (Martha’s parents either died or abandoned her and her sister—the details are kind of vague), Martha became an ideal candidate for being allured by a cult masquerading as a “community” and a “family.”
She is introduced to the farm, located in the sequestered Catskill Mountains, by her friend, Zoe (Louisa Krause). In typical form, the commune is run by a Charles Manson-esque leader named Patrick (John Hawkes). The day he meets Martha, he dubs her “Marcy May.” As we later learn, he changes most of the names of the people who come to stay there. It is, after all, an excellent tactic to use when you want to make someone disassociate from the person he or she was.
As Martha grows increasingly enamored of Patrick, she is more prone to swallowing any line of bull shit he doles out. But, at the end of two years, Martha has seen and experienced enough trauma to warrant a knee-jerk escape back into civilization. When Watts (Brady Corbet), one of Patrick’s primary minions, tries to get her to come back, she refuses to leave the restaurant she is in.
Reflexively, she calls her only living relative and sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson, who I haven’t seen in anything since the long ago forgotten WB show Jack and Jill). Not having heard from Martha in two years, Lucy is extremely eager to take her in. And so, Lucy drives Martha to her house in Connecticut, where she lives with her British architect husband, Ted (Hgh Dancy). Almost instantly, Martha clashes with both of them, wasting no time in revealing her distinct lack of social grace (e.g. skinny dipping, sitting on countertops, lying next to Ted and Lucy while they have sex, et cetera).
It becomes clear that Martha is harboring some residual demons, blurring the line between remembrances and real time—and soon, fantasy and reality. Directed and written by the annoyingly young Sean Durkin (age 29, a zygote in movie years when you’re a male writer/director), Martha Marcy May Marlene garnered attention at Sundance and Cannes earlier this year. No stranger to the festival circuit, Durkin formed Borderline Films in 2005 and released the first feature, Afterschool, under the company moniker in 2008 to favorable critical reception at the Cannes Film Festival.
Slowly building up to his immense talent for storytelling with several short films prior to this, Martha Marcy May Marlene is certain to be just one of many great things we see from Durkin. P.S. If you’re wondering where the name “Marlene” factors into the title, it’s because whenever any of the girls in Patrick’s cult answers the house phone, they have to tell the caller that their name is Marlene Lewis. Fucked up, right?