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Martha has run away from an abusive hippie-like cult where she was living as Marcy May for two years. She turns to her sister and brother-in-law who take her in and want to help her. The problem is Martha is having a hard time separating dreams from reality and when haunting memories of her past keep resurfacing, she may need more help than anyone is able to give her. Written by
There are several references to the work of singer-songwriter, Jackson C. Frank. John Hawkes plays "Marcy's song" in the film, while "Marlene" is played over the credits. It can be assumed that John Hawkes' character, Patrick, fabricated the names Marcy May and Marlene from these songs. See more »
[as Martha runs away]
Marcy! Marcy May! Where ya goin'?
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Martha, Marcy May, and Marlene all caught between truth, sanity and madness
Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a character who has forgotten what it means to be normal. Marcy May is a character who has been taught to ignore social values and any definition of "normal." Martha and Marcy May is the same person and that's where the conflict lies. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a dramatic character study which edges towards psychological thriller.
Martha has run away from the hippie commune where she was living as Marcy May. She calls her sister. Lucy (Sarah Paulson) is worried but happy to help. With a good night's sleep, dinner and breakfast, and better clothes, Martha should be fine. But the longer she lives with her sister and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), the harder it is for her to separate memories from dreams, right from wrong, and good people from bad people.
Overall, the film is slow and silent, not usual traits for a psychological thriller. But concerns for Martha's mental health grow wildly. The character of Martha, Marcy May, and Marlene is just so endearing, she's somebody you want to care for. I'm not one for the hippie lifestyle or their false ideals (and I don't think the filmmaker is either) but Marcy May just embodied the innocence of it so beautifully. Olsen has this tender powerfulness that suited the character (or characters) perfectly; she made you hold on to her with her all-knowing eyes and earnest desire to understand who she is.
With a modest budget and a somewhat original way of showing madness mixing with sanity, shot and performed beautifully, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" should be in the running for all the major Independent Spirit Awards. As the first feature for both writer/director Sean Durkin and star Elizabeth Olsen, it certainly is a stunning debut.
Before you venture into the mind of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" I will leave you with a final thought. Marlene will not tell the truth; Martha doesn't tell the truth mostly because she can't because she doesn't know what it is anymore; Marcy May wants to tell the truth.
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