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Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

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Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.


Sean Durkin


Sean Durkin

Elizabeth Olsen Through the Years

Take a look back at Elizabeth Olsen's movie and TV career in photos.

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22 wins & 70 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Elizabeth Olsen ... Martha
Christopher Abbott ... Max
Brady Corbet ... Watts
Hugh Dancy ... Ted
Maria Dizzia ... Katie
Julia Garner ... Sarah
John Hawkes ... Patrick
Louisa Krause ... Zoe
Sarah Paulson ... Lucy
Adam David Thompson ... Bartender (as Adam Thompson)
Allen McCullough ... Man in Home #2
Lauren Molina ... Cult Member
Louisa Braden Johnson Louisa Braden Johnson ... Cult Member
Tobias Segal ... Cult Member
Gregg Burton Gregg Burton ... Man in Home #1


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 napierslogs

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Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

21 December 2011 (Sweden) See more »

Also Known As:

La fuga di Martha See more »

Filming Locations:

Livingston Manor, New York, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$137,651, 23 October 2011, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$2,981,638, 5 February 2012
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital | SDDS | Datasat



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


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 »


During Martha's breakdown in the party scene, the bow on her white dress is hanging loose when she is being corralled into the bedroom by Lucy and Ted. In the next shot, the bow is done up again. See more »


[first lines]
Watts: [as Martha runs away] Marcy! Marcy May! Where ya goin'?
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Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #2.14 (2011) See more »


Ba Bop Bop Bop
Written by Brady Corbet and Christopher Abbott
Performed by Brady Corbet and Christopher Abbott
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Star-Making Turn From an OLSEN Sister...
21 October 2011 | by Its-GJNagySee all my reviews

....Or Hot Hippie Cult Love Gone (Very) Bad The schizophrenic, abstract story unfolds almost languidly at a very deliberate pace evoking Bergman with its Euro overtones, serene cinematography and bucolic backgrounds. It's not quite like any American indie films of recent memory. In someways this year's "Winter's Bone", (sharing John Hawks) but with its character study involving sanity slowly, sadly slipping away. Sean Durkin wrote and directed the film with a meditative tone and in a spartan, concise manner that thankfully doesn't suffer from the time-shifting storyline thanks to mostly seamless editing. (Durkin won best director at Sundance last January for this, his first feature.)

Youngest Olsen sister, Elizabeth plays Martha, (who's ripe to play an early '20's version of Vera Farmiga, or Maggie Gyllenhaal's little sis'-you're welcome Hollywood!). It's a marvelous, virtuoso performance, haunting and understated, natural yet very calculated. Olsen straddles the thin line between coherence & madness in a way that's almost endearing and frightening-but ultimately just tragic while side-stepping the mines of caricature and melodrama. She captures the sublimely tortured soul of Mary in a nuanced, organic way that's award-worthy. (And much more realistic and believable than a certain related, crazed ballerina portrayal, but one could argue that one was SUPPOSED to be over-the-top.) Her torment is palpable from the moment she opens her mouth.

The story begins in what appears to be a cult-like commune (is there any other kind in Film-land?) in the Catskills run with an iron fist by Patrick (John Hawks). He's basically a cool, calm, collected version of Charlie Manson-even uttering a few Manson-inspired lines. Hawks can play this type of weaselly, Lothario in his sleep. His quiet menace, vehemence and nihilism seems to be cat nip to his conquered concubines. His word is law, and everybody knows it. Even going as far as renaming Martha "Marcy May", branding her in his own way as you're sure he's done to the other girls in his "flock". But it's not just Patrick to blame for her subservience-the whole cult seduces her! Everyone gets along, & the love is free-flowing in this pastoral, Utopian paradise with many pretty, fresh-faced young women and a few young men (procurers) as well. But all's not well in Well-ville as soon, our protagonist is sneaking out of her home at first light. We don't know how she got there or why she's leaving-although the latter is revealed in the film's third act.

Having no resources, Martha connects with her estranged, older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulsen) and her stressed husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) both in largely thankless roles. Claiming she hooked up with an a-hole boyfriend and just lost track of time the past few years, she won't elaborate any further on her past adventures. Lucy senses the undercurrents beneath, and her guilt gets to her. She sees Martha reluctantly as the cross she must bare being that she's parent-less to the growing consternation-and eventual rage of Ted. The younger sister has obviously changed, running the gamut from playful to feral. Martha the solipsist at first starts out innocent enough with inappropriate behavior like skinny-dipping in full view of Ted, challenging the couple's class consciousness and asking strange questions regarding married couples' mating habits. That's nothing though compared to what's to come and soon, it becomes obvious this is no mere existential crisis-she's become unhinged and needs to be committed. Cult life has been one long mind-f**k she never got over as she tries to fit in to her sister's straight world. When Lucy finally lowers the boom on Martha, (Paulsen's best scene) she recoils and calmly hits her with a cynical, vindictive comment meant to exact a devastating toll on her older sister that almost knocks the wind out of Lucy.

In between these scenes of family revelry, we're given glimpses into the sequence of events that lead to Martha's escape. From her sad, drug-induced deflowering, sorry, "initiation" by Patrick, to the special song he has written for his new main squeeze, (You get the feeling he's gone out of his way to find horrible musicians as his minions thereby making him Clapton by default.) to the tragic turning point. (The only scene in the movie with an obvious outcome.) One thing's for sure, Lucy's kid sis' is a mess, she begins to doubt her decision, her sanity, and herself. She's disintegrating-and she knows it. Even as she clutches the very fragments of who she thinks she is: "I'm a "teacher and a leader!" Martha is like a cat ready to pounce, always on edge. In fact, the more you dive into those lost, mesmerizing eyes, the more you're reminded of the kitten who's found herself up a high, narrow fence not knowing how she got there or having the faintest idea how to get down-or even which side to get down on.

As an actress, Olsen is able to wire walk confidently and has the potential to be this generation's Jodie Foster. (Yeah, I said it.) Even when Martha's waking life seems to blend into her dreamworld, and you can practically see her drowning in emotional quicksand, the actress is able to keep the character grounded in the real and the surreal at the same time-no mean feat for someone barely out of her teens. The direction, and story are well-served by the dark and unnerving score by Saunder Jurriaans & Danny Benasi, bubbling under nicely and melding with Martha's encroaching paranoia. The seamlessness of the two story lines come to a head with a THOROUGHLY maddening, tantalizingly teasing, made-for-sequel final scene-only the joke's on you-there won't be one...

Cast: John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Elizabeth Olsen, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbet Director/Screenwriter: Sean Durkin Producer: Josh Mond, Antonio Campos, Chris Maybach Genre: Drama/Thriller Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language. Running time: 120 min. Release date: October 21 ltd.

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