Front Row at the Movies
Becomes Cult Classic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
My FBI buddy was at Waco. Janet Reno didn’t follow his advice, he says.
He describes cult leader David Koresh as “a dangerous nutjob.”
Benjamin Zablocki, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, defines a cult as an ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and the demand of total commitment.
An award-winning film at the Tropic – the alliteratively titled “Martha Marcy May Marlene” – gives us a picture of a cult with a charismatic leader and one of his victims.
This psychological thriller stars Elizabeth Olsen (look-alike sister of the famous Olsen Twins, Ashley and Mary-Kay) as Martha, a young woman who has returned home from an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains. And John Hawkes (Oscar-nominated co-star of “Winter’s Bone”) as Patrick, the cult’s leader.
Martha had been missing for two years when she phones for her sister (Sarah Paulson) to come pick her up. But back home her memories return to Patrick. Increasingly paranoid, Martha becomes convinced that she’s being watched by the cult.
When asked about where she’s been, she sometimes says she was with a boyfriend but it didn’t work out. Other times she claims not to remember.
But she does. Maybe.
The film is designed to take you inside Martha’s head and keep you as on-edge as she is. It flips from the safety of her present state to memories of the communal farm and back again. We slowly begin to share her memories of group sex and abuse at the instigation of creepy Patrick. Or do we?
With its non-linear storytelling, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” doesn’t always let us know what’s real and what’s not. An unsettling approach that forces us to share Martha’s mental state.
Does she find herself feeling as trapped by the idyllic life with her sister and brother-in-law as she did with the cult?
Elizabeth Olsen’s nervous mannequin-like performance is spot-on, that of a woman pushed to the edge, not sure where to go from here (or there). A disintegration of identity as we watch.
Written and directed by neophyte Sean Durkin, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” won the Best Directing award at Sundance and was designated Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Durkin is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Department of Film & Television.
Why a movie about cults? “I think as a child I was really afraid of groups that conformed. I’m attracted to fear. I’m attracted to movies that scare you,” says the bearded young director. “I was attracted to the world of cults and how it dealt with family and people’s different personae. When you talk to people who’ve had these sorts of experiences it’s amazing how little immediate change there is. They usually struggle for years to emerge as whole people again. Sometimes they just never do.”
Even at Waco, many of the adults and older children chose of their own free will to remain with Koresh. They belonged, they said.
[from Solares Hill]