…a few thoughts on: Martha Marcy May Marlene



A film that’s still playing in my head…

To start at the end: the palpable sense of unease that has relentlessly built throughout the film, suddenly becomes more immediate and tangible; and then just as abruptly, screen turns to black. It’s one of those delicious moments in cinema: you are wrong-footed, disappointed, and then… Then as the credits role, the film continues its work: questions and possibilities and reassessments…

We find ourselves back at the opening shots: those pastoral scenes, but perhaps there was something slightly odd about the framing; perhaps even then we felt a hint of anxiety, an almost imperceptible twitch in the nerves.

There is the drama of that initial escape; but more importantly, what follows immediately afterwards: that quietly menacing scene in the cafe. The pursuer eventually walks way, but escape does not come so easily – as we now know, some 90 minutes later. We should have guessed from the suppressed terror on Martha’s face as she listened to the softly spoken man across the table.

To be fair, it is only gradually, through a series of disorientating flashbacks (the time frame switches so seamless, they occasionally give rise to unsettling ambiguity) that we learn something of Martha’s pain. Every scene, every re-imagining of the past, brings us closer to comprehending just how damaged and frail and disturbed Martha, or Marcy May, or Marlene is. We never come to seeing the whole picture – sometimes we must construct possibilities out of hints and suggestions – but we feel for this individual, who is desperate for escape and sanctuary; who needs to be understood but is incapable of communicating with others; who seeks refuge where she cannot possibly feel at home; who turns to a loved one and ultimately ensures rejection.

To end at the end: the final unforgettable expression on the girl’s face, and the terrifying presence behind her. The chilling dread as you expect the worst.

Cut to black.


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