MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE are all aspects of the character played by Elizabeth Olsen in a transcendent performance. When I spoke to her and the film’s writer/director Sean Durkin on September 1, 2011, I started by asking about the choice to have Olsen’s character be mostly silent throughout the film. What followed was a discussion about trust between actor and director, how Durkin wanted his film to be different from others about cults, and, whether or not the sort of emotional manipulation used by the cult’s leader, played by John Hawkes, was part and parcel of a director’s toolbox. We finished with Durkin philosophizing about the relationship between music and the art of filmmaking.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a film about family, identity, and finding one’s role in one’s family and in the world at large. Olsen plays the title character of many names whose adjustment from a cult to the safety of her sister’s house proves to be more difficult than she anticipated. The film slips between the present and the past as Martha experiences flashbacks while adjusting to the new-old normal of life in suburbia outside the isolation of the cult’s remote farm. It’s a time during which she is not quite able to distinguish between dreams and memories while negotiating the two realities that have been such an integral part of her life. The film co-stars John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy. Durkin directed from his own script.