Today I saw Martha Marcy May Marlene starring Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes.
Finally, something Oscar-worthy in this dismal year of film.
Martha (Olsen) is a lost soul. Her father abandoned her family; her mother died. In light of these tragedies, she somehow finds her way to a commune, apparently craving a sense of place. At first, the hardworking family of people who make up the community seem nice, but we later learn that rape and violence are acceptable behaviors. The leader, Patrick (Hawkes), thinks it disloyal if members disagree.
We're not sure what pushes Martha over the edge, but our first introduction to her is when she is escaping the tribe. She calls her only sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), for help.
Once in the safe confines of Lucy's summer lake house, Martha attempts to re-acclimate to regular society despite an impatient brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy) and no professional help.
We see the abuse and brainwashing she suffers through flashbacks, woven brilliantly into her present-day experiences. It's somewhat like experiencing PTSD once-removed, and the amazing Elizabeth Olsen does an Oscar-worthy job of conveying it.
Also great, but painful to watch, is John Hawkes as the menacing patriarch of the cult. He appears so gentle at first, it's believable that he could weave new recruits into his web of oppression.
What's clever about the film is that the community isn't blamed on any religious sect, and Martha's wandering spirit is sad, but not completely lost. Every moment of what transpires could happen. In fact, it probably has, many times over.
Though few will relate to brainwashing or communal living, everyone who sees this has certainly searched for belonging at some point in their life, whether it be in a relationship or a friendship or a career.
Watching this tortured soul navigate her way back into a life that she never had isn't easy, but it's so well done, you can't look away.