Saturday, August 18, 2012
Martha Marcy May Marlene
This is the creepiest movie I've seen in years. Since Memento, this is perhaps the best example of effectively using narrative structure to pull the viewer into the character's head and simulate what the character is feeling. A number of reviews complained that the transitions between the past and present are sometimes confusing and indistinguishable. Well, duh. Of course they are indistinguishable for the initial moments. That's just the point. There is only one quick scene of violence in the whole movie, but the second half is so tense that I couldn't tear away from the DVD to go to the bathroom.
As a first feature, Sean Durkin showed great confidence by being very restrained and trusting the autdience's observation and imagination. It can be rewarding if you really pay attention, or incomprehensible if you expect to be spoonfed. Like Roose Bolton, he speaks softly, so that you have to lean in and strain to hear it. By the mere act of leaning in and paying close attention, you left your mind be taken over.
At one point, I was pulled so deep into the title character's mind that, for a short second, I had the illusion that I was a young person without any real means of making a living and surviving the world. In that moment, I was taken out of myself and very nearly became the character. It was a bizarre feeling; I can't say I've ever experienced it before.
One very well-done thing most (male?) reviewers seem to miss is Lucy, played by Sarah Paulson, and a history of sibling tension only hinted at. Let's face it, the architect brother-in-law, played by Hugh Dancy, is written as a self-absorbed jerk. Whatever the family circumstance was for the sisters, one escaped into the arms of a jerk and the other found family in a cult. Also observe how Lucy's feeling toward Martha slowly shifted from annoyance and a hint of envy to concern and sympathy, all the time with an underlying guilt. It seems very realistic to me.
I like stories that fully acknowledge and suggest a larger world outside the frame of the story itself and that the characters live in that larger world with most of it unseen by the reader/viewer, even though each story is in fact confined to the length of so many pages or so many minutes.
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