Martha Marcy May Marlene: Mysterious Past | Flashbacks Reveal Disturbing Past of Troubled Sister

Sister on the mend: Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, left) seeks shelter with sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) from a mysterious past in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

We meet the young and pretty Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) as she escapes from the scary little cult in upstate New York where she lived for two years as Marcy May. She’s rescued by her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who asks Martha where she disappeared to. Martha says she was living with her boyfriend and decided to leave him. And that’s all she’s willing to say about anything. She is highly secretive and delusional. As viewers, we don’t know what Martha was like before she became Marcy May. But like Lucy, we’re hoping she’ll snap out of it.

We witness the days following Martha’s escape, at the posh Connecticut summer home of Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). The film alternates between the present and Martha’s past in a way that almost confuses us. This gives us a taste of being Martha, who’s having trouble distinguishing among dreams, memories, and the present. The flashbacks grow progressively more disturbing, revealing Martha’s life in the toxic little society controlled by Patrick (John Hawkes), who knows how to manipulate young minds.    

Martha Marcy May Marlene is an unsettling drama, well written and directed by Sean Durkin. Olsen is thoroughly convincing as the damaged Martha, drawing sympathy from a forgiving sister who’s in way over her head. Be prepared. This disturbing film is not for everyone.


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