Films Of 2012 - No. 1
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin)
After leaving the cinema back in February of 2012, I was very impressed (if a little baffled) with Martha Marcy May Marlene and it's outstanding debut performance from Elizabeth Olsen. As the year progressed I continued to revisit the film, reading other reviews and interviews etc. It had burrowed it's way into my thoughts and slowly became a personal benchmark for other films in the year. When I came to chose this list, it was the obvious choice but I wanted to see the film again before settling on my decision. Not only is it fully deserving of my number 1 spot, but it was arguably better on the second viewing.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (a weird but perfect title) tells the story of Martha, an impressionable young woman who flees from a sinister farming commune. She is collected by her older sister and goes to stay at a luxurious lake house. The film moves between her time at the commune and her time at the beach house, as she struggles to keep control of her fractured mind.
That's about all I can say to set up the film. Along with About Elly and Berberian Sound Studio, it's a film that is best viewed with as little prior knowledge as possible. Don't watch any of the trailers. Not only do they suggest that the film is something it isn't, but they spoil far too many of the film's moments. Note how I said moments and not plot. Martha Marcy May Marlene is not a conventional plot driven film. It's pace is purposeful slow, almost lethargic and requires a good deal of patience and attention.
Director Sean Durkin moves between the two time strands using slow fades as opposed to sharper cuts. This creates an unnerving dream like atmosphere which perfectly compliments Martha's troubled state. Her unstable nature develops into paranoia, insomnia and the blurring of dream and reality.
The two strands present totally different lifestyles and social viewpoints. At the lake house, Martha is surrounded by materialistic excess and the money orientated attitudes of the sister and her husband. On the other hand, the farm community are attempting to free themselves from the shackles of 21st century living through a self-sustainable farm and traditional methods. Martha finds herself unable to fit in either society. The commune is clearly a disturbing place to live but does ask a few questions of the socially accepted modern lifestyle.
Elizabeth Olsen is nothing short of mesmerising in the title role. Often required to portray a whole host of emotions without saying a word, she carries the whole film on her shoulders with apparent ease. Oscar nominee John Hawkes has a small but key supporting role as persuasive commune leader Patrick whilst Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy are excellent as the sister and husband.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is an uneasy but infinitely rewarding experience. On this basis, Sean Durkin and Elizabeth Olsen (both make their feature film debuts) have exciting careers ahead of them. Martha Marcy May Marlene is haunting, confident, utterly unique and rightly sits at the top of my top films of 2012 list.