There is Method in This Madness: Investigating MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

1 January 2012 (Happy New Year)

Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the most demanding films of 2011.  The film is just over 100 minutes long, but requires innumerable hours of reflection, contemplation, and discussion.  Remarkably, there is no single way to digest Martha Marcy May Marlene; the film is infinite because its ambiguity sustains deep investigation and multiple interpretations.  During a time when filmmakers practically spoon-feed films to audiences, it is a refreshing challenge to encounter a film as complex as Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Briefly, the film picks up with Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) the morning she decides to leave the cult she is involved with.  After witnessing a horrific crime, committed by members to the cult, Martha flees.  Initially, one of the men from the cult, Watts (Brady Corbet), follows her and tries to take Martha back with him; however, after minimal effort, he lets her go and she reunites with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), and brother-in-law, Ted (Hugh Dancy).  Although Ted and Lucy live in New York City, they take her to their lake house in Connecticut, where they are on holiday for two weeks.  In the days she spends with her family in Connecticut, the audience watches Martha’s mental stability diminish as she flashes back through her experiences in the cult.  Her flashbacks are chronological, all leading up to the horrific crime that pushed her to flee.  Meanwhile, as Martha is reeling in memories, Lucy and Ted, who know nothing of the cult or where Martha has been for the past few years, struggle with Martha’s erratic and bizarre behavior.  In the film’s conclusion, Ted and Lucy decide to admit Martha to a mental hospital.  The final scene of the film is, perhaps, one of the most understated and sophisticated climaxes in cinema.

In the last scene, Ted, Lucy, and Martha are in Ted’s car en route to the hospital.  As they begin driving, a man (the same man Martha saw watching her swim in the lake in a previous scene) walks right in front of the car.  Ted slams on the breaks and the man walks past the car.  Ted and Lucy are shaken by the near accident, but Martha, who is seated in the backseat, is clearly the most distressed by the man’s reemergence; although she does not utter a sound, her face reveals sheer panic.  As Ted drives on, the man, who is visible through the rear window of Ted’s car, gets into the black SUV parked on the side of the road (the same SUV Martha saw in the woods and smashed the window of), and begins to follow Ted’s car.  The credits role.

What becomes evident in this last scene is Martha never escaped the cult.  Instead, the cult let her go.  By the end, the audience knows how the cult operates.  When Martha flashes back to the trauma that pushed her to leave the cult, viewers realize the cult does not make money by selling quilts and blankets, as one woman told Martha upon her entry into their community.  The cult makes their money by breaking into expensive homes, murdering the occupants, and stealing.  Thus, when Martha fled and Watts followed her, he did not force her to return with him because she was more valuable to the cult with her family, Ted and Lucy.  The final scene makes it clear the cult is narrowing in on Ted and Lucy.

What remains a mystery, and is a credit to the film’s ability to sustain ambiguity, is Martha’s involvement in the cult’s plan.  Martha’s mental instability makes it impossible to get a definitive read on her.  For a large part of the film it is uncertain whether the cult even exists.  Martha asks her sister, Do you ever have that feeling where you can’t tell if something is a memory or if it’s something you dreamed?”  Martha’s own confusion makes her unreliable.  However, as soon as the audience recognizes the man who walks in front of Ted and Lucy’s car in the last scene, a man both Ted and Lucy see for themselves, as the same man who Martha saw watching her in the lake, and gets into the same car Martha broke the window to, it becomes horrifyingly clear Martha’s memories are accurate.  Understanding her experience in the cult was real, the question becomes did Martha knowingly led the cult to her family’s home to kill Lucy and Ted, or did she not piece the cult’s plan together until the end?

One of the most supportable interpretation is that Martha wanted to escape the cult and genuinely thought she had succeeded, in large part because Lucy unexpectedly took her to Connecticut, not New York.  The day after arriving at the lake house, Martha interrogates her sister about their location, asking, “How far are we?”  Lucy responds, “From what?” Martha clarifies, “Yesterday.”  Naively, Martha may have hoped everyone was safe from danger in Connecticut and the cult would lose interest if they were unable to find her.  Yet, the trauma of the cult continues to make Martha paranoid and fearful.  Toward the end of the film, Martha has a breakdown when she thinks the bartender at her sister’s party is a member of the cult.  Although it is unclear whether the bartender is actually with the cult, from that moment on Martha realizes the cult is close and will certainly narrow in on Lucy and Ted.  She tells Lucy and Ted repeatedly, “We have to leave.  We all have to leave.”  Seemingly, Martha pieces everything together at the end, but it is too late.

Certainly, this is not the only possible interpretation of Martha Marcy May Marlene.  The film’s ambiguity not only confirms other interpretations exist, but also that no one interpretation can ever be correct.  While the film is dense and profoundly complicated, at its core Martha Marcy May Marlene is not trying to be a difficult film.  Truly, it is not.  Although it may seem, at times, overdone or unnecessarily complex—somewhat similar to what Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan did last year—Martha Marcy May Marlene is trying to evoke from the audience the same emotions as its protagonist.  Martha is brainwashed, and she cannot decipher reality from imagination.  This leaves her feeling disconnected, confused, frustrated, and frightened.  These are the same feeling audience members have while viewing Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Thus, there is a method to Durkin’s madness.

A very special THANK YOU to Tara Bartram for countless conversations about Martha Marcy May Marlene and the invaluable insight which made this post possible!

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~ by Kate Bellmore on 01/01/2012.

63 Responses to “There is Method in This Madness: Investigating MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE”

  1. wow…I’d say the movie was so successful in its portrayal of the paranoid/PTSD mind state of a traumatized former cult member that some viewers have completely bought into the paranoia and expanded on it. While it’s quite an elegantly imagined hypothesis, it’s also easy to find conspiracies pretty much anywhere. So no, I don’t think this movie is about a secret plot to rip off & murder cult members’ families. Even if that were to happen in some alternate movie universe, that’s not the story this movie is telling. This movie is about the long lasting damage done to a psyche; about a person so traumatized & paralyzed by the fear of possible repercussions if she were to disobey or become a threat to the cult (last threat got a perfunctory knife in the back) that she has difficulty distinguishing reality from terror induced delusion. She imagines things and even mistakes normal people and events as things other than they are. She’s a person who’s simultaneously feeling confused by, and disconnected from, the “real” world to which she’s returned. She has no idea where she belongs. She appears to be shut down externally yet she’s struggling mightily internally. At one time she clearly had a sense of right & wrong (killing is wrong) but it doesn’t even occur to her to tell anyone she fled a place because she witnessed a murder. She may not even be sure it happened as these events are usually remembered via dreams or almost out-of-body like experiences reliving something terrible, as PTSD victims do. So the man at the end, who, according to the script is “a young man in his twenties” is not a formerly unidentified cult member brazenly confronting the family in their car, he’s simply a symbol of her growing paranoia and internalized fear. And the family is there to show how completely in the dark families are when it comes to the damage that’s been done to survivors. Even when families know where they’ve been, they don’t really have a clue how deep and lasting the fear is. This happens to a lesser degree to many people who have left a fold, i.e. the fear of karmic retribution or eternal damnation. It can take many years for the fear to subside and the scars to heal. But violence takes the fear to another level entirely. I think this movie was brilliantly done and stands alone without the need for an additional dramatic subplot.

  2. First, I must say this is my first online posting for anything: this movie is the best and most stimulating I have seen in years, and I am glad people are writing about it. I think it is very Hitchcock-influenced horror movie, with the added benefits of modern techniques and sensibilities in movie making. It is the Hitchcock aspect that is making us all become sleuths to ‘solve’ the murder mystery. That becomes one of the enduring pleasures of the movie, as well as its modern skillful composition of a frightening phenomenon. I believe Martha did not leave the commune ‘on a mission’. My theory is that Patrick did not have as strong a grip on her as he thought. Because her indoctrination was not complete (see below where Patrick tells her she hasn’t learned the way to connection yet), the murder becomes the driving force to leave. Patrick did not call out, but the blond one with the truck did when she left. He didn’t bring her back I think because he assumed she would come back on her own. In the phone call to her sister she says “I can’t be gone this long’, meaning she is still in doubt whether she will actually leave or not. Back to my theory: The second sex scene with Patrick shows that she now is not horrified anymore (like the first scene), but also not ‘enthralled’ with Patrick. Patrick can sense this: you can see this by the almost frustrated determined look in his eyes and movements, as if he is thinking “why am I not getting through”. The orgy scene shows that Marcy can indeed enjoy sex. Patrick see’s this, then his eyes move away in thought. We connect the two scenes and realize that Patrick does not have as much sway over Marcy May as the others, for instance Katie and Zoe. This is shown in the shooting scene, where Patrick again is not able to convince Marcy May to shoot the cat, but Zoe does without bidding. The humiliation of the son is almost an added benefit to the scene, a way to show how the men are kept in line in the commune (or manipulated until participation in murder is highly desired as a way to show worth). Martha pees in her sleep during the remembrance/dream/flashback of her part in the rape of Sally, a physical but still passive effort to ‘let go’ that she is immediately ashamed of and hides (whether because she still cant consciously come to terms with her compliance or is afraid of the wrath of her sister I don’t know). She asks her sister after this scene if you can dream things that didn’t happen (again, does not want to admit her complicity). I think this is an important scene and is the beginning of her true breakdown. The commune told her that ‘forgetting the past’ is important, but now she is remembering/reliving her past and her involvement in things she is starting to acknowledge to be wrong, so she is in the highly vulnerable position of finally remembering/reliving/realizing her commune living was wrong, but the realization is itself too much to take. The paranoia starts to increase at this time (although she was already peeking out the window of her sister’s house from the beginning). In the gardening scene with her sister, Martha asks “do you hear things on the roof at night”? Then there is the phone call, which could or could not have really happened: my thought that it might not be real is that the person on the line thinks its Zoe at first: wouldn’t Martha be the person everyone is looking for? Did Martha hope that Zoe ‘got away’ too? Then there is the scene as she is going to bed in her sister’s house and hears a car drive up. She peeks out the window and sees the black truck (which brought the new girls to the commune). The next scene shows her looking outside below her window, probably looking to see how someone could get to her window. Then she goes up to the black car and damages it, while in the same clothes (so not a flashback). This where I began to think of the scenes not being real: she in her paranoia is starting to rebel against the cult, but again is too fragile to do it consciously. The very next scene she hears the things on the roof again, which we now know the sister is not hearing, so it reaffirms the paranoia versus reality. The next scene she is cleaning the window with her sister and hears the phone, but her sister appears not to (is she imaging it?). The next scene shows her being molded by her sister (with makeup and hair) while she almost looks panicky (am I being set up for another ‘cleansing ritual’?). Then she sees the bartender and looks even more panicked. After the “Mike’ scene she is fed medication and seems to willingly fall back: she knows what this means in terms of the ritual and becomes passive: her panic has left her unable to rebel anymore. In next scene at the commune, she carries the pot to the barn looking as if it is too much of a load to bear. Then she eats the bread, a flagrant rule breaker. We see the shift from cult acceptance (if not connection), to cult being too much of a burden to bear, to defiance, all in flashback. Back at her sister’s, the flashbacks are becoming part of the present: she is talking out loud in the present while reliving the past. When Patrick breaks in on her in the bathroom, he tells her she hasn’t learned the way to connection yet. Then he attempts some manipulation: “I will expect less from you”. Masterful. But Martha does not fall for it. In one of the best scenes, while she is dreaming/reliving/re-experiencing this attempted manipulation followed by a sexual advance, in real time she rejects the advance with vehement force (again with an added bonus of showing how creepy the husband really is, which we kind of expected since the boat scene: the sister has her own cult leader and cult life she fell for). This is the first scene in which she is not reliving the past since at least her arrival to her sister’s (and for some time in the commune as well: in the flashbacks at the end she is reliving the murder over and over again). Immediately after this breakthrough, her sister then makes explicitly clear that in the present there will be no help for Martha from her. Devastating!! After that it seems that the dreams/flashbacks may have stopped. But then the devastating ending comes. She sees the person across the lake. This is certainly not a flashback, yet from reviewing the movie, I also think it is not reality (plus the person is not the blond: trust me I checked). We watch her suffer a total disconnection between her past AND her present. Her strength to not connect with Patrick now becomes her fatal weakness in that she cannot now connect with anything (except for paranoid thoughts). So here we have true madness, a reality that is parallel to her sister’s reality (they all see the person and the truck) but which envelops her in terror.

    • Wow. That’s good. Especially the “her strength not to connect with Patrick becomes her fatal flaw.” That means that basically people need to get out of unhealthy situations ASAP or risk creating modes of thought that will hurt and haunt them in healthy “normal” life. Unfortunately, the majority of the time, people that find themselves in those situations are there because for them, the alternative (loneliness, emptiness, void needs to be filled), is worse. So they will put up with the manipulation/abuse, as long as the person(s) can fill the void. It happens in relationships all the time, ie, wife refusing to leave the husband even though he physically/emotionally abuses her.

    • Great analysis. But perhaps it’s going too far to paint the husband, Ted, as having made a move on Martha, when you said…”in real time she rejects the advance with vehement force (again with an added bonus of showing how creepy the husband really is, which we kind of expected since the boat scene: the sister has her own cult leader and cult life she fell for.”

      Except for the fact that Ted gets a bit enraged over having his values (like his big yuppie lake house) questioned by Martha, I don’t think there’s any evidence that Ted is a creep (sexually) toward Martha or has any cultish control over his wife, Lucy. However, the movie is deliberately creating a certain tension in the scenes between Ted and Martha so that you’ll wonder if he’s going to turn into a sexual creep, and even wonder if Martha herself might make a wildly inappropriate sexual move on him. (Remember that at the cult all the women “shared” Patrick. She doesn’t have appropriate boundaries.)

      When Ted invites her to watch a late might movie, it’s because he ran into her coincidentally; they both were having trouble sleeping. When he invites her for a boat ride, he’s being friendly and generous. We never see him leer at her when she takes her clothes off to go swimming or let his hands linger on her too long while he’s showing her how to steer the boat.

      We know he’s irritated by her intrusion into his orderly, well-planned life, but he’s not a total ass because he is hospitable and does make these reasonable attempts to connect with his sister-in-law, as well he should.

      He’s the one who suggests sending Martha away for mental help. So, he’s not plotting to keep her around to take sexual advantage of her. Sending her away may have seemed harsh at first, but we soon realize that it makes sense and that only someone more detached like him could have made that choice for Martha. Her sister is too emotionally involved and guilty to send Martha away, but it’s just what Martha needs.

      Bottom line, Ted is not a creep unless you assume things that you have no evidence of. I think the film is drawing a clear contrast between cult life and normal life and is not interested in showing Martha facing further exploitation once she’s out of the cult. In normal life, there are potentially sexually charged situations, but Ted is not an exploitative or “cultish” male. He handles things the way a normal well-adjusted male handles them. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own issues (like when he fought with Martha over getting a job vs. “just being”), but everyone has their issues that set them off. And all of this was nothing compared to what the degenerate cult leader was capable of.

  3. What a slow drawn out boring movie. Possibly the worst ending to a film in cinematic history. So typical for Americans to over analyse every minute of the movie. 100 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

  4. Thanks so much for this post. I found it after searching for discussions of the film on Google. I was so captivated after watching the film for the 1st time on cable this week that I just had to figure out how other viewers had interpreted it!

    While I agree with you that _Martha Marcy May Marlene_ is a deliciously complex film open to a wide range of interpretations, I’m having a bit of difficulty with the notion that Martha might willingly have led the cult to her sister and brother-in-law. This is not because I think that such behavior is somehow ‘beneath’ Martha — as you rightly point out, her brainwashing is so complete that it is quite likely that she might betray her sister in this manner. Instead, the sticking point for me is that before Martha reconnects with her sister, she has no idea that her sister has become rich through her marriage.

    I could be wrong, but here’s my thinking. As you rightly point out, the film reveals to us that the cult makes its money by breaking into the vacation homes of the wealthy and robbing them. The also film indicates that Martha’s sister’s money — and the access to lavish homes that comes with it — have come to her through her marriage. Finally, the film clearly states that while Martha and her sister have been out of contact with one another for 2 years, her sister’s marriage is a recent event: i.e. when Martha asks her about the marriage, her sister says that it has taken place “just in April”; and when Martha meets her brother-in-law, the film makes clear that they are meeting for the first time and didn’t know each other before Martha joined the cult.

    With all of this in mind, how, exactly, would a woman who has not spoken to her sister in two years know that the sister has married a wealthy man — and that this wealthy man owns a vacation home of the very type that the cult she has joined makes its living burgling?

    For me, the implausibility of this scenario is further strengthened by Martha’s interaction with the cult’s leaders as Marcy May, in the film’s early scenes. For example, when she first slips out of the cult house, the cult leader stands on the porch and not only calls after her, but also asks her where she’s going. While one might argue that this might be some sort of ruse undertaken to establish an escape story to feed those cult members who are being kept unaware of the ongoing burglaries — i.e. the fact that the cult initially lies to Martha/Marcy May about how it makes its money indicates that the cult has a vested interest in ensuring that some cult members continue to believe that the cult’s money comes from selling knit goods — the subsequent scene in which the male cult member to whom Martha/Marcy May is closest follows her to a local diner would seem to undermine this scenario. This guy has been an integral part of the robberies — and indeed is the cult member whom we have seen help the cult leader murder a homeowner when one of the cult’s burglaries goes wrong — and yet he seems to be genuinely unaware of any sort of larger plan to have Martha/Marcy May set up a burglary with her sister. Because there are no cult members nearby to fool with a ruse of playacting, he truly seems to believe that Martha/Marcy May is on the lam: his willingness to let her go seems less indicative of his involvement in a larger scheme to burgle her sister than indicative of a cult plan (or even a standing policy) to simply track anyone who makes it back to the real world until it is safe to grab them again. (After all, he can’t very well drag Marcy May out of the diner in front of dozens of non-cult witnesses who’ll call the cops if she screams.)

    Please understand: on the basis of these two scenes alone — i.e. the cult leader calling after Martha/Marcy May from the porch and the guy from the cult cornering her at the diner — I do believe that you are spot-on when you argue in your post that the cult “allows” Martha/Marcy May to leave. The cult leader’s eerily casual tone when he calls to her from the porch totally indicates that the cult is so certain that it can track Martha/Marcy May easily that there’s no need to get stressed out about her bolting; the casual attitude, cat-and-mouse coolness, and creepy goodbye kiss on the forehead that the other guy delivers in the diner underscore the she-can-run-but-she-can’t-hide vibe. For thoughtful viewers, the film’s later revelations about the burglaries and murder simply reinforce this, as there seems to be little chance that the cult would simply allow a member who has both inside knowledge of capital crimes and the ability to directly finger those who’ve committed them to return to the outside world with impunity.

    However, I don’t think that this means that the cult — or even just its leader — have sent Martha/Marcy May on a reconnaissance mission to her sister and brother in law’s place so that the cult can rob them. I think that other things in the film mitigate against this.

    To play devil’s advocate against myself, though, I will say that although the film might mitigate against your scenario, history itself supports the very possibilities that you’ve outlined in your post. That is, the film not only strongly evokes the Manson Family – e.g. girl-chasing, guitar-strumming cult leader builds a youthful “family” that lives off the land and steals to remain solvent – but also seems to allude to the crimes that the Manson Family committed *before* the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders. In those Manson Family crimes — which included burglary and attempted murder — the putative targets were drawn from the ranks of both folks whom individual cult members had known before they joined the cult and folks whom Charles Manson himself had scoped out. In one instance, a lone female member of the Manson Family was sent to the apartment of a wealthy young man she knew in order to rob & kill him at the behest of Manson, who also knew the guy and wanted him dead because he’d slighted Manson at a recent gathering.

    With such source material to draw from, it may very well be that the film means to suggest that even if Martha/Marcy May were totally unaware of her sister’s recent marriage to a wealthy guy, the cult leader might have kept tabs on her sister after Martha/Marcy May joined the cult – i.e. surely, learning that new cult member Marcy May’s sister is not only her sole surviving relative but also that she lives within easy driving distance of the cult would have drawn the watchful attention of a cult leader wary of relatives turning up to demand answers — and discovered through this monitoring that the sister had married a rich dude with a huge vacation home that was ripe for the picking. Since Martha/Marcy May’s telephone call to the cult later in the film can be read in two ways — first, as her trying to make contact with her former tormentors during a weak moment, or second, as her checking in with the cult leader using her secondary cult alias “Marlene” as part of some sort of prearranged signal — there is additional support for your theory that Martha/Marcy May is in cahoots with the cult leader to burgle her sister and brother-in-law.

    Ultimately, for me, the film’s narrative simultaneously supports and mitigates a range of scenarios. Each viewer can lean toward one theory or another — you’ve articulated yours quite persuasively and I’m groping toward mine — but in the end, the film immerses viewers into the mindset of a young woman brutalized and brainwashed by a cult so completely that we’re ultimately as confused as Martha is about both reality and the nature of what is “truly good” — a recurring phrase and theme in the film. (e.g. I think that it is no accident that — even before they’ve made the rather precipitous decision to commit Martha to the loony bin based solely upon what they’ve observed of her during a two-week vacation — Martha’s sister and brother in law are depicted as being so unpleasant and lacking in true compassion that the viewer often finds oneself thinking, “Yes, life at the cult was soul-shredding, but Martha’s sister is so frosty, clueless, judgmental, self-absorbed, and devoted to a spouse who shares these qualities that I understand why Martha was starved enough for familial support and a sense of belonging to be vulnerable to the lies of a cult and its abusively charismatic leader in the first place!”)

    Like you, I think that it is to the film’s credit that the answers aren’t easy and the interpretations aren’t pat. From the first scene to the last, the film depicts Martha’s psychology as either the cult’s putative “survivor” or its field-operative — depending on how viewers interpret the final scene — with such richness that the audience doesn’t merely observe Martha, but is instead forced to share her mindset for the duration of the film. Whether she truly escaped to her sister’s home or went there at the behest of the cult leader, even a short time away from the cult has given her enough processing time to become truly unsettled and confused about the nature of her cult experience and her relationship to it – and we, the audience, are confused right along with her.

    _The Accused_ and _A Time to Kill_ used camerawork to try to place the audience in a rape victim’s position; _Patty Hearst_ used camerawork to plunk the audience down in the SLA’s closet with a kidnapped heiress. But _Martha Marcy May Marlene_ forces us to share in the experience of a cult member by *not* forcing us, by simply allowing us to be drawn into it just as Martha herself is drawn into it. Like her, we don’t realize immediately how deeply wrong things are; like her, we remain confused, uncertain, and obligated to entertain multiple layers of possible reality with regard to the cult and how she relates to it.

    This is not a perfect film, by any stretch of the imagination, but the “total immersion” experience that it achieves through smart, subtle writing and great acting make it truly noteworthy. Good – if difficult and unpleasant – stuff!

    Thanks so much for posting such a thoughtful response to this film — and for allowing others to wrestle with its complexities, as well!

    • I couldn’t disagree more with your statements:

      1. “the rather precipitous decision to commit Martha to the loony bin based solely upon what they’ve observed of her during a two-week vacation”

      2. “Martha’s sister is so frosty, clueless, judgmental, self-absorbed, and devoted to a spouse who shares these qualities”

      Lucy is very warm, compassionate, forgiving, mature and mothering…and she’s going to be Martha’s savior. Look at the first scene when Martha calls her sister after two years. Martha is so weak, confused and scared that she might hang up the phone and go right back to the cult farm. Lucy (figuratively) grabs for Martha over the phone, insisting….”Don’t go…don’t hang up the phone…Martha, I want to see you. Please.” If it weren’t for Lucy insisting on reconnecting and showing great concern for her, Martha would be lost back into the cult — possibly with no hope of getting out again.

      Despite the fact that Lucy very is hurt that Martha has been back in the NY area for over a year, and hasn’t called her in all that time (and has therefore also missed her wedding because she got rid of her cell phone), Lucy lets it all go because she knows somehow that Martha has been through a lot even though she doesn’t know what exactly. In fact, Lucy has been very worried about Martha for a very long time and feels guilty for being out of Martha’s life (she was in college) after their mother died.

      She asks Martha if her boyfriend ever hit her — still trying to get close to her long-lost sister and figure out why she’s behaving so strangely. When they are gardening, Lucy even says she’ll kick anyone’s ass who tries to hurt Martha.

      At night, when Martha feels alone and scared and crawls into a corner of Lucy’s and Ted’s bed – while they are having sex — Ted goes berserk of course, and Lucy also yells at Martha initially but she quickly turns compassionate, telling Martha to stay in the bed and try to sleep, while Ted is effectively pushed out onto the couch. Lucy is always putting Martha’s needs above Ted’s wishes.

      Lucy takes the trouble to find Martha a pretty dress from among her own clothes. She is also seen brushing Martha’s hair, and doing her make-up, and insisting on taking Martha’s picture when they are on the boat because she doesn’t have recent pictures of Martha. She tells Martha how “gorgeous” she is (she also jokes that “it’s rather irritating” how gorgeous Martha is, but it’s actually a great sisterly moment and they are both laughing and at ease.

      She cooks for Martha and brings her cups of tea and worries that Martha’s not eating enough. When she yells at Martha for swimming naked in public, she makes it a point to apologize later that day for getting frustrated at her.

      When Lucy introduces Martha to her friends at the house party and Martha just walks away silently you can see Lucy’s concerned eyes following Martha. She doesn’t just turn back to her friends or act embarrassed about Martha’s behavior. You sense that Lucy’s focus is on Martha’s well-being not what her friends might be thinking or saying about her socially-dysfunctional sister.

      And finally, after Martha does the cruellest thing of all…telling Lucy that she’ll be a terrible mother, causing Lucy to cry, Lucy’s reaction (later) is wonderful and is a great moment of hope for Martha. The next morning, after the drama has passed, Lucy calmly apologizes to Martha and says they both said some things they didn’t mean last night. That shows her maturity and compassion. It was a pivotal moment and made me breathe a sigh of relief because I knew then that Lucy was not going to give up on Martha again. She’s going to stick by her sister and make sure she gets the help she needs.

  5. Cada juegos flash vez es ms comn armar una lista de regalos para el Baby Shower muy divertido para organizar un Baby Shower. Gana aquella persona que nos pone en la que se han realizado son con la Muerte. Alerta Este juego consiste juegos flash en el – incluyendo un mini juego de Mario Bros no es compatible con 64bits. Y cols En este blog dedicado a la organizacin de la mano y rgido pulso la solucin al conflicto. A travs de los Juegos Flash clsicos de la pelcula para luego organizar Juegos Flash de memoria. El nico lmite es la secuela de Prototype, un juego de mario Bros.

  6. Is it possible that the reason why Martha freaked out when the brother-in-law touched her was planned and she kicked him down the stairs to distract them from the person (or possibly persons) trying to get into the house? Similar to how one of the male cult members turned on the treadmill in order to leave the house.

    • Totally possible!

    • I don’t think the Ted ever touched Martha — or if he did it, it was totally innocent. I think Martha was lost in a dream / nightmare about Patrick’s manipulation and abuse and, understandably came out of it in hysterics, which naturally got Ted concerned and coming to toward her, which led to the incident where she kicked him down the stairs. Martha was immediately apologetic to him and Lucy. There was no sense that she looked at Ted with any real suspicion after she “woke up” from her nightmare.

  7. remember when M kicked her brother in law down the stairs and he was in front of the glass patio doors – someone quickly ran by outside

  8. I think Mollie is close but I don’t think when Martha calls the cult that it is FUTURE to the ending of the film. I believe if you look at what is written on the wall next to the phone when Marcey May answers it from the cult compound earlier you will see that there are specific instructions to “Ask 3 questions – repeat name- take message- and then Marlene Lewis – Marlene Lewis” She does just that at that time and then she hands the phone to one of the male cult members and he confirms the time. A code for when to rob a place. So when Martha makes her call from Ted and Lucy’s she does the same scripted responses but doesn’t finish the call properly. She was acting on the cults influence and gave away her location but only because of her broken mental state and has set up the very thing she didn’t want which was having the cult knowing her location. She is driven to this because of the teachings of the cult conflicting with the materialism of Ted and Lucy which the cult ultimately feeds on. Brilliant.

  9. I am so grateful for this space as I have not felt compelled in so long to write about a film. This is a brave cinematic endeavor and is worth this continued dialogue!
    Questions in film: Private and public control. Identity. Values. Love. Survival.
    When the leader of the isolated Catskills(?) community tells M. “Next time he will expect less of her” and the placement of that scene towards the end of the film exposes a lot of how her role in the cults hierarchy becomes defined. To remain the “favorite” as he calls her, she must continue to provide essentials for the groups existence. The phone call she makes after the dinner table fight with her sister and brother in law is in intrinsic behavior that sets all plans in motion either innocent or otherwise. In play writing this is the arc or the tragic flaw depending on whose reading. For me, it is hard to believe that she was only living in the “cult” for two years (as suggested in the scripts exposition) as M.’s relationship to the ideals and roles seem so natural and defined. I would be very curious as to how the director and script writers researched cults from a psychological standpoint. (How long does brainwashing take?) But that’s a whole different discussion.
    Lets look at the given behaviors within the narrative. M. (I call her M. very kafkaesque i know, but does she even know who she is? c’mon!) firmly believes in the values shared by “cult” members a.) clothing and other material goods are Unnecessary b.) occupation means more than career and fiscal wealth. c.) sexuality must be shared unselfishly. She at times wishes to educate these values to her sister and brother in law. Take a look at the garden scene at the lake house, M. is very sure of her role as gardener, “this was my place where I lived.” On one hand she is struggling with this transition back to a different reality with her sister, but she is still confident in her role within a different version of reality. I think the best collision of these controlled experiences happens with the juxtaposition within the film of M. drugging a new member during a cult initiation rite, and then her own eventual drugging by her sister and brother and law at the doomed house party towards the end of the film. This was very much done on purpose and exposes the questions of values. Who is right? Are we allowed to believe in the loving reality of the Catskills farm? Or, the loving reality of the CT lake house? You decide.
    What makes me firmly believe she is still working with the Catskilis community/commune/cult is when she displays a repetitive use of maternal imagery and dialogue. When she announces to her sister “You will be a bad mother” on the stairwell and earlier in the film laughs at her brother and law as he shares with her his desire to have children-we must look into this strongly. Why is this dialogue necessary? Both times M. criticizes her sisters birthing efforts are at different points in the characters arc. She is confident in her sisters inability to love as she has now learned to love. What we have in this is a raw exposed volcanic implosion of world views. In my own words, “Your view on motherhood is wrong.” Does this at all sound familiar to current politics on motherhood and women’s bodily rights in general? Just remember the other scene at the farm, when M. is holding another member’s baby and she calms it immediately, the new member says to M. “You are so good with him”. Yes, Yes she is. This feeds into the psychological playback within the film. We must accept this not only as a memory but as a driving mechanism for her to do harm to others. Her justification : “My sister will not be a good mother”.
    Now obviously I do not support dangerous communities or mindsets nor do i support theft or murder–these are radical choices within the narrative of the screenplay that supports the plausible unknowns of the ending. I do believe we are supposed to question M.s life in coordination with other traditional ways of life. There are numerous ways to live, thrive and be and this film beautifully exposes how inevitably it all comes down to how we define love defines us and gives us power.

  10. I had always been confused about the ending of the movie and whether it was them following her or not. Whether it was a memory or reality. But after watching it again and again I realized that it was them following her although I had no idea why. When I read this post, I agreed with what you were saying, that possibly they were after her for her families money. The scene with the SUV took me for a loop because I never really knew what it was about or how that SUV got there. I have to say, that although this was a confusing movie, it was beautifully written! Thanks for the insight

    • But don’t forget she also was a witness to murder, she is a liability to the cult with the potential of her telling anyone about it.

  11. I don’t see how your opinion that they let her go to break into her sister and brother in law’s house makes much sense. I mean how would they have known where she was going?

    • I think it is within reason that she was followed all along. Perhaps that is why he let her leave the diner in the beginning. This is a very complicated and ambiguous film. I am not convinced they did know where she was going/was, but I am convinced it is within reason.

  12. This is my absolute first time ever posting or replying (whatever the proper tech term is) on a blog site, so please forgive my ignorance up front. I must agree with many others here – your interpretation of Martha, Marcy, MM is wonderfully written.
    My question is why did she (Martha) call the cult? What could she have been trying to accomplish? Was she really trying to reach Sally? Was she going coordinate with the cult (for those that think she was in cahoots with them)? Was she trying to solidify its existence in her faltering psyché? I’m stumped.
    Thank you for your time. I hope I’ve done this properly. :)

    • Those are all GREAT questions, and I don’t have any solid answers for you; the film’s ambiguity leaves room for a lot of interpretation. Part of me thinks she called because she was confused and torn about leaving the cult, especially when she was so obviously not fitting in with her family, but that’s just a thought, not an answer. Thanks for your comments, and keep thinking about MMMM, sounds like your wheels are really turning! K

    • She called the cult very soon after her fight with Ted — when he tells her she should start thinking about a career and she tells him that he “measures success by money and possessions; it’s not the right way to live.” That really sets Ted off, and naturally after the blow-up, Martha starts to feel that maybe she’s in the wrong place. Maybe the cult is the right place for her. She’s confused and brainwashed. It makes sense that that moment of weakness resulted in the call and hence the cult is able to track her location and become a menace to them all.

  13. Thank you for your insights! I also saw the movie now on video, I don’t think it ever showed live in my country.
    I thought about it a lot afterwards. Martha personifies a problem of our day and time. Martha is a type.
    Because of broken family structures and absent or emotionally disconnected fathers, the result is young people who do not know who they are and where they belong. The pain of not belonging is so strong, that it becomes a driving force. Some or driven to the “cult groups” of “drugs”. Joining the “herion” club is like finding a place of belonging with people whom you share a certain lifestyle, feelings and value system with. Others go for religious cults. Others just settle for controlling, manipulating even abusive boyfriends that takes their lives but give them the pay off that at least they belong somewhere, with someone.
    What originally clashes with the inner witness of a heart, that it is wrong and dehumanising behaviour, later becomes more and more acceptable, until the gentle inner voice inside becomes so quenched and pushed aside, that it is no longer heard and inwardly the victom becomes dead. Now almost anything goes.
    The brotherhood gives a false sense of identity, boundaries are pushed till there is no more, the sense of where my life and my identity ends and yours begin becomes blurred, and the person that “leads” the pact gets to push his “distorted” value system unto all the rest. Now its just about surviving one more day, with the minimum pain, and confronting painful things is pain, facing the realities of life is pain, so living the lie some more, often gets preferred. Money is a thing that others now should “provide for me”, what I need to focus on is surviving one more day and avoiding more pain for me. So it goes.
    In our time of vulnerability, whether emotionally, or otherwise, where fear and uncertainty abides, the breeding ground for brainwashing and mind control is ideal. Just thinking about Hitler brainwashing millions of highly intelligent Germans, to think and operate exactly how he wanted them to. They became the “special group”, the “inn group”, agains the jews and later the rest of the world. They belonged now, to something greater than themselves, their lives now had meaning, slaughtering millions of jews started to become strangely acceptable and the line between good and evil became so twistedly blurred.
    That is how the demonic works.
    Martha is not just an isolated story. It may be a little extreme. But if you look close enough, you may even see your neighbour, your friend, your daughter or even your very self in her. Believing twisted lies and taking the bate of the enemy that poses as a friend, even as a safe place, at first that is. Until one is trapped.
    Running to the Light and embracing Truth, rather than tollerating demonic teachings like “truth is all relative and its whatever you want it to be”, is the first step to finding wholeness. Not only for Martha, but for society at large.

  14. Thank you for your insights! I also saw the movie now on video, I don’t think it ever showed live in my country.

    I thought about it a lot afterwards. Martha personifies a problem of our day and time. Martha is a type.

    Because of broken family structures and absent or emotionally disconnected fathers, the result is young people who do not know who they are and where they belong. The pain of not belonging is so strong, that it becomes a driving force. Some or driven to the “cult groups” of “drugs”. Joining the “drug” club is like finding a place of belonging with people whom you share a certain lifestyle, feelings and value system with. Others go for religious cults. Others just settle for controlling, manipulating even abusive boyfriends that takes their lives but give them the pay off that at least they belong somewhere, with someone.

    What originally clashes with the inner witness of a heart, that it is wrong and dehumanising behaviour, later becomes more and more acceptable, until the gentle inner voice inside becomes so quenched and pushed aside, that it is no longer heard and inwardly the victom becomes dead. Now almost anything goes.

    The brotherhood gives a false sense of identity, boundaries are pushed till there is no more, the sense of where my life and my identity ends and your begin becomes blurred, and the person that “leads” the pact gets to push his “distorted” value system unto all the rest.

    In our time of vulnerability, whether emotionally, or otherwise, where fear and uncertainty abides, the breeding ground for brainwashing and mind control is ideal. Just thinking about Hitler brainwashing millions of highly intelligent Germans, to think and operate exactly how he wanted them to. They became the “special group”, the “inn group”, agains the jews and later the rest of the world. They belonged now, to something greater than themselves, their lives now had meaning, slaughtering millions of jews started to become strangely acceptable and the line between good and evil became so twistedly blurred.

    That is how the demonic works.

    Martha is not just an isolated story. It may be a little extreme. But if you look close enough, you may even see your neighbour, your friend, your daughter or even your very self in her. Believing twisted lies and taking the bate of the enemy that poses as a friend, even as a safe place, at first that is. Until one is trapped.

    Running to the light and embracing truth, rather than tollerating demonic teachings like “truth is all absolute and its whatever you want it to be”, is the first step to finding wholeness. Not only for Martha, but for society at large.

  15. Doesn’t really work for me. I think that, between the indoctrination and drugs given her, she’s become schizophrenic and can’t tell reality from fantasy and fear. The ending just tells me that she can’t share or acknowledge her demons.

    • I can see that; I think that works too. Either way this is a horror film. I think you are reading it like The Shining, when the person becomes the monster (which is terrifying), and I am reading it in a more Helter Skelter way. Thanks for the comment; I like when people challenge my ideas about film by explaining a different take…its helps me expand my thinking!

    • Drugs and brainwashing can not cause Schizophrenia. And her presenting signs and symptoms do not meet the DSM V criteria for Schizophrenia. If the drugs would have caused her psychosis, it would have been during that time and shortly after. Not after she left the compound. There is nothing in the movie to imply that Martha is using any substances on a regular basis, which would rule out drug induced psychosis. PTSD or Acute Stress Disorder would be able to better explain her disassociation and flashbacks.

  16. Nice take.

  17. Thanks for this. Your post and the comments have certainly help me better understand the ending of this movie. Well done :-)

  18. Wow! I hadn’t even considered this interpretation of the film (that M was maybe helping the cult case the couple)–very unique. Well written post! I wish this film had received more attention.

  19. Great flick, whacky ending… Yes, cult catching up, but shown following, then member appears walking next to car and gets in chase vehicle in driver’s seat? Where was he first? Who was driving? Very abrupt and ambiguous end to a solid flick about a creepy topic…

  20. Martha went back to the cult in the end. We don’t know what happened to Ted and Lucy, but we can guess it wasn’t good. The scene toward the end, when “Martha” answers the phone and calls herself Marlene is FUTURE to the ending in the car. (The time shifts have been set up all along.) And the song that plays over the titles at the end is the same song he sang earlier, but now he is singing it to Marlene. She went from Martha, to Marcy May, and finally she is fully indoctrinated as Marlene.

  21. I think you need a captcha for your comments, because most on this page are clearly auto-generated / by bots. But more importantly, thank you for the post — it is one of the clearest discussions of the MMMM ending I’ve found.

  22. Not the SAME CAR !!! Note the lack of roof rack. Note there is no bumper guard.

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  45. Sounds like just the film I must see. Life is eternally moving and never fixed, for all our attempts to make it fit our operable illusions. Where is the film showing?

    • Sadly, the film is not out in theatres any longer (at least around here). It was in a out rather quickly, as some of the best are :( However, if it gets any Oscar attention in the next few weeks it will likely be rereleased for the masses. Fingers crossed!

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