Jump to content


Photo

Martha Marcy May Marlene


  • Please log in to reply
45 replies to this topic

#41 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 9,124 posts

Posted 04 January 2012 - 08:25 AM

: When Martha asks whether they live alone, and why the house is so big, she's neither desperate, nor self-justifying, nor ranting. She's simply disoriented.

Ah, you're apparently thinking of a different scene than the one that has come up most frequently in this discussion. Okay, I'll have to see that scene again, but if MMMM is merely disoriented at that point and not offering a critique of any sort, then, again, I don't see a whole lot of traction.

Martha is disoriented because she's been a part of a community that practices sustainable agrarian living (in addition to other, less sustainable practices). She can't see why two people need so much space. Her disorientation is an element in the film's exploration about the question of different ways of living.

: A world of no boundaries? Then why do the men eat first while the women sit on the stairs waiting their turn to eat? Why is staring impolite? Not to mention the massive boundary between the cult itself and the outside world. Etc.

That last point actually occurred to me after I sent that post -- but of course, the cult DOES traverse that boundary whenever it wants to, for the purposes of stealing and killing the people it steals from, etc. So, not much of a real "boundary" from their point of view.

Good point about the staring and gender segregation, though.

The boundary between the cult and the outside world is not a physical boundary, but a social boundary. It is always reasonably clear who is inside and who is outside, above all in the scenes of stealing and killing. At the same time, there are degrees of belonging or not-belonging. One is initiated into the cult, and one can begin to edge out of the mainstream of cult life even before making a break for it. ("I'll have to expect less from you," Patrick growls at Martha.)

: Patrick understands that people need to be shown the way, and is willing and able to do that within the perverted scope of his outlook. The idea of showing Martha the way is not something that Lucy is able to step outside of her world to contemplate. She's not a bad person -- she's a good person. She's just limited by a world in which people are more or less responsible for themselves.

Again, this gets me wondering about the back-story re: the family in which these two sisters were raised etc.

And that's fine. But it's also legitimately a question about the values of the culture in which we find Lucy.

No, if the film were "moralizing" too, then anyone who seized on that to advance their own agenda would be sharing in the moralization. Obviously. But where there is little reason to believe that a film is moralizing, and people seize on slender elements that they think can be spun in a moralistic direction, then the moralizing is all theirs.

Whatever. Your language about "seizing" on the film in order to "advance one's own agenda" doesn't correspond to anything I recognize in my commentary on the film, but that's a question I'll leave to the discernment of all concerned.

: So why are they childless as yet? Why the disparity between the amount of house Ted and Lucy have and the amount of house they need?

Why would they only need space for kids? What about the parties they host? Society is bigger than the family, even as it is distinct from the family.

I think the party thing is pretty superficial. Lucy says that. But from what we see of the party scene -- very nicely done in one extended take -- I think it's less the case that they actually need that big house in order to accommodate the party as that the house is an accessory to the lifestyle and the social set with which they've chosen to associate.

(And now I'm getting flashbacks to a Twitter exchange between yourself and vjmorton re: the childless couple in Fireproof. I don't know if Jeff intended to nudge this discussion in an anti-family-planning direction, but I'm sensing that this, too, may be a "moralistic" element in your own response to the film that isn't necessarily implied by anything within the film itself. I mean, do we even see any babies on the commune? If not -- and I don't remember any, but my memory might be failing me here -- then I don't see how the absence of kids in Ted & Lucy's home can be held up as part of any sort of "critique".)

If not for the reasons stated, I would at any rate take it as a kindness if you could bring yourself to use the descriptive word "moral" rather than the judgmentally connotive words "moralistic" and "moralizing" in reference to my response to the film -- though I don't wish to limit your outlook, and if you find the judgmental words to be necessary, then continue to use them.

Yes, there are babies in the compound. They all look like Patrick, and the women all share in caring for them -- but only if they want to. Each finds her own role.

#42 M. Leary

M. Leary

    Member

  • Member
  • 5,528 posts

Posted 04 January 2012 - 09:31 AM

: A world of no boundaries? Then why do the men eat first while the women sit on the stairs waiting their turn to eat? Why is staring impolite? Not to mention the massive boundary between the cult itself and the outside world. Etc.

That last point actually occurred to me after I sent that post -- but of course, the cult DOES traverse that boundary whenever it wants to, for the purposes of stealing and killing the people it steals from, etc. So, not much of a real "boundary" from their point of view.

Good point about the staring and gender segregation, though.


The boundary between the cult and the outside world is not a physical boundary, but a social boundary. It is always reasonably clear who is inside and who is outside, above all in the scenes of stealing and killing. At the same time, there are degrees of belonging or not-belonging. One is initiated into the cult, and one can begin to edge out of the mainstream of cult life even before making a break for it. ("I'll have to expect less from you," Patrick growls at Martha.)


I have tried to follow your conversation as best I can, but would like to sneak in a comment here if I could. I have a review of this in the pipeline for Religion Dispatches that talks about this in a bit more detail, but I think there are numerous ways to describe boundaries established in the film. Cult leaders succeed at creating social boundaries in a radical "us" and "them" sense by persuading people to accept artificial spatial (the farm) and narrative (novel spirituality or revelation) boundaries. The film does a good job at describing Marcy May's new spatial boundary markers, but it does not seem that interested in exploring whatever actual novel spiritual belief or revelation Patrick has foisted on his followers. We get hints of it toward the end, but not much.

So, I agree with SDG that the film does a good job of specifically showing us the new social boundaries experienced by Martha. The stealing and killing aren't an indication that this cult is boundary-less, but rather the opposite. Patrick's authoritative boundary-setting grants them the moral justification for stealing from others and even killing them if necessary, which is to say that those activities are a form of boundary-setting that Martha has a hard time accepting. She eventually escapes the community, but for the rest of the film, she can't shake these now internalized social boundaries. She has a far more casual body consciousness. Her cultural sensitivity toward sex has been altered. She has a hard time dealing with her sister's notion of space and property. When in "normal" public, she has a hard time relating to other people. She becomes increasingly fearful, not just of Patrick returning but also in response to the loss of the form of psychological security she experienced in the cult.

I found her comment about her sister's motherhood to be truly heartbreaking. It may be true that her sister is overly materialistic without even knowing it, but this doesn't mean that she won't be able to mother a child with love and wisdom. Martha just can't coordinate her ideas about authority properly because Patrick has corrupted them. When pushed, she retreats to her "teacher and leader" mode because this is the only scrap of dignity she has left, even if it is misguided. This is all pretty sad stuff.

#43 Timothy Zila

Timothy Zila

    edgeofthecity

  • Member
  • 343 posts

Posted 21 March 2012 - 01:31 AM

Finally saw this.

Some initial thoughts: I'm interested by the title - Martha Marcy May Marlene.

To me, before watching the film, the title implied split personalities. Not that the film would be about split-personality disorder or anything, but that a fragmented identify would be the focus.

'Fragmented' is an appropriate enough description in some ways, but seems grossly inaccurate in other ways. To me, we only see one woman here - and she's already broken. Why the four names?

There's obviously a symbolic importance to Martha being 'renamed' by the cult leader (as there is an importance to God renaming Biblical characters, or Biblical characters taking on different names for themselves), but I'm still interested by the choice.

*Major spoilers from here on out*

To me, what I found fascinating about the film was how Martha continued to defend the cult after leaving. We see this first in the scene where she flees and is talking on the phone with her sister. She obviously wants, on some level, to leave since she's escaping, but she's also uncomfortable.

It's an odd thing. Leaving a cult where you were raped and abused with that cult's message and ethos still very much embedded in you (as in the scene where she criticizes the accumulation of wealth). But it doesn't for a moment strike me as untrue.

I'm also really interested in what the film says about belief (specifically religious) in general. Cults are pretty unambiguously bad, but they're only an extreme continuum on which all religions lies. All community, by its nature, teaches and enforces certain behavior, while discouraging other kinds of behavior (taboos).

The difference, really, is how narrowly a community defines its value, and the repercussions of those who violate the community's ideals.

To me, the film seemed to very deliberately be about enculturation. How and why do we believe and act like we act? That's a question that's really worth asking, I think.

I've really come to the conclusion, in the last few years, that I'll never get past how I was raised. I shouldn't dwell on that and act like it determines all my behavior (Freud's mistake, in general), but I also can't dismiss its influence, even as I try to get past certain elements of my upbringing.

And as someone who's had my fair share of doubt and skepticism in regard to my faith, I recognize that the fact that I find it very easy to believe in God is largely the result of my upbringing.

But I try to be open to other possibilities and beliefs on a wide range of issues. Which is precisely what cults can't allow. There's a nice scene where Patrick talks about how the girl (who smokes) body is her own. But it's ironic - because we know it isn't. That's what Patrick says, but the reality is he'll use every method possible to get her will to bend to his. He's delicate about it, to be sure, because he knows his power isn't unlimited (as Martha proved).

I sometimes, to be honest, think the same can be said of Christians. We give token value to other's choice, but a whole lot of evangelism (sermons, music, gospel presentations) is really about, for lack of a better word, coercing people into doing what we feel is right.

We certainly don't want to slip into the opposite mistake of conflating respecting other's decisions with never speaking our mind or making suggestions. I can't count how many times I've read advice columns telling the advisees to shut their mouth and let their friend make a potentially really serious. In severe circumstances, that's like the spiritual equivalent of letting your friend get in a car accident because you're afraid to tell them they're about to crash.

Anyway, just some thoughts . . .

I also really agree with Overstreet that this film does a great job avoiding the expected plot points. Every single time we saw them break into houses I thought it was Martha helping them break into her sister's house.

I can't believe the film didn't end with Martha rejoining the cult, or the cult breaking into their house, or something. We don't even see, unambiguously, what made Martha finally decide to leave.

Also, did anyone else find themselves thinking about Melancholia while watching this? I know that's not a very popular or respected film here, but I found the similarities striking. I think it has to do with the fact that both Kirsten Dunst's character and Martha are passive in pretty debilitating ways. And both films featured (older?) sisters with taking care of the protagonists . . . only in Martha the sister (and her husband) is pretty despicably selfish. When Martha tells her sister she'd be a horrible mother I can't help but think she's telling the truth.

If neither of them can muster up the self-sacrifice to do more than send her away to a mental hospital how do you expect them to properly take care of and love a child?

#44 Tyler

Tyler

    (Credit Only)

  • Member
  • 6,378 posts

Posted 24 March 2012 - 11:17 PM

MMMM made this AV Club "ambiguous endings" list:

Spoiler


For my part, I was inclined to view the ending as
Spoiler


There were a few moments when I thought the movie was going to pull a Dr. Caligari and show that Martha had been institutionalized and was seeing her doctors, nurses, and the other patients as the cult, but I'm glad it didn't do that. The more I think about it, though, I think a case for that reading could still be made; I don't think it's a correct reading, but there's enough ambiguity to accommodate a bunch of different interpretations.


BTW, the DVD has the short film Mary Last Seen, which Durkin made he was planning MMMM. He explains that since Martha was going to be about a woman leaving a cult, he wanted Mary Last Seen to be about a woman joining one. It's fairly interesting on its own, but moreso in the context of MMMM, since the short illuminates a side of the story the feature doesn't really go into. The cult in the short appears to be the same one as the feature, too (the leader is also named Patrick, and Brady Corbett plays a member in both).

Edited by Tyler, 25 March 2012 - 12:46 PM.


#45 Tyler

Tyler

    (Credit Only)

  • Member
  • 6,378 posts

Posted 26 March 2012 - 08:31 PM

Did anyone else think of Higher Ground when they were watching this?

#46 Anders

Anders

    Globe-trotting special agent

  • Member
  • 2,965 posts

Posted 24 July 2012 - 10:25 PM

Finally caught up with this late. Liked it a great deal. It's unnerving and frightening.

I kept thinking about the enculturation aspects that Timothy Zila throughout the film, and I think, while the film is obviously NOT siding with the cult, the film raises some questions about the way we behave in Western culture and our beliefs (or lack-thereof).

To put it another way, I see Martha's critique of the unnecessarily spacious house as a commentary on a real vulnerability in Ted and Lucy's lives, and therefore in Martha's critique I hear the movie saying, "Mainstream Western culture, however much healthier than cult life, is vulnerable here. It is partly because of a vulnerability here that cults gain some traction and are able to suck people in with the promise of something more authentic."


Yes. This. This vulnerability in the mainstream of Western culture is indeed why people are attracted to extreme belief systems of all kinds. Loved your take on the film, SDG. Like you I would think even higher of the film at this moment if it offered more insight into the presence/absence of spiritual values in the two worlds that Martha navigates.