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Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Title: Martha Marcy May Marlene  
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Subject: Elizabeth Olsen, Denver Film Critics Society, Louisa Krause, Sarah Paulson, 2011 Sundance Film Festival
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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sean Durkin
Produced by Antonio Campos
Patrick S. Cunningham
Written by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen
John Hawkes
Sarah Paulson
Hugh Dancy
Music by Daniel Bensi
Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography Jody Lee Lipes
Edited by Zachary Stuart-Pontier
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release dates
  • January 21, 2011 (2011-01-21) (Sundance)
  • October 21, 2011 (2011-10-21) (United States: limited)
Running time 102 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1 million[2]
Box office $3.5 million[3]

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a 2011 American drama thriller film written and directed by Sean Durkin, and starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy. The plot focuses on a young woman suffering from delusions and paranoia after returning to her family from an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains. The film contains several references to the music of Jackson C. Frank.


Early one morning, Martha flees from an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains that is led by an enigmatic leader, Patrick. She phones her sister Lucy, eventually asking for her help. Lucy picks her up from a nearby bus station and takes Martha to her lake house in Connecticut which she shares with her husband, Ted. Martha only tells Lucy that she had been living with her boyfriend in the Catskill Mountains, leaving out all mention of the cult. During the following days, Martha continues to exhibit unusual behavior, with little regard for the norms of conventional American society.

In a flashback, Martha is seen meeting Patrick for the first time. He declares that she "looks like a Marcy May". It is explained to Martha that the group is working toward being self-sufficient on their farm. Patrick rapes her, and afterward another woman assures her that she was "lucky" to have Patrick as her first sex partner. Later, he sings Jackson C. Frank's song "Marcy's Song" in front of the group, and now addresses Martha as Marcy May. The cult members are shown swimming naked together at a waterfall.

At the lake house, Martha walks into Lucy and Ted's room while they are having sex and gets into bed with them. A horrified Lucy explains that this is not "normal" behavior, and Ted is furious about the incident. Martha continues to struggle with the return to her old life.

In another flashback to her time on the farm, Martha introduces a new girl, Sarah, to life on the farm. She explains that they all help out with Katie and Patrick's baby. When Sarah comments that all the infants in the community are boys, Martha ominously replies that "he only has boys". Martha later prepares Sarah for her "special night" with Patrick, presumably the same ritual of rape that Martha experienced. The preparation includes drinking a drugged drink.

During another flashback while teaching Martha to shoot, Patrick asks her to kill a cancer-ridden cat to prove that she is "a teacher and a leader", but she refuses. He then asks her to shoot another cult member; she refuses to do this as well. One night, Martha, Watts, and Zoe break into a house and steal valuables. In another scene, several cult members have sex in one room while Patrick watches from a stairway.

In the present, Martha becomes increasingly paranoid that the cult is watching her. Lucy continues to struggle to understand what has happened to Martha. Ted suggests they seek help for Martha, telling Lucy that she needs to be moved to a mental health facility.

In a flashback, Martha, Watts, and Zoe break into another house but are found by the owner. They go to leave, but Patrick appears and confronts the owner, questioning whether he will call the police. The man orders the group out and promises not to call the police, but the elder female member of the group, Katie, stabs him in the back. They quickly leave, with Martha clearly in shock. Martha is later shown answering the phone, using the name "Marlene Lewis"—a name that all the women use on the phone to conceal their identities. Martha struggles in the aftermath of the attack, and Patrick tries to convince her that death is actually a good thing.

After a nightmare at the lake house, Martha attacks Ted in her confusion. This leads Lucy to confront Martha, making it clear she must leave and informing her that they will pay for her treatment. Martha coldly states that Lucy will be a "terrible mother".

The next morning, Martha goes swimming in the lake and sees a man watching her from the opposite shore. Ted and Lucy then drive Martha to her treatment facility when the same man from the lake runs in front of Ted's car. He gets into a car parked on the side of the road and appears to follow them. Martha nervously looks back as they drive on, but doesn't say anything.



Martha Marcy May Marlene premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in January,[4] with Durkin winning the festival's U.S. Directing Award for Best Drama.[5] It also screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival[6][7] and screened at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2011.[8] The film received a limited release in the United States on October 21, 2011.

In its opening weekend in limited release, Martha Marcy May Marlene grossed $137,651 in the United States.[9]

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released Martha Marcy May Marlene on DVD and Blu-ray on February 21, 2012.[10]


The film received highly positive reviews, while Olsen's performance as the traumatized Martha met with critical acclaim; the film holds a 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus capsule stating, "Led by a mesmerizing debut performance from Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a distinctive, haunting psychological drama."[11] On Metacritic the film has a 76 out of 100 "Metascore".[12] Christy Lemire of the Associated Press named Martha Marcy May Marlene the best film of 2011.[13] Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, describing Olsen as "a genuine discovery ... She has a wide range of emotions to deal with here, and in her first major role, she seems instinctively to know how to do that." Ebert's only major complaint was that the movie's chronological shifts were "a shade too clever. In a serious film, there is no payoff for trickery."[14]


Award Category Recipient(s) Outcome
[15] Best Breakthrough Performance Elizabeth Olsen Won
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association Best Film Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best New Filmmaker Sean Durkin Won
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Won
Breakthrough Film Artist For directing and screenwriting Sean Durkin Nominated
Breakthrough Film Artist For Acting Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Most Promising Filmmaker Sean Durkin Won
Most Promising Performer Elizabeth Olsen Won
Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original Sean Durkin Nominated
Denver Film Critics Society Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Breakout Star Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society Breakthrough Performance Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Pauline Kael Breakout Award Elizabeth Olsen Won
Ghent International Film Festival Special Mention Elizabeth Olsen Won
Grand Prix (Best Film) Sean Durkin Nominated
Gotham Awards Best Ensemble Cast Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Louisa Krause, Julia Garner, Brady Corbet, Maria Dizzia, Christopher Abbott Nominated
Breakthrough Actress Award Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Breakthrough Director Award Sean Durkin Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best Female Lead Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best First Feature Antonio Campos (producer), Sean Durkin (director), Patrick Cunningham (producer), Josh Mond (producer), Chris Maybach (producer) Nominated
Best Supporting Male John Hawkes Nominated
Producers Award Josh Mond Nominated
Indiana Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards New Generation Award Sean Durkin, Antonio Campos, Josh Mond, Elizabeth Olsen Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Editing Zachary Stuart-Pontier Nominated
Best Lead Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Sean Durkin Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Elizabeth Olsen Won
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
Sundance Film Festival Directing Award (Dramatic) Sean Durkin Won
Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) Sean Durkin Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best First Feature Sean Durkin Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Village Voice Film Poll Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated


  1. ^ (15)"Martha Marcy May Marlene".  
  2. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene".  
  3. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene".  
  4. ^ "2011 Sundance Film Festival Announces Films in Competition". December 1, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
  5. ^ Guerrasio, Jason (May 15, 2011). "Sean Durkin". Screen Daily. Archived from the original on August 10, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Official Selection". Cannes Film Festival official site. Retrieved April 16, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Cannes film festival 2011: The full lineup".  
  8. ^ Lambert, Christine (2011), "Martha Marcy May Marlene premiere photos – 36th Toronto International Film Festival",, retrieved January 4, 2012 
  9. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for October 21–23, 2011".  
  10. ^ Whitman, Howard. "Blu-ray Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene". Technologytell. Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  11. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene".  
  12. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene".  
  13. ^ "AP movie critic Christy Lemire's top 10 films of 2011". December 27, 2011. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 15, 2014. 
  15. ^ "2011 EDA Awards Winners". Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  • Vizcarrondo, Sara Maria, "Martha Marcy May Marlene", Box Office Magazine, September 12, 2011
  • Zakarin, Jordan, "'Martha Marcy May Marlene' Director, Producers Talk Cults, Time Shifts & Elizabeth Olsen", The Huffington Post, September 12, 2011

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