Parents' Guide to

Martha Marcy May Marlene

By S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Disquieting indie drama reveals the cost of cult life.

Movie R 2011 101 minutes
Martha Marcy May Marlene Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 4 parent reviews

age 13+
age 13+

Superbly acted, emotionally powerful film

This film is beautifully filmed, and the acting is superb. Elizabeth Olsen is perfect in this role, as is John Hawkes. The main character, Martha, moves into a farm commune that she views her new "family." The commune's leader (Patrick), a man in his late 30's/early 40's, is manipulative but also likable, so it's easy to see how Martha is drawn to him and his group. At the heart of the movie is the issue of trust. At first everything in the group seems idyllic, but as the story unravels, Martha gradually realizes she cannot trust anyone there. Everyone she trusts betrays her and no one is who they seem to be. The 2 most concerning scenes: a rape and a stabbing. Rape: Martha is drugged by the other female members and raped by Patrick. The scene is sick and disturbing, but there's no nudity. Still, it's enough suggestive enough to be inappropriate for younger kids. Stabbing: The group is robbing a house and they are confronted by the owner. A tense conversation ensues, and then one of the group members sneaks up behind the owner and stabs him violently. After fleeing the scene, the group cleans up and Patrick tries to convince Martha that "death is beautiful." The stabbing (and Martha's realization about the group's belief system) is what ultimately causes Martha to run away. The psychological trauma is much more pronounced than anything else. Discussions about trust, empathy, and being true to what you believe can definitely follow watching this film. It is a quality film, but parents should be there to watch it with younger teens. My son, age 14 saw this and liked it a lot. We discussed the whole idea of what a cult is and why Martha would be drawn to it. Note: The word "cult" is never mentioned in the film, and the group is more of a commune than a cult.

This title has:

Too much violence
Too much sex

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (4):
Kids say (1):

This film is quite an astonishing accomplishment. The most stunning thing about MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is that it's the product of a first-time director working with a first-time leading actress, a debut combination that could have, in less able hands, resulted in a forgettable (or worse) mess. What we have instead is a film that will surely launch the pair -- Sean Durkin and Elizabeth Olsen (sister of Ashley and Mary-Kate) into grander stages of their respective careers.

Moody, malevolent, and still deeply empathetic, Martha Marcy May Marlene (which was a huge hit at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) doesn't dare judge Martha's life; it simply presents it. And that's more than enough. The horrors of her stay with Patrick's crew aren't made obvious; its treacherousness compiles until it strangles. Olsen makes great use of the movie's many near-silent moments, letting the camera linger on her face -- which switches from stoic to troubled on a dime. The movie only falters when it forgets to stay delicate, introducing a criminal element that's unnecessary. Can't cult experiences be grievous without them? The damage and dissonance that such isolation exacts is material enough.

Movie Details

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