Martha Marcy May Marlene Movie Poster Image

Martha Marcy May Marlene



Disquieting indie drama reveals the cost of cult life.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 101 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Sometimes your sense of self can override messages that, though packaged gently, may actually be damaging or even malicious.

Positive role models

Martha has a strong sense of self-preservation and is trying to figure her way back to balance. Her sister, Lucy, tries to be supportive but is clearly confused. Firmly in the "negative" camp is Patrick, who's a master of manipulation and treats others cruelly.


A man rapes women while they're drugged and, when they regain consciousness, spins it into something that's supposedly beautiful. He also threatens others and goads some of them into shooting an animal. Another character attacks a stranger in a shocking moment of extreme violence.


One scene depicts group sex (breasts and backsides are visible). Characters kiss; a couple is heard moaning and moving under the covers as they make love. Men and women swim naked in a lake.


Many uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "d--k," "hell," "goddamn," and more.


Discussion about how some people define themselves through material wealth.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some social drinking (beer while hanging out on a boat, cocktails at a party); references to drug use (no one is shown using). Pills are crushed and added to a drink, unbeknownst to the drinker.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this superb indie psychological drama about a young woman's return to her family after years spent with a cult is both deeply engrossing and disturbing, with heavy themes of alienation, family estrangement, and trauma. Young women are sexually assaulted -- the scenes aren't graphic, but they are upsetting -- and a violent crime is committed. Characters drink, smoke (covertly), swear ("s--t," "f--k," and more), and display an unsettling alienation that comes from being traumatized.

What's the story?

Two years after she drops out of her sister Lucy's (Sarah Paulson) life, unreachable and untraceable, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) reappears, calling, perturbed, from a phone booth. So begins the fragile reunion between the two, and Martha's attempt to settle into a reality that no longer feels ordinary. Martha's inability to readjust perplexes Lucy, who's now married (to an architect named Ted, played by Hugh Dancy). Little does Lucy know that all the time they were apart, Martha -- aka Marcy May -- was living on a farm with a cult of young adults led by a guitar-playing, book-loving, menacing older man named Patrick (John Hawkes). Memories of Martha's stay intrude at moments both major and mundane, threatening to destroy her homecoming.

Is it any good?


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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why Martha joined Patrick's group. Was she aware that it was a cult, or is this a realization that comes later? How are cults typically portrayed in the media? Do you think they're ever glamorized?

  • Are the characters and their reactions/decisions believable? Why or why not? Are any of them intended to be role models?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 21, 2011
DVD/Streaming release date:February 21, 2012
Cast:Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson
Director:Sean Durkin
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Run time:101 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language

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Adult Written bybobward April 24, 2016
Teen, 16 years old Written byevolinag February 2, 2013

Intense drama is good at story and acting, but weak at structure. Mature viewers only!

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a drama movie released in 2011. ------------------------- "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is, and that is most important, and independent film. Fans of the big, loud action blockbusters will most likely be unsatisfied with this one, while fans of calmer, more thoughtful movies will be excited and fascinated. And considering that is has not been made with a quite so big budget, it is good. That may be because of the innovative and fascinating plot, involving around a kind-of-sort-of sect and a woman that has managed to flee from this lifestyle, but now suffers extreme paranoia. Also, what we got on the positive side is the brilliant acting from each cast member, and the unsettling, intense athmosphere. But also, at certain parts it seems a little TOO heavy on its calm suspense. Especially since the movie has barely ever score music, and so there are some parts in this movie that can seem all too lengthy. There are several moments you could take out without harming the movie too much. It is far away from being a bad movie, but it isn't quite the highlight it could have been. --------------------------------- (SPOILERS may follow:) As for the age restriction: a man makes women high on drugs, then rapes (?) them, as part of a ritual. The women are kind of sort of willing, but you have to consider they're under drug influence. A man and a women have sex, but get interrupted by Martha, who is coming into the room. A man is knifed unexpectedly (not too strong, but a bit of a jump moment). A woman is asked to shoot a cat, which is said to be sick, in order to relieve it, but she doesn't. But then a man does the job for her, but accidentally shooting the wrong cat (the cats are never seen, but for animal lovers it can seem cruel). There is frequent R-language. The sex scenes are not too graphic, but you have to consider the circumstances. The violence is very infrequent, but when it happens, it can be shocking. The whole athmosphere is dark and intense. It is recommended for viewers 15 and up.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Adult Written bytccampa November 10, 2012

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.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex