Martha Marcy May Marlene

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Martha Marcy May Marlene Movie Poster Image
Disquieting indie drama reveals the cost of cult life.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 101 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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

Positive Role Models & Representations

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bybobward April 24, 2016
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... Continue reading
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 impo... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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