I missed out on Martha Marcy May Marlene when it screened at The Little (240 East Ave.) a few weeks back, but I got a chance to see it at The Cinema Theatre (957 South Clinton Ave.) as part of a double-feature with Margin Call.
I'll start with Margin Call and say just a little: it's the story of the 2008 financial meltdown convincingly told with a sympathetic eye to the people closest to the problem. It really only served to reinforce my opinion that the stock market is nothing more than gambling with no relevance to any real value in the world. It was good, solid entertainment.
Martha Marcy May Marlene plays out largely in flashback: the tale of a woman indoctrinated into a rural cult. I think most people watch the film as a sort of horror/thriller, exposing the layers of lies, power, and brainwashing that get an otherwise reasonable person to embrace completely absurd notions. But I guess I come from a weird perspective, and saw it as a tale that compares two cults: one at a rural farm, and the other, American industrialized society. When Martha (a.k.a. Marcy May as named by the cult leaders, or Marlene when any of the women answered the phone) is reacquainted with her sister Lucy, she returns to Lucy and her husband Ted's summer home (none of who utters reference to a "cult" as none either knows or believes it). She first showers and when she rejoins Lucy on a bed, Lucy says, "oh, you're dripping", referring to Martha's wet hair. Particularly given the more important things going on, why is this even remotely important?: it is the Lucy/Ted/American culture's set of arbitrary and irrelevant rules.
Like Kynodontas (Dogtooth) (which I saw at the Dryden), the film acts as a mirror to our own society. My culture's foundation is violence: if I don't do what I'm supposed to do, society responds with force (which may sound familiar, taken from Derrick Jensen's philosophy). For instance, if I decide that the house I have been living in (exclusively, for the last 12 years, and no other person has come by to claim it is theirs) is mine and I decide to no longer pay my mortgage, eventually someone will come with a gun and tell me I have to leave. That is the incentive for paying my mortgage. Of course, it's conditioned from an early age, so it doesn't seem like that's the reason, but it ultimately is.
I of course know the differences between my culture and the cult, but the lines were pretty severely blurred by the end of the film. It's kind of a "choose your own poison" kind of tale. Martha is a pawn in the game where she's either enslaved to pay for her existence, or, well, enslaved to pay for her existence. There's happiness and misery to be found in both places only at different times and in different forms. But ultimately she's asking the right questions: why do I have to?