Archive | February, 2013

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) written and directed by Sean Durkin

25 Feb


If I were to ask you to provide some watching material on domestic violence, you might create a list that looked something like this. Once We Were Warriors jumps out as a particularly brutal vision of what a violent relationship means. I expect the majority of the population associate domestic violence with images of women dealt a black eye or worse. The reality is that domestic abuse is pretty much akin to Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has been living for two years under the guise of Marcy May in a commune somewhere. She’s not sure where exactly but she thinks it’s in New York state. We see her running away from it at the beginning of the film. She’s hiding, trembling, clearly afraid, being approached by a man. Recognised, paralysed, then relieved when he doesn’t make her go back – she telephones her sister, who comes to collect her, marking the beginning of Martha’s return to society.

If you’ve ever found yourself living in fear, you might relate to her plight. All she can do is run from the commune, from the brainwashed state, but by starting the process of running away she has also started the process of confronting herself, having to figure out and cope with whatever it was that made her so compatible to this damaging relationship with a cult. She has to work out what segments of her personality are actualised from other people’s values, what parts of herself originate in her own beliefs, like any broken relationship. Only this was a prolonged disfunctional affair with a whole group of people – influenced by the presence of a leader whose power was continually reinforced by their agreement – where she found comfort in losing individuality, losing a sense of identity. But where was the security among that? Where was Martha?

A psychoanalyst once told me that he didn’t think the nuclear family is the ideal state for raising offspring. The appeal of a cult is that as human beings we’re driven towards groups, yet we also need leadership and someone or something to direct us. Otherwise we’re faced with fear of ourselves, disorder, inertia. Being in an individual state, instead of being led, is a frightening state. Martha has found the courage to leave and look her fear of being an individual in the eye. But back in the big bad world she is juxaposed against a background of ‘normal’ and starts to behave like a confused chameleon who has lost its ability to transform the pattern of its skin in order to go unnoticed. She cannot adjust.

Still shrouded in paralyzing fear, she hallucinates, she is trapped in memory, strung out like a fly lured into a web designed by a pain that she has not yet begun to elaborate upon or understand. We learn that when her mother died, her sister and aunt became her only family. We learn of the domination of the cult by the leader, Patrick, drugging the new girls and then ‘cleansing’ them with his cock, at first unacceptable but then her roommate tells her ‘you’re lucky,’ which sparks a path of internalisation. Eventually Martha herself is delivering girls to Patrick’s door.

Out of the cult, at her sister’s retreat house, normal stuff like not getting into bed with two people when they are fucking, or drinking alcohol, or swimming naked, becomes such an intense challenge that Martha flips. She picks up the phone and calls the cult. An eerie girl’s voice answers. But even creepier is the moment she hangs up the phone. It rings right back. It serves as a reminder that you can take the girl out of the cult, but you can’t take the cult out of the girl.

And that’s how it is with domestic violence and psychologically abusive relationships. No matter how far removed you are, no matter if bruises have faded, it’s stepping back to examine more closely what occurs inside yourself, inside the relationship, so difficult to do, to turn what’s wrong on the outside inside out and cleanse yourself, lead and teach yourself while removed from the problem, while a long way away physically; self-perpetuating, still going through it, still working it through. For the cure to what’s wrong is the same as the poison already consumed.


Genre Observation

11 Feb

Genre Observation

DJANGO UNCHAINED dir. Quentin Tarantino (2012)

7 Feb

 What Quentin Tarantino does well in a movie is create the feeling of mythology, a kind of significance, building the slightest action into what seems like the grandest gesture. I suspect during filming he gives his actors clear instructions about exactly what he sees working and gets them to do it again and again until there are enough takes to choose from. But that’s what directors do. So what else does Tarantino do?

For a start Django Unchained could equally nobly be titled just Django, like the original 60’s western. But Django Unchained gives insight into the over-emphasis so typical of the director. In fact, after I came out of the Curzon on Shaftesbury Avenue, the thought of having seen Django Unchained was enough in itself to cause a supressed laugh.

Django (Jamie Foxx) we don’t know as a slave, other than for a minute at the start, naked and chained, about to be freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter posed as dentist. Django has the info that will help Dr. Schultz locate a band of badmen. Together they arrive at the plantation in time to witness a flogging. Of course, Django is black, thereby raising some eyebrows riding his own horse while wearing fancy silks. But when he dismounts, spies the wanted men and rescues a girl strung for whipping, it’s more than eyebrows that are raised. He takes the men out, one by one, with venom, securing his revenge.

Before watching Django Unchained, statements on facebook that Tarantino is past it left me intrigued, but even more so once I’d seen it. It’s not the best of his films but it’s not at all bad. As brutal as the rest, Jackie Brown is my favorite Tarantino movie; a crisp white shirt packs a slick punch that no amount of punching can pack. Django Unchained, from the moonlit forest opening, would appear to be on par. A spin on a parody of the classic spaghetti western genre, the detail, the significance, the subtle force that leaves the viewer mesmerised and wondering how the effect was achieved – wanting to unpack the punch so to speak – it was just right. Incidentally, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker agrees (you can read his review here). He spells the downturn of the film out as the word Mississippi sprawling across the screen halfway through, the cutting point, beyond which the pace changes.

Mississippi is where Django and Dr. Schultz gain the trust of Calvin Candie (Leonardo di Caprio), a Francophile slave dealer specialising in fights, who happens to own Django’s wife Boomhilda (Kerry Washington). Violence in the second half of the film appears thrown in for the horror of it. It keeps the pace ticking over: a stick of dynamite here, flesh beaten to pulp there. Is this cause for contempt towards Tarantino’s style? Or reason for celebrating it? It certainly raised a laugh amongst the crowd. Plus the director made a cameo or three.

Django escapes from the film unscathed, fresh faced, with his woman by his side, glowing and ready for the sequel, should there be the need to make further comment on shadows of the past. And if there were it would be a bolder, grander, larger, brighter, intenser and more tactile, more marvellous, more superlative comment than anything else.