Martha Marcy May Marlene – Movie Review
When I left Michael Guen’s cult, my exit counselor David recommended that I watch several movies and Youtube videos that depicted manipulation and coercion in a destructive cult. Education is a key factor in learning to let go of deeply instilled fears. Through learning about cult relationships, you become more aware that other people have been in your same situation as well. You can also start to feel that you are not alone and that it was not your fault. Many of the movies I watched portrayed realistic dynamics and oftentimes, they addressed one-on-one cult relationships – abusive relationships where one could easily see brainwashing occurring.
When Karl first heard about Martha Marcy May Marlene and showed me the write up for the movie, I was intrigued to come across a film which depicted the post-traumatic associated with leaving a cult. The main character named Martha (who subsequently become renamed “Marcy May” by her cult leader Patrick) is played by the sister of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth Olsen. The name change is reminiscent of Michael’s influence in changing names in the group, a common practice in destructive cults for erasing a person’s past identity. Olsen does an excellent job showing the audience the subtleties of a person walking away from a group, as well as the paranoia and lack of boundaries which seemed evident in her behavior.
Several times throughout the movie, I actually got a little uneasy. Even though I left Michael Guen’s group almost two years ago and have processed much of my experience there, I still get a reaction when I watch others going through similar experiences. For example, in the movie, at one point Martha defends herself vehemently when her brother-in-law asks her about what she wants to do now for a job. She strongly states that she is a “leader and a teacher” and implies that he does not know anything. Basically, she begins to spew out the cult language like a knee jerk reaction.
These words were chillingly similar to the jargon talk that Michael Guen instilled in all of us. He tried to convince the women that we were “leaders and teachers” about to save the world. Yet all along, he insisted on taking command of the whole so-called “business development” process. He promoted the women as teachers and yet, oftentimes the women would not have control over creating their own curriculum. His primary motivation for encouraging the women to recruit others was to have more woman power for his own selfish cause.
The movie also depicted the specific ways that Patrick, the cult leader, singled out women that he was interested in sexually. He had others who had already been initiated take on a mentor role with the newbie women. At one point in the movie, you see the elder women crushing a sedative and sprinkling it into a green smoothie to give to one of the newer women. The new women would subsequently go unconscious and have their first night with Patrick where they were raped (which they called a cleansing process).
I found this scene to be incredibly disturbing. Guen had a way of seducing women and singling out the ones that he thought were particularly beautiful and attractive. He would then manipulate them to fall in love with him or simply be attracted to him, all the while telling them that they needed to be opened sexually in order to feel fulfillment in their lives. Furthermore, not many of the women who left the group ever spoke out about him because they were manipulated to believe that they were the ones to blame.
The character Martha in the movie goes through intense fear when she leaves the group and unfortunately this is very common for people who walk away from their cults or escape but are unable to receive the necessary help after they leave. They may blame themselves or still have fear of their leader coming after them. They may be haunted by the memories of immoral things that they were forced to do, once again inappropriately taking responsibility for things that happened to them in the cult.
I thought the movie had an interesting portrayal of the post-cult experience, weaving together flashbacks seamlessly with present life. However, I found the overall ending of the movie to be disturbing and unhelpful to people who actually wish to learn about cults and cult recovery. There is already so little education out there in regards to the process of cult recovery and getting help to people who need it. This independent film had the potential for being a vehicle of advocacy.
If there was more hope in the ending of the movie, along with a sense of education for the sister and brother-in-law who are desperately trying to deal with Martha’s process of breakdown (she never reveals what she went through to them), then the movie would have much more of a positive impact in educating the public about the detrimental effects of destructive cults. I realize that it is for thrilling, entertainment purposes, but it can also be a more effective experience to enlighten the true effects and damages of cults.
Photo Credit: Giandomenico Ricci via Flickr Creative Commons