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On Your Radar: Martha Marcy May Marlene
by Karen Pecota

The Sundance Screenwriter-Directors Lab in 2010, opened the door for filmmaker Sean Durkin to develop a full feature film screenplay based on real events linked to being a cult member. His project came to fruition and was selected to debut at the Sundance Film Festival 2011 under the name Martha Marcy May Marlene. Captivated by a personal story from a friend, Durkin thrust himself into a long research project trying to find answers to questions about the realities, the impact and its effect living within the parameters of a cult. Durkin goes one step further to question, “What occurs during a debriefing process, if one gets out of that controlling environment?” Prior to participating in the Sundance Lab in 2010, Durkin premiered a short film Mary Last Seen at the Sundance Film Festival 2010. He went on win the Prix SFR (for short films) in the Directors Fortnight at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. It is not a coincidence that both projects stemmed from his research regarding cult activity in reference to the loss of personal identity. Durkin’s research and film both hit on a topic curious to the world as well.

Love is what Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) was searching for when she met cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) who ran an isolated, self-sustaining farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Martha was young, naïve and beautiful. She was not privy to the world’s narcissistic individuals seeking to control for selfish gain. She was blind to a destructive side of commune living. Martha was the perfect candidate to be drawn into a tight knit circle of peers holding to a family code to be available (accountable) for each other day or night no matter what the task or pleasure. She desperately wanted to be a part of a caring family that would replace her biological one who shared little communication or affection for one another. A few years passed and Martha had been effectively broken of her own desires and thoughts--to a certain degree; but, she knew something was missing and wanted out of the community. Martha’s alias cult names Marcy May and Marlene continued to reinforce in her psyche that she belonged to the group and not to her previous life. Trying to keep her true self alive (Martha) in order to be able to leave the cult took four long years of putting up with the ways of Marcy May and Marlene before she made her break. Martha had made previous attempts to escape the cult and finally succeeded. She mysteriously connected with her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) for assistance in her rescue and her long journey “home”. Martha’s story is one memorable psycho thriller.