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Epstein, O.B. (2013). Martha Marcy May Marlene, Director Sean Durkin (2011). Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(2):219-221.

(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(2):219-221

Martha Marcy May Marlene, Director Sean Durkin (2011)

Review by:
Orit Badouk Epstein

After fleeing an abusive cult in the Catskills Mountains in Upstate New York, the young traumatised Martha tries to reconnect with her sister. Haunted by painful memories and flashbacks, Martha (mesmerisingly acted by Elizabeth Olsen), struggles to adapt to living with her sister Lucy and her sister's husband, Ted.

This compelling and eerie thriller-drama takes us behind the scenes of an apparently idyllic farming community which soon enough is revealed to be a sex-based cult, where a high level of control is maintained. Evening meals are taken in silence; women eat apart and after the men; food and thoughts are all rationed. At the start, the cult leader welcomes the newcomer Martha, with a deceptive and creepy kindness, making her feel special and the chosen one; “you look like Marcy May.” Marcy May is a fragment of her real name and he deliberately renames her to control her vulnerable self.

The film reflects upon the typical aspects of cult manipulation and mind control such as the sharing of the name Marlene between all the female members of the community whenever they deal with the outside world. This is a classic and deliberate example of identity confusion and is one of the many common steps that cults use to break down new members and programme them. This confusion is often helped by the absence of clocks, watches, or calendars so that members lose track of time and do not know how long they have been somewhere. Cults often cut people off from society, re-name them, and tell them that their old lives were the wrong way to live.

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