Like Jeff Nichols’s Take Shelter—its only real rival for the title of Fall’s Best American Film—Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene concludes on a shot that’s either totally declarative or sneakily ambiguous. In both cases, it’s up to the viewer to decide whether the filmmaker has placed all of his cards on the table or is still holding a couple close to the vest. The comparisons between the two films don’t end there, either. While largely dissimilar in terms of style and subject matter, Take Shelter and Martha Marcy May Marlene are movies that warily examine gender roles—flipped mirror images of characters looking for a way out to find themselves ever more tightly constricted. Read Adam Nayman’s review
RS: Was the idea always to tell the film through two separate timelines?
SD: I thought it would be the best way to represent the character’s confusion. It also came out from some of the research I did early on about cults—one of the first things I learned is that in a lot of cases, these groups don’t use clocks or calendars or anything that lets people keep track of time. It ties into some aspects of Buddhist philosophy, that there’s no such thing as the past, that everything is taking place in an eternal present. So I had the idea of [Martha] getting lost in time as soon as she leaves the compound—lost in time, or maybe stuck in time.