There have been a few scattered discussions to this film but not yet a thread. I think it deserves one since it’s a provocative film that to my mind fails. On one hand, the film is beautifully shot and visually impressive, especially for a first time director. The acting is also great. On the other hand, the film didn’t work at all for me (but somehow I’m still giving it 3 stars). The flashback structure of the film is at the root of its problems which works to create shallow juxtapositions to hammer the director’s point home (yes, the stifling life of the upper-middle class is cold and unappealing while the communal hippie Charles Mansonesque alternative ain’t so great when it reveals its ugliness/violence underneath). The open ending felt like an obvious cop-out than anything else. In narrative terms, everything was so telegraphed that nothing much was at stake and you can see where the film was going from the beginning.
I liked the dual-linear structure of the film, and I neither liked nor disliked the ending.
What I thought didn’t work about the film was I didn’t think the film sold her indoctrination very well. The film didn’t convince me that Martha would reasonably be won over by what it showed me. Tony wasn’t charismatic. The cult ramped up the craziness before I believed Martha was primed for it.
The rest of the film I thought was solid, but the lack of a convincing brainwash breaks it for me.
Also, I would disagree that the main point was ‘Upper middle class life is cold and unappealing’, so much as ‘Yuppies put lifestyle before loyalty’, and I think that lack of distinct purpose and sense of togetherness is part of what drove her to the cult in the first place. Her family gave her no place to belong, so she looked desperately for another one. Only, oops, these guys are domineering burglar-murderers.
“and I think that lack of distinct purpose and sense of togetherness is part of what drove her to the cult in the first place. Her family gave her no place to belong, so she looked desperately for another one. Only, oops, these guys are domineering burglar-murderers.”
Yeah, this is pretty obvious within the film but I don’t think it’s fair to say “her family gave her no place to belong”. Her sister is obviously dealing with some guilt on that issue. She was much older (doesn’t give ages but I’d give them a 15-year difference) and just not present in her life so when Martha vanishes, she wouldn’t even notice. Faced with her sister’s return, she tries hard but is unable to connect with her at any level. The film at least isn’t too harsh and judgmental against her and her husband as people at least. I think it would have turned the film even worse if it played them for stereotypical yuppies. At a narrative level, the film doesn’t sell much at all. It’s part of its willful obliqueness. I reach the point where I conclude that willful obliqueness is bad storytelling.
Lesile My Name is Evil is a much better film on the subject.
I don’t think the problem is that they were willfully oblique, I think the problem is that they tried to show you exactly how Martha was brainwashed by the cult, only they didn’t show things that believably would brainwash anyone.
“I think the problem is that they tried to show you exactly how Martha was brainwashed by the cult”
All they showed was that the leader was nice to her and charismatic. Not very much. They didn’t even show how she arrived there, how they recruited people, etc. The “initiation ritual” was lame.
They showed what’s her name explaining to her “You’ll find your role”, they showed her being taught how to use a firearm, they showed her being taught all that psuedo-spiritual garbage, and yes, that lame initiation ritual. I got the impression we were supposed to think this is what won her over.
…they didn’t show things that believably would brainwash anyone.
There is a weird sort of tautology to that assertion.
Was the film supposed to brainwash you into believing that brainwashing is believable?
It could have, I don’t know, convinced me of its own premise.
I’m not even sure if we’re supposed to feel that she’s being “brainwashed” since the film is torn whether the cult’s way of life is much worse than the other one presented in the film. Why she joined is presented in too easy of a way – you just need a charismatic leader and an empty vessel filled with longing. I think the filming of such scenes in part compensate for the narrative weakness since they draw you in through lots of slow-moving pans and out of focus elements which create an expressive interiority of the main character that’s largely missing in the overt characterization.
John Hawkes is on my short list of actors I can watch in just about anything.
Well, to do that one would have to A) believe in brainwashing and B) know the correct steps involved.
Have you ever seen a brainwashing done such that you believed it occurred?
Are films asking us to suspend disbelief to the degree, so that the expository nature of showing those steps isn’t boring us? especially if we don’t believe in it?
I’m trying to recall The Manchurian Candidate….
It’s easy to allow oneself to be taken in by the idea that “M” was not quite ‘weird’ to begin with – but what kind of person truly does allow her individuality to be pulverized? When you meet people like this is real life, it’s immediately evident that functionality is a cloak they wear and that they’re as cooky and disassociated as blazes. To sympathize with “M” makes this film kind of like a good version of Black Swan. Still terrifying, but I resent it slightly less. The conceit of both films – milked for sensation by Aronofsky – is that when one encounters madness that’s this far gone, what reaction is there but to gawk in horror? And entertainment. Doing it for entertainment’s sake is what I can’t do and why Aronofsky’s conceit is misguided (for this viewer). Mr. Durkin, however, is not simply entertaining but is taking a hard genuine look, and utilizing bias and sympathy and plenty of re-evaluating of our modern lifestyles. I guess it took a kook to get us there.
I don’t buy the idea that the film is torn about which life is better. I get no sense in the film that a life of slavery and subversion is preferable to the flaws of ‘normal’ life. I get the sense that the cult offered her the sense of stability her sister didn’t, but no sense at all that the cult made her happy.
I don’t believe in ‘brianwashing’ in the Manchurian Candidate sense, but I believe in conditioning. A person looking for belonging can be gradually conditioned to feel an insane situation is normal, and have their desire to differ and resist gradually broken, but not unless they start by indoctrinating her to their way of thinking and making her feel like an invested part of the community.
In MMMM, they didn’t take the time to invest her, they jumped right to the drugging and raping practically right after ushering her in the door.
Scientologists don’t immediately tell you about Lord Zemu and brainwashed alien souls, they start by just offering an alternative to psychiatry for solving your emotional issues, and then when you’re invested, they spring the cosmology on you. If they had spent just a little more time at the beginning of the film getting her invested and making her really feel like a part of something, it would have been far more believable for her to tolerate the complete domination.