Martha Marcy May Marlene

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April 25, 2018 by lucieromarin

I only watched the trailer for this film. It’s about post-cult trauma, and includes flashbacks to cult-membership. It took me right back.

In that two-and-a-half minutes, filmmaker and actors alike captured everything – the understated charisma of the man and the influence of his charm, community, the simplicity and attraction of appearances, the subtlety of language-control, power imbalance, training, post-cult trauma. Obviously I can’t watch the whole thing, and I’d suggest that if you’ve ever exited a psychologically-abusive relationship or group, you shouldn’t watch it either. Actually, don’t even watch the trailer, unless you’re really keen for some reason to be briefly re-traumatised, because I warn you, it is so closely expressive of the real thing that it is re-traumatising. However, if you need to understand such a survivor or experience, then, if my reaction to the trailer is anything to go by, the film itself is probably worth watching. It won’t explain everything, but it might be a start.

The trailer made me wonder if someone involved in the writing or making of the movie had actually been part of a cult or cult-dynamic. Turns out, the director, Sean Durkin, did draw from the experience of a friend’s cult-exit and healing. Reading the reviews suggests that the other themes explored – community as enabler, the exploitation of teenage enchantment with an older, more powerful man, and the ambiguity of everything post-escape – are consistent with the trailer. For the most part, cult-membership is not about strange outfits, doctrines, chants, or UFOs. It’s about the abuse of relationship, as incommunicable as it is unnatural, which is precisely why post-exit trauma is so devastating and healing takes so long.

One other thing. The film interprets the grooming and intoxicating of a teenager for sex, followed by community-insistence that this counts as love, as rape and abuse. CSNSW/Chancery take note.

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