Now that it's getting cold again, I sure do miss the feel of the sun on my bare arms and legs. Thank god Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) became available on HBOGo so I got to revisit the nostalgia of summer warmth again. It's not bitter cold in MA yet though it sure will be in MI where I plan to go visit some friends for thanksgiving. Brrr I still have mixed feelings between feeling excited to go visit friends I haven't seen since high school and dreading the horrible chills and W-I-N-D-Y weather the glorious Midwest is known for. It's my first time seeing Elizabeth Olsen on screen (MK and Ashley's little sister FYI) who was absolutely fantastic in her film debut, and of course it was neat to see John Hawkes again after his great performance in Winter's Bone (2010). There are no major spoilers here so please feel safe to go ahead and read.
I probably would have considered this film particularly noteworthy fashion-wise, if I had not become so overzealous about basics for the past year. People should really see how hard I try to hunt down for the best basics IRL. I'm most probably overdoing it a little, but there's something so gratifying about finding a reliable basic that works exactly the way you want it to every single damn time. What I really loved about the styling in this film, is that the clothing gets repeated, gets shared around the cult members even, so that it all looks very real and lived in, in ways that I haven't seen much in a contemporary film in a while. Everything down to the styling, cinematography, and the portrayal of the cult even feels organic and realistic. This is what grounds the film, making it not only relatable but highly plausible in that you as the audience, too could become so disillusioned by mainstream society like Olsen's Martha, that you too could run away to the mountains to become part of the cult.
Though Martha seems overtly crazy and paranoid as she moves away from the cult to move in with her sister and her husband (guardians of mainstream society), it is only reasonable as part of the transition and adjustments she has to make from one lifestyle to another. Despite how the word "cult" has negative connotations of being insular, dark and sinister and while the cult depicted here does have some eye-brow raising moments, there is a certain logic to their alternative way of living. Firstly, everybody is put to good use in that all contributes some way one or another to the collective. Secondly, they try to live off subsistence farming (for the most part) which is admirable. I greatly appreciate how the film chose to be politic and subtle in not favouring one side over the other. The cult is not as wholesome as it appears to be and similarly, the WASPy lifestyle of Martha's sister and husband are not as glamourous as it seems either.
The stylistic highlight of the movie for me has to be the simple white dress she wears for the party. Again it is one of the more climatic moments of the film, which I'm sure is not a mere coincidence. In my younger days I would probably have thought this as boring, but now that my tastes in fashion has become more cultivated, I can truly appreciate the austere minimalistic qualities of the dress. It is effective in making her look strikingly younger and more innocent than the party guests around her – a young woman in bloom – which serves its own narrative purposes as well. This is a moment where the person wears the dress and not letting the dress wear her, in spite of how in this particular case, she is visibly anxious at the party. Damn those good looking Olsen genes.
For those who haven't seen the film, go check it out. It's a stimulating treat visually and intellectually. Can't wait to see the future works of either Miss Olsen and Sam Durkin (who double duty-ed as screenwriter and director).