- By Eric Kohn
- November 22, 2011 8:15 AM
- 2 Comments
"Martha Marcy May Marlene."
When I was an undergraduate at NYU, I attended a career lecture by Garrison Keillor in the journalism department, where the "Lake Wobegon" overseer made his ascent to "A Prairie Home Companion" look easy. "I'm here to encourage you to keep writing," he told the room. Keillor's secret? Freelancing! "I've never had a boss," he said.
Easier said than done, GK. The lovable old timer must have known as much but didn't want to admit it. To a roomful of aspiring writers and reporters facing an industry with fewer jobs than one-off gigs and unpaid internships, not to mention a media landscape with an overall questionable future, the paternal Keillor looked like a beacon of hope.
I was thinking about this conflicting experience over the weekend, when I had the chance to watch "Martha Marcy May Marlene" for the second time. I liked the movie just as much I did when I saw it at Sundance, but during this time through I felt more cognizant of the way the vaguely-defined cult that Martha escapes from serves as a microcosm of society. By breaking away in the first scene, Martha demonstrates her realization, on some fundamental level, that her allegiance to a bunch of lunatics did her no good. It's her Garrison Keillor moment. Which is to say: Easier said than done.
Since most discussions about "Martha" revolve around how it attempts to replicate the trauma of living through a brainwashing experience, its larger significance as a story about growing up and fighting assimilation in general has been largely ignored. This angle occurred to me during my latest viewing experience not only because I had seen it once before, but also because I recently watched King Vidor's classic 1928 silent "The Crowd," which also deals quite eloquently with the struggle between capitalist pursuits and freedom of thought. The balance between assimilation and individualism lies at the root of modern human experience, and both movies tap into it with provocative results.