While flashbacks in film portray a character’s memories, a filmmaker’s access to their construction is less infinite—excessive underpinning is often dull surplus. Unlike memory, where we store and then recall, flashbacks require a single dip that interjects the past into the present, somewhat magically. In Sean Durkin’s feature debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene, flashbacks are not only used to tell a story, but to plot two disparate—yet eerily agreeing—worlds: a cult that functions as a family and a family that in its sterility and staged propriety evokes cult-like isolation. In one scene, Martha, bewitchingly played by Elizabeth Olsen with the pulpy steadfast innocence of a young Maria Schneider, pees herself as a memory from the cult she’s escaped haunts her. A patch on her pink dress darkens, and Martha, startled, stuffs it with childlike guilt under the bed in her sister’s spotless summer home.
JOHN HAWKES: If Patrick had been an obvious con man or a moustache-twirling Svengali, you know, pure-evil-at-a-first-glance kind of guy, I don’t think we’re as interested in Lizzie’s character, Martha. I mean, if we can understand why she wanted to follow this person, then I think we’re with her on the journey. For the story, to find dimension and depth in Patrick and to not tip his hand immediately, it’s often fun as an actor to figure out the ultimate truth of a character and then through layers and layers and layers on top of that, I’d rather just peek out once in a while. It’s always thrilling for me as an audience member when I see that kind of thing.
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No matter the movie or chracter (though the story must be set in modern times), Brad Pitt is always able to find his nook in a chair or couch, slouch at a slight angle, and cross his legs in the exact same informal manner. Every time, the identical sitting stance—a more relaxed version of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct—one foot bobbing a little, matching the manner in which he eats. (Brad Pitt is often tossing snack foods into his mouth)
Immobility, rest, what isn’t seen, the little of what is, idle waiting paired with a wheelchaired Jimmy Stewart in woebegone blue pajamas, creates a distinct stillness; the mark of a New York summer heatwave and the mania of having, perhaps, witnessed murder.
Square and rectangular windows, brick walls, framed photographs, flash bulbs, brisk loud sounds—the set is made up of hard lines, and immovable things. But Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont breaks the rigidity—dynamic and lissome—as though her feet are attached to spinning records, as if her clothes are made of air. She is iridescent. She enters the small Greenwich Village apartment in bountiful Edith Head gowns, posing and twirling, tossing on a chiffon shoulder-wrap, lounging in chartreuse, moving with ease around all of his stuff. Even her nightgown appears unreal: a filmy glow that follows her.
But Lisa Fremont’s mobility, in all of her gossamer goodness, has a clear purpose. Near the end, she climbs a fire escape and slides through an open window as her boyfriend watches panickedly from across the courtyard. She is spry, agile, nimble. And it comes as no surprise.