Writer-director Sean Durkin’s first feature film, Martha Marcy May Marlene, deals with the trauma of life inside and after escaping a cult — though that word is never used in the film.
The film is both beautiful and unsettling. But more unsettling for Durkin was how easy it was to find former cult members to discuss their experiences while researching the project.
Where did the idea for this movie start?
It started with just a very simple desire to maybe make a film about a cult. I felt like I hadn’t seen anything that was modern and naturalistic. I wanted to do something that showed a little bit more of the subtle manipulation. I started writing and I just started talking about it, and when you start talking about it, people are always like, ‘Oh my friend grew up in one. I’m sure he’d be happy to talk to you.’ It’s amazing. I didn’t have to go out and search. It’s really common, which is very strange.
The word “cult” never comes up in the movie.
We never used the word “cult” until after the movie was finished and we had to start talking about it, because there’s no other word to use.
So your first feature film premieres at Sundance, where Fox Searchlight buys it, then it goes to Cannes and Toronto followed by a fall release, all in the same year. How’s that been?
It’s been really interesting. You make your movie and you do the best you can do, and then you put it out and you have no idea how anybody’s going to respond, you know?