In the film Martha Marcy May Marlene, we see a young girl and her struggles after she escapes from a cult. We see through flashback what her life was like living in a cult and also how she tries to cope after she has left the cult. According to the popular idea that a cult is a dangerous and undesirable religious group we know that it includes ten of the following attributes:
Cults brainwash their members through systematic programs of indoctrination. In this cult the members believe different things from normal society. When Patrick rapes Martha, the other women tell her that it was a good thing, even if it seems bad, and that she is lucky to have her first time with Patrick. They have been brainwashed into thinking when the cult leader rapes a new member it is a good thing. When Martha “handles” the new member Sarah she says the exact same thing she was told when she joined the cult, “it takes time to find your role in a new family”. We see that Martha has been brainwashed to say the same things as the other members and that she is teaching Sarah to do the same.
Cults damage the mental health of members, which is usually irreversible. In the film we see that Martha has hallucinations. She tells her sister that she cannot tell the difference between memories and dreams. At a party Martha thinks she sees a member of the cult and she has a panic attack. Martha also forgets normal social behaviours after she has left the cult like when she went swimming at the lake house she jumped in without a bathing suit and did not understand why it was wrong. She has no filter and blurts out inappropriate things, like asking her sister and her husband if it is true that married people don’t have sex. Martha walks into Lucy’s room while she and her husband are having sex and gets into bed with them. She doesn’t understand that it is wrong to do this. She no longer realizes what is right and wrong.
Cults, generally, ruin the lives of their members, which we see has happened to Martha. Martha is unable to live a ‘normal’ life after her time with the cult. Even if she escaped the cult physically, it has ruined her mentally and she is unable to cope with normal life. She is mentally unstable and does not know how to act like a regular member of society. Her family tries to help her to readjust, but she needs professional help if she has any chance of living a normal life again.
Cult leaders are typically charismatic and authoritarian and members submit wholly to their will. Patrick is very kind and charming when he meets Martha. Patrick is very clearly in charge of the cult, and none of the other cult members speak against him or defy him. Patrick knows what to say to get the members to do what he wants. When Martha was upset about seeing the old man get stabbed, Patrick told Martha that she was his favourite and that he would expect less of her. He appears to be kind, but when he shows his true self he is very cold and cruel, but we only see this once Martha is in too deep and cannot escape.
Cult leaders exploit members financially and sexually. Patrick sexually abused Martha, Sarah and other members. He watches as a few have sexual intercourse. We see that Patrick raped Martha while she was sleeping, but the other cult members do not see this as a bad thing. One of the other female members tells Martha that she called her father to get money because the cult really needs something. She says that Patrick asked her to do this occasionally because they need the money. We see that Patrick is exploiting the members sexually and financially.
Cults are usually communal and totalistic in organization, so they can better control their members. Everyone wakes up at the same time (woken by banging pots and pans). The cult members do everything together, eat, sleep, etc. at the same time. They live on a small farm so all the members work together, sleep together, and eat together to maintain order and