Does the ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ Script Give Any Hints Regarding the Film’s Open Ending?

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An unknown man and Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

If you haven’t yet seen Martha Marcy May Marlene, I encourage you to do so as it was only in 113 theaters last weekend and may be gone before you know it. However, the reason I bring it up today is because I just received a hard copy of the shooting script from Fox Searchlight and if you’ll remember, last Monday I linked to a download of the script if you were interested.

Well, thumbing through it I got to what I believe to be the most pivotal point in the film, the ending. Deliberately left open, serving as just one more question as to what state of mind Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is in after fleeing a cult and spending time with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their lakeside home in Connecticut.

I think it goes without saying that this post is a spoiler considering it directly involves the film’s end, but if you didn’t understand that hopefully you do now… spoilers coming.

For anyone that has seen the film, here are how the final pages of the script read as Martha jumps into the lake for one final swim and sees a man just across the water.

NOTE: Yes, I am aware there are spelling errors but that’s how the script is written and so I didn’t change them.

EXT. LAKE HOUSE DOCK – DAY

Martha stands on the dock. She strips down to her underwear and dives in.

Martha swims out into the lake. She drops under the water and out of sight, a burst of bubbles pop up to the surface. A few seconds pass by and she is not coming up. Suddenly she breaks back through the water and gasps for air.

She looks around at the thick woods and a handful of nice homes that appear to be empty now. No one else is swimming.

Martha sees a scruffy MAN sitting on a neighboring dock, he seems familiar. He is in his mid twenties, his jeans are rolled up and his feet dangle in the water. His shirt is slung over his shoulder and he smokes a cigarette. He looks directly at Martha. They make eye contact. He finishes his smoke, throws the cigarette in the water, puts on his shirt and just sits there. Martha swims back to the house.

INT. TED’S CAR – DAY

Martha sits in the back seat of Ted and Lucy’s car. Ted drives and Lucy sits up front. They drive up the driveway and turn out onto the road. Ted and Lucy talk. Martha gets a concerned look on her face. Ted slams on the breaks.

TED

Jesus Christ.

LUCY

Are you okay?

TED

Yeah.

LUCY

Fucking idiot. What was he doing?

The MAN from the dock walks past the car. They almost hit him. As they drive away, Martha turns to see him get into the a brown car, start the engine and drive. The car drives behind Ted’s car.

Martha looks forward for a long moment, then turns back again to see that he is still there.

She is frozen with fear, she thinks about saying something but then stops herself. Instead she sits in silence.

CUT TO:BLACK
An unknown man and Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The reason I bring this up is because of one line in what you just read. The line that reads, “The MAN from the dock walks past the car.” This is something you could never quite be sure of while watching the film as the man who jumps out in front of the car is only seen through the back window and blurry. He has a white t-shirt on, but as far as you can tell while watching the movie there is absolutely no way of knowing if he is the same man.

Of course, whether or not this man is from the cult can’t be determined. While swimming, the script notes Martha thought he looked “familiar” but only a few pages earlier in the script she accuses what appears to be an innocent bartender of being one of the cult members. People she assumes are coming to get her, a paranoia the film is steeped in and with this final seen, writer/director Sean Durkin makes sure you go home questioning what will happen next.

The best part about all of this is that even with this little clue you still can’t be sure of anything. Personally, yes, I think the man from the lake is one of the members of the cult. I don’t know if he is going to hunt down Martha, her sister and brother-in-law and kill them or if he’s just keeping tabs on Martha. He could follow them to the next stop and kill them with three bullets for all I know or just drive by, never to be seen again. It’s the not knowing that intrigues me; it’s the number one reason I’ve grown to like this film more and more.

The ending for me with this film was so crucial. Actually, I almost wrote the film off at one point in the scene described above. The moment where the script says: “She drops under the water and out of sight, a burst of bubbles pop up to the surface.” I thought she commit suicide at this moment, and had she it would have been an EPIC screenwriting cop out. However, by going the route he did, Durkin challenged the audience even further. Some people don’t like the film as a result. I’m growing to love it.

In fact, I popped the screener in just to watch that ending before writing this up and the questions began to swirl all over again. Is Martha paranoid? Is she right to be scared, or did the cult forget her about her as soon as Watts (Brady Corbet) left her at that roadside cafe in the film’s opening moments? There is absolutely no way of knowing, which is just one way Martha’s paranoia leaks into the audience, bringing you further into the story.

Well crafted open endings to films are quite possibly my favorite thing about going to the movies as I several have discussed regarding Inception. This year you can add Martha Marcy May Marlene to the list.

Once again, if you haven’t yet seen it, go see it. If you want to read the full shooting script for yourself, click here.

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Weekend: Dec. 13, 2018, Dec. 16, 2018

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