Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clarity of vision: Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs is very nearly a perfect movie, but I'm not sure it is a movie I'm glad to have seen. The first half of it is violent and twisting and a lot of grisly fun. There's even a strange bloody ghost that is used so sparingly that you sometimes forget about it before it shows up again. That's a neat trick, and for the first half of Martyrs, I loved it. It was gross, but so clever and sharp, too. But then it twists again, and becomes something a little more single minded.

And, let's be clear, I think this is a very smart movie. I think the idea behind the last half of the movie is interesting, and the film's sudden dedication to demonstrating that idea is wholehearted and strangely admirable. But at the halfway point, this movie starts taking away hope. Not just from the main character, but from the viewer as well. There is a solid half an hour of the main character being tortured and beaten. It is horrible but it is also repetitive. It goes on and on so long that it numbs you to the violence. You get to the point where you are simply enduring it, even though you know that there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the main character. There's no way she'll live. You are enduring it the same way she is. The viewer's instinct to watch to the end of the movie is the same as her instinct to live, even though both she and I would have suffered less if I just turned it off right there.

By the last ten minutes of the film, I didn't want to be watching anymore. There was no way out, and it had been made very clear that the only possibility was more torture. More torture and hopelessness.

And I know this was on purpose, and it was done so very well, but jesus fuck. This movie just emptied me out. It messed me up for days afterward. It was ugly and empty and so effective. And yes, I think it might be brilliant. I wish I hadn't watched it.


  1. I just heard that an American version of this film is in the works.. and in true American remake fashion the ending will be changed to offer a glimmer of hope. I believe the words used were "you don't have to kill yourself at the end." Hopefully this means that some of the oppressive moments of the original will be made more tolerable to serve the message of the story, rather than just tacking on a button ending to appease US producers. We'll see I suppose. Or maybe not? Would you go through it again?

  2. Oh, man, if Joey - the aficionado of horror movies - wishes he hadn't seen this I think I'll pass.

  3. You know I was thinking along similar lines. The first 3/4 of the movie I enjoyed but that last half hour was indeed oppressive. I didn't really get why I didn't like it but you've certainly put it into context. I agree with the parallel you've made between the suffering victim and the suffering observer. And as you watched her hold on and likewise tolerated the intolerable, I said "why the hell doesn't she just hang herself on that chain conveniently located above her head?" and turned it off. (but later curiosity got the better of me when I thought maybe her mother wasn't complete helpless and *69 the house) <-There's your american ending Spinner's.
    I guess you'd make a better martyr than I Joey, I think I'm more a "take as many of them with you as you can" type anyway.