Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Martyrs (2008)

Title: Martyrs (2008)

Director/Writer: Pascal Laugier


For those of you who cant take talking negatively about religion, I suggest you tune out and come back another day, because today were gonna be talking about Martyrs and well, that's what Martyrs is all about, dissecting the very nature of religion. Martyrs really blew me away, it's one of the finest French horror films I’ve seen in a long time. The French have been making some damn fine horror movies over the past few years. They have been so good that in my opinion, they have put American horror films to shame. Don’t know how many of you have seen Inside (2007) but if you haven’t, you are missing out on a damn fine scary movie! What about High Tension (2003)? Frontier(s) (2007)? If you haven’t seen any of these films, it’s about time you did. I mean, if you care about good horror films at all.

Martyr’s is the story of two girls, Anna and Lucie. The first one we meet is Lucie. When we first meet her, she has just escaped from a dungeon, she looks beat up, exhausted and demented. She runs around the streets screaming for help! What has happened to her? Who did this to her? Why is she running away? Will she ever be a normal person again?

 First, I’ll let you in on something about me, I was a devout zealous Christian. Yup, I believed in Jesus, I believed in golden thrown rooms and castles in the sky. I was one of the faithful. But one fine day, I decided to analyze what I was believing in, you know, really get in there and find logic to what I was investing so much of my time and life in. One question kept haunting me, where did all religions come from? And why are there so many of them? After conducting an extensive research and lots of thought to the subject, I came to the conclusion that I had believed in something that had absolutely no way of being proved. It was all based on a book that somebody wrote, it was some story though. I never heard “God” speaking to me. I never saw anything supernatural; there was simply no proof for what I was investing so much of my time in. So one day, after much deliberation, after much research, I simply stopped believing. I stopped going to church. I got out. I escaped! And now I was out in a strange new world, a world I would have to learn to adapt to and learn to live in. In a way, I was reborn into reality, I disconnected from the proverbial Matrix, I took the red pill! So this is probably part of the reason why I identified so much with this film. It got to me in a very personal way.

Without ruining the film for anyone, I just want to say that this is one of the best films about religion ever made. And I’ve seen a lot these! If you are interested in seeing films about this topic check out films like The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), Bad Dreams (1988), Silent Hill (2006) or Conan The Barbarian (1982). Believe it or not, films like the ones I've just mentioned and The Wickerman (1973) helped me see how dangerous religion can be, the negative side to the equation. My research taught me that any wacko can start preaching anything, and there are bound to be people who will join him in believing whatever it is he or she wants them to believe, even if it leads them straight to their deaths. Doesn’t matter if the stories are real or not, some people will simply follow without question. I mean, have you ever stopped to analyze just how many different kinds of beliefs there are in the world? How all of them say they got “the truth”! The magic solution to everything? My personal belief is that there are so many religions in the world precisely because nobody knows the real truth. But humans need to believe in something bigger then them, and religions offer them these deities to worship. Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha, Shiva, Jehovah, Chango, take your pick. Point of the matter is that all of these religions offer up a fantastic story about the origins of the universe, about how we all got here, and about where we go when we die. In my opinion, these perfectly packaged solutions exist simply to give us answers to what I like to refer to as “the great mysteries of the universe”, the big questions. These mysteries have yet to be answered; the problem resides in the fact that most humans can’t take the fact that we really don’t know anything about the origins of life and the universe. They can’t take the idea that maybe when we die, nothing happens. The idea that we simply die is too harsh on the psyche of some; so in comes religion and gives them a way out from all that uncertainty that unbelievers live with on a daily basis.

Martyr’s central theme is this one and it brings these themes forward through symbolisms and through the context of a horror film. And I think it’s freaking brilliant the way the film delivered its points across. I mean, some religions catch you against your will. Think about Catholicism for example. With Catholicism you don’t even have a choice, if your parents are Catholic’s, chances are they will baptize you into that religion without you even knowing it! While you are a baby! In a way, you are taken hostage into a religion! I enjoyed how this film represented the entrapment that some religions submit their parishioners too. How you feel constricted, restrained, held back. Controlled. It isn't long before all the rules and regulations they hammer into your life start to drive you nuts. The crap they feed you and keep feeding you gets to be nauseating after a while, in the film this is represented in the slop they force feed the prisoners that are tortured. Some people take that slop for the rest of their lives, but some will want to escape it, run away and be free.

One of the topics the film touches is, can a person who escapes a religion be normal again? Some religions will leave you scarred, battered, psychologically destroyed, like the characters on Martyrs who are literally scarred. After an event like that, can you be normal again? Can you rejoin society? You can. I did. But like the characters in this film, you will always have those psychological scars. After you wake up to reality, you feel you wasted so much of your life in that dark lifeless dungeon of the mind! Some might feel that not all religions are like this, that some of them are good. But in my opinion, this is not the case. There are no good religions in the world because at the base of all these religions is a BIG, FAT, HUGE, STINKING LIE. Why would anyone want to live a lie? I’d much rather live by logic and reason instead of faith, which is just another word for believing in something you have no proof for. I would rather be in control of my own life. I would rather do good to others simply because this is the right thing to do. Not because I’m afraid someone is going to come and punish me. I’d rather learn from my mistakes then feel guilty for them all my life. Accept life is just one big mystery, after all isn’t that what makes it interesting? The mystery? The fascination with the wonder of life? The wonder of it all? 

Anyhow, speaking about the film itself and not just its themes, this is one solid horror movie. I loved the fact that the film isn’t preachy at all. Anyone can watch this movie and completely miss out on its symbolisms and thematic elements, because they are not in your face. For the casual viewer, this could pass for just another horror movie, but for the deep thinkers out there, this ones deep. This movie could even be mistaken for the "torture porn" that's been so popular lately in films like SAW (2004). In reality it’s so much more than that. Rest assured the film is not preachy at all. I will warn you that this movie is extremely gory. It has no remorse; it’s very unrestrained with its violent nature. Well, you know a film is going to be violent when the films director gives an introduction before the film, and he apologizes for the films violent nature. By the way, if your going to see this film, make sure it's the unrated directors cut of the film, any other version wont give you the full effect. But hey, I give the director props, he says he was being very sincere and truthful, and that’s one of the things that matters the most to me in this world, telling it like it is.

Rating: 5 out of 5

MartyrsInside (Unrated)Frontier(s)


Anonymous said...

I love this film and share many of your same sentiments being a recovering Catholic myself.

Just the thought of a religious sect or cult hellbent on proving an afterlife while torturing the crap out of someone was enough to make me physically ill. I mean its really not out of the realm of possibility. Think about all of the televangelists, the hardcore fervoristic followers. What's left when you think you've achieved what you think is a perfect connection to God? The acts the group committed represented, in my mind, the penultimate expression and experiment to prove their faith, existence, or just plain reason for being. Again, the concept just simply floored and nauseated me.

Excellent post amigo.

Bob Ignizio said...

I really liked this film. You hit on the thematic issues pretty well. The other thing I liked about it is how it constantly does the unexpected. So many horror movies I see I'm always at least 2 steps ahead of the movie. If it's a well made film that doesn't ruin it for me, but it was so refreshing to have the rug pulled out from under me time and time again in 'Martyrs'. I also really liked the look of the film, which the director says was inspired by Dario Argento's 'Tenebrae'. It may share some of the extreme violence of "torture porn", but it definitely doesn't have that same cliched look that we've seen time and again in the 'Saw' series and its many imitators.

Franco Macabro said...

@POT: The fact that the cult was searching for proof of the afterlife is simply an allegory for religions intent of explaining what happens after death. They offer us an answer to that mystery, but its hollow, its a lie. I mean, how can anyone really know what comes after? Its that obsession with the afterlife that the film is trying to portray. Ultimately, religious people dont accept death, thats why they have to make up a fairy tale for what comes after we die.

I thought the last frames were brilliant, everything remains a mystery, same as in real life. I guess we'll only know the answer to that when we die. Then again, maybe we will never know cause maybe we just die and thats it.

It also shows just how far any religion is willing to go when it comes to their beliefs. Jehovah Witnesses for example dont accept blood transfusions, so they let their family members die whenever they need one. Just because their religion doesnt allow blood transfusions. Thats just one example. Many people die because of what their religion ask of them. Its sick.


@Bob: Agree with you there, I didnt know where it was going to go either.

I wasnt aware that the the films look was modeled after Tenebrae, thanks for that bit of info. Isnt Tenebrae the one where a lot of scenes take place during the day and Argento used a lot of whites?
If it is, I see the similarities.

The scene that really got me was when they captured the second girl, everything they did to her phisically represents what a religion can do to you psychologically, the feeding of the bad food representing the way they feed you their teachings, her being chained to the wall represents the restraint that religions can impose on your life, and how frustrating that can be.

Tt one point she simply accepts the bad food that they were feeding her, I thought that represented the acceptance, the giving in to them.

I just loved that about it, how they brought to life many of the psychologically damaging factors of religion. Even that scene where one of the cult members comes to falsely comfort her, telling her everything was going to be okay represents that false HOPE that religion sells you.

Awesome movie, I have to purchase it right away and make it a permanent part of my collection!

Simon said...

Excellent review, I must be seeing it.

Neil Fulwood said...

Franciso, congratulations on a heartfelt, passionate and fearless post. I haven't seen 'Martyrs' yet, but it's definitely on my "must see" list now.

When I was about 12, my mother went through a bout of what I can only describe as religious hysteria. It was a coping mechanism for her after my grandmother died. My dad retreated into running his business and had nothing to do with it, so it was me who got dragged along to interminable church services, me who sat through confirmation lessons because it was what my mother wanted, me who took communion and knew that the bread and wine was just that - bread and wine, nothing else.

I hadn't given much thought to religion before that, but sitting there listening to the sermons, then listening to the gossip and the hypocrisy of the Mother's Union who met after the service, I was old enough to start questioning things, to think for myself. And ever since then I've never been able to reconcile myself to organised religion.

It's strange, I've watched films with a deep religious theme, like Tarkovsky's 'Nostalgia', and been profoundly moved; but many of the people I've met who have had strong religious opinions have revealed themselves as bigots, particularly in terms of xenophobia and homophobia.

Organised religion can be a scary thing, so it's fitting that filmmakers respond to it using the horror genre. Good call on mentioning the original 'Wicker Man' - a perfect example of fundamentalist beliefs gone wrong. What's really disturbing (SPOILERS) is that Edward Woodward's character behaves as dementedly as Christopher Lee and the islanders even as he's being burned alive. Two different belief systems, both wrong, both taken to extremes.

Congratulations again: one of your best posts.

Franco Macabro said...

@Simon: Let me know what you think about it!

@Neil: Thanks for that personalized reply Neil! It seems everyone is dragged into religion one way or another, I mean what essentially happens is that you inherit your parents religion, but there comes a time when you gotta take your own stand in life and decide: should I believe in this? What am I going to believe in?

As you were dragged into catholicism I was dragged into Santeria (ever seen The Believers?) and than in a strange twist of events my mom and dad decide to become Jehovah's Witnesses, completely opposing religions! All I learned from both is that each religion has their own different mythology, and they all take their mythology as absolutely real, when, if you look at it all from afar, with an objective eye, you come to see that its an elaborate fairy tale, that would make a great movie (and has!)

I need to see Nostalgia, I remember reading your review for it and being intrigued by it, I will see if I can get it for this week. Thanks for reminding me though!

The Wicker Man was THE movie that got me thinking about all that. I was like, this movie is absolutely right! Its just ideas vs. ideas made even crazier because people (not any supernatural force) make things happen, sometimes evil things like getting 900+ people to drink poison.


In The Wicker Man, what struck me as particularly shocking was how as the christian is being burned, his god does not save him, yet the Sun, the god of the people of the island shines on, stronger than ever. To the people of the Wicker Man that was their god looking down on them, but really, it was just the sun shining. Love that movie.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Reviews like this make me want to pop the movie back in immediately, because I walked away completely unphazed with absolutely no moral or religious questioning resulting from the mass confusion on screen. Truth be told I was more interested in your background prefacing the review, but youve convinced me to give it an honest second shot! I agree that it is a powerful film that is shot and made professionally, I just found absolutely no enjoyment in it whatsoever

Franco Macabro said...

The thing is that the movie talks about all these themes we've discussed about religion, but it does it very subtly.

For example, Alice, the girl who escapes, she is haunted by her inner demons, by the memories of her suffering during her days in the dungeons, that suffering was always with her no matter where she went. Those visions she had, of these creatures following her around, its her past haunting her. To me that represented how you can leave a religion, but sometimes its hard for that religion to leave you. They teach you that demons are hovering about, that you might get possessed by SAtan and other such bullcrap, that fear can haunt you forever. That fear of demons and ghosts, just like Alice in Martyrs. The speak about it in the movie "after a while you start seeing things" which is very true in religion.

The groups obsession over the afterlife, the way the group chains you, spoon feeds you shit, controls your every action by constraining you to a chair...and then, when you think you have the solution to everything, and you think you are going to know...bang! You are left with a mystery, which is really the way life is.

The family in the beginning of the film, a seemingly normal family having a rather cheerful breakfast, but the things they did in their past were so awful that it always comes back to haunt them, same way religions have a dark past. Stuff like the inquisition, the crusades, human sacrifices, torture...in reality, many of the torture devices seen in the movie weren't that different from the torture devices used by the catholic church during the inquisition.

The old lady who is the leader of the cult, always an old person in charge of the whole thing. To them it was an experiment they were performing on their subjects.

The words the old lady tells Anna before they lock her up are very important. She tells her how people suffer, and then they need hope, which is what they give Anna after they beat her to a pulp. A lady comes in and tells her "everything is going to be okay" when in reality, everything is going to get worse.

Religion functions that way, they convince you that some higher power is going to protect and help you when in reality only you can make things better.

Look at the world today, many think the world is going down the toilet so they turn to the church and religion to give them hope that its all going to get better. When in reality, it just might be the other way around.

But giving you that illusion, that false hope that some invisible power is right there along side you watching over you and helping you out might help you pass the day better, keep you docile while the powers that be ravage the world.

Thanks for the reply Carl! Glad you enjoyed the post!

Reina said...

excellent review of an excellent movie..i didn't see the religious symbolisms at the beginning of the film, but as the story got more complex, i started to understand what they were trying to say..wow, what a shocking movie...very good job baby

I Like Horror Movies said...

I will be keeping each of those things in mind in my second viewing homeslice, thanks for the continued elaboration! Really hope it gives the film whatever it was lacking in the first viewing for me =D

Franco Macabro said...

@Reina: I told you it was about religion! I picked up on those religious references pretty quickly! Glad you gave this horror movie a chance, see, I keep telling you, every now and then, a good one comes along, you just have to be patient!

@Carl:let me know how your second viewing went!

Coby147 said...

Thanks for a whole new perspective! I was religious, questioned everything, went through an atheist patch then found my way back.. all through logic and reason. Believing ANYTHING without question or thought it OBVIOUSLY dangerous!!

Although I look at most things from both an atheist and religious perspective I never thought about the symbolism maybe because I have come to not think about religion as spoon feeding lies and the shackles of rules even though many (maybe even most of the time) this is just how it is.

All I kept thinking about after the film is the possible interpretations of the ending, what Anna could have said to MM to make her kill herself and why? She could have intentionally wanted MM to kill herself for the ultimate vengeance or just told the truth. She could have told her she saw a perfect afterlife or nothing at all, the latter of which made MM's life pointless hence suicide.. Keep doubting?

Plus why would torture help someone to see the next world? Also why such an interesting philosophy was dealt with as almost an after thought whereas the killing/torture continued for 80 odd minutes.

HOWEVER now looking at it as a metaphor for religion it makes a lot more sense! Any thoughts on the superficial meanings I've mentioned would be good.. but again thanks for the deeper meaning!

Franco Macabro said...

I saw the spoon feeding and many other symbolisms in the film as commenting on religion, because its quite obvious that this is what the film is about, I mean, everything in the film has some sort of religious allegory to it. For example the search for what comes after death, the group gathering, giving false hope to their victims, the psychological scars...

Speaking of the films ending, I think the directors left it deliberately ambiguous precisely because the answers to everything are not set in stone, nobody really knows anything, so we are left without a clear answer to anything, which is the way life really is. But ultimately, the filmmakers want the viewer to come up with their own take on things.

The torture helped people see the afterlife because they were between life and death. The group tortured their victims almost to the point where they died, so they could get a glimpse of it. As far as the symbolism for this on real life, sometimes religions will make you believe their stories to the point where you start seeing things. This is something that is referenced in the film on various occasions, for example, the girl who escapes and starts seeing visions of other tortured victims, they haunted her. The mention this thing about "people starting to see things" angle on various times during the movie.

I guess its just a way of showing how when you are in a religion like for example christianity, they teach you that ghosts are real, that there are angles and demons invisibly watching you from beyond...its not very long before you start hearing supernatural voices or seeing things that are not there.

Glad you enjoyed the review Coby!

Coby147 said...

You know I've read SOOO many reviews about this film and been to SOO many websites like yours and you're the FIRST person to explain it like this in terms of religion! Ur a legend!!

I welcome more interesting reviews!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Coby, I will keep writing interesting reviews if you keep reading them!

Cortez, a dude who runs a blog by the name of Planet of Terror (you can find a link to Planet of Terror on the right hand side of my page) also posted a review about this movie, and in it, I think he also saw the religious themes.

Glad you are enjoying the reviews Coby!

Elwood Jones said...

A great (if not easy to sit through) movie and I love your examination or the religious themes of the film, as never having been a religious person I entered into this film not knowing anything about the theories of "Martyrs", so it was great for you to give me that insight with your review.
Still I love the debate that this film has sparked since it's release, while being further proof how ahead in the game the French are when it comes to horror, as proven by the likes of "Switchblade Romance" and "Frontier(s)".

Good review!

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you enjoyed it Elwood, the french are lightyears ahead in the horror genre, but that could also have to do with the fact that they dont have the MPAA to worry about.

I mean, did you ever see INSIDE? Holy Moly what an awesome horror film, such suspense!

Anonymous said...

You give props to the director for stating the obvious? brilliant.
Certainly this film is for nobody's education, illumination, or edification. Or is it? Who is actually getting off on la petite femme being punched repeatedly in the face? In what way does this film illumine or help to resolve child abuse? It doesn't. because it's a sick-fuck film.

Franco Macabro said...

I give props to the director for making a movie with the guts to say things that many don't dare adress or talk about.

This film is not about child abuse, it's about a group of people who wan't to control others, because of their own beliefs.

I think if one sees the symbolisms in the film, one can detect that it does enlighten about how belief systems can enslave your mind.

If it's a violent and gory film it's because its trying to portray how savagely belief systems can affect a person, certainly not every religion does this, but many do affect people's lives in savagely negative ways, leaving terrible psychological and physical scars.

Anonymous said...

I believe that all religions leave terrible scars.

Here's the thing that no-one has discussed. Madamoiselle has beautifully applied make-up in her appearances. Until her last scene, where alone in the toilet/bathroom she removes her wig/fringe, her head-scarf, her eyelashes and all of the accoutrémonts of beauty and social appearance. As the messenger of Anna's last words all she shares is, "Keep doubting", before blowing her brains out.

The message, after all that has gone before? It means nothing......

Franco Macabro said...

That's a great scene anonymous, I guess it means that religious leaders live under a facade, a mask of lies...most of the time religious leaders clothe themselves in the best attire, expensive clothing, expensive cars, I mean, just look at the pope! He wears gold! This of course in deep contrast with the humility that Jesus displays in the bible.

And on a symbolic way, they also wear a facade, they like to project themselves as holier than anyone, the most pure beings, when in reality we know that nobody is holier or more perfect than anybody. When the right buttons are pushed, or the right situations are given, no matter what masks we like to wear, we are all animals, we can all succomb to madness, violence, hatred, it's part of what makes us human, it's in our nature.

But when these masks are taken off, we are left with a person as ordinary and as imperfect as the rest of us.

Frank baxter said...

Thank god ( the irony) someone besides me got the hidden measage of this film . No matter who I showed the movie to , they all completely missed the references and similarities to religion . The cult like any other religion was ready to go to any lengths on the off chance that the myth they believe in might be true . They were ready to torture people , skin them and basically do anything on a hunch with no concrete proof. That is what religion is and that is what religion does ( I dumped the idea of a god the day I learned how to do algebra ) . There were subtle hints as well but for me what stood out for me was the violence and the turmoil refrenced that religion has brought into this world . The best thing was when you show this movie to a normal person they are left completly horrified and utterly disgusted by it but what they dont realise is this is exactly what their religion is , a cloak which evelopes eveything it touches into complete darkness with no ray of hope . This film is one of the finest pieces of art I have ever seen .

Franco Macabro said...

Frank Baxter: This film is special to me because few films out there dare to speak this way about religion. The symbolism with the scars...the torture...the blindness...but the one that got to me the most was the scars. In the film they are literal, but in real life they are probably more psychological. Awesome movie, truly mind blowing stuff. The most chilling scene for me is the one in which the old lady who is the leader of the cult explains how easy it is to manipulate someone through fear and lies. Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts!


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