Movie Discussion: Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008)

  • Monthly Theme: Religious Cultsmartyrspostb
  • The Film: Martyrs
  • Country of origin: France
  • Date of French release: September 3, 2008
  • Date of U.S. release: April 28, 2009 (DVD only)
  • Studio: Canal +, CinéCinéma, et al.
  • Distributer: The Weinstein Company
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: $6.5 million (estimated)
  • Director: Pascal Laugier
  • Producers: Frédéric Doniguian, et al.
  • Screenwriters: Pascal Laugier
  • Adaptation? No
  • Cinematographers: Stéphane Martin, Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky & Bruno Philip
  • Make-Up/FX: Jacques Godbout, Benoît Lestang, et al.
  • Music: Alex & Willie Cortés
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: 2 awards at the 2010 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards. Grand Prize at the 2009 Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival.
  • Tagline: “They did not finish to be alive…”
  • The Lowdown: The movie is considered to be one of horror’s most polarizing films and Kristine, knowing it’s reputation, insisted that we watch it together rather than separately-but-simultaneously. When we paused the movie for a bathroom break and I turned all the lights out and hid in the kitchen to cackle evilly, she threw things at me and threatened my life. There’s no doubt that watching Martyrs is a challenging, often brutalizing, experience, but it is definitely NOT a movie that is made as a cynical showcase for cheap acts of violence. Martyrs is a deeply personal film, made when director Pascal Laugier was at the bottom of a suffocating bout of depression, and while movies like Hostel draw their aesthetics primarily from the world exploitation cinema, Martyrs seems to come as much from the tradition of latter-20th-century world cinema (Andrei Tarkovsky, Elem Klimov, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Peter Greenaway, the French and Japanese New Waves, etc.). The movie is about a pair of young women: Lucie, a shell-shocked abduction survivor who believes she has finally identified the couple who, many years before, tortured and brutalized her, and Anna, a childhood friend and companion from the days of Lucie’s rehabilitation in an orphanage. When Lucie commits a crime of shocking and extreme violence, Anna is torn between aiding her beloved friend and helping her victims who, Anna believes, may be innocents. This is the premise that kicks off the film’s narrative, but Martyrs takes at least two major and unexpected plot turns, consistently shifting the movie’s tone and undermining the viewer’s own expectations.

If you haven’t seen Martyrs our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: Bonjour, I say, in honor of our French director.

Sean: Hello.

Kristine: I had to prep the house before I could discuss this movie.

Sean: What does that entail?

Kristine: That means pulling back the shower curtain and closing all the closet doors…so The Creature can’t sneak up on me. Making sure the cats are inside so they don’t scratch on the window, which makes a really scary sound.

Sean: Did you strap Boyd (your cat) into a high-chair with a litterbox underneath?

Kristine: You are a monster.

Lucie’s real crime? Walking around with WET HAIR.

Sean: Actually, this leads me to my first question. Are you ready?

Kristine: I suppose. Why do I feel like I am the subject and you are one of… them?

Sean: Because that’s your fantasy. Do you think this movie triggers a sadistic impulse in the viewer? Do you think it stokes our desire to inflict pain on others?

Kristine: I do not feel that way. I did not find any of the torture cathartic in any way. In fact, that lack of cathartic release is one of the points of this movie and an argument that the movie is not amoral, don’t you think?

Sean: Would you characterize the events of the movie as S&M-adjacent?

Kristine: No, I did not think this movie had S&M trappings.

Sean: I guess I’m wondering if Anna’s ascension to “martyrdom” is also about a physical pleasure that lies on the other side of intense bodily suffering….

Kristine: I have things to say about that. I did more “after viewing” research on this movie then I ever do (I knew nothing about it going in) and it’s important to consider that the title refers to a slightly different definition of the word “martyrs” then we commonly think of. Here, the word means more of a “witness” to what lies beyond, then someone who knowingly and perhaps willingly dies for a cause they hold dear. I do think the movie suggests an interpretation that the torture did “do its job” but I am uncomfortable with that reading. I mean, it’s a possible interpretation since the ending is mysterious. It is not my interpretation.

Sean: Well, the whole question of the movie’s moral status (amoral, moral, or immoral) to me really brings up the issue of identification. Who are we supposed to identify with in the third act? The torture cultists?

Kristine: I don’t think the movie asks us to identify with the torturers.

Sean: Well here’s what I think, briefly: The first act we’re asked to identify with Lucie. Then in the second act, with Anna. And then something weird happens in the third act. Our ability to identify with Anna is destroyed by the torture she undergoes. It becomes too painful to continue identifying. I found my mind drifting away from her, wanting to look away and not connect with her anymore, when previously I had been extremely invested in her “winning” and solving the mystery and getting away.

Kristine: I was going to ask – as she becomes “less human” do we care less? Once her fate is sealed, do we stop rooting for her?

Sean: Something like that. It’s like, the movie becomes about something else in the third act. It is no longer about identification…

Here we witness Anna’s disappointment with Lucie’s banal interest in abstract expressionism.

Kristine: It’s weird when the best you can hope for the movie’s hero is for them to find something to slit their wrists with.

Sean: It becomes some weird kind of visceral, metaphysical thought experiment. And then in the denouement, when Mademoiselle returns, I wondered if Laugier wanted us to be “with them,” to view Anna from the perspective of the cultists.

Kristine: Okay let me respond. I agree that it becomes harder to identify with Anna as she is more and more degraded.

Sean: Yes, we “give up” on Anna in the third act.

Kristine: I think Laugier also does that with The Creature. Remember, The Creature was once a young woman like Lucie and Anna. But now when you see it, it is a fucking monster and you want it to go away and die. It is horrible. It is beyond redemption, as was Lucie.

Sean: I slightly disagree there. I think some of the movie’s most intense pathos is attached to The Creature. I think the movie is so filled with moments of intense pathos, and the moment when we realize who The Creature is and what she represents to Lucie is, to me, maybe the most gut-wrenching moment of pathos in the movie. A close second is the Iron Diaper lady.

Kristine: I agree 100%. But that still doesn’t make me want to hug The Creature.

Sean: Really? Do you not want to? I think a part of me wants to comfort both The Creature and Iron Diaper.

Kristine: And as for Iron Diaper lady, here is the thing… she is utterly sympathetic in every way, right?

Sean: But she is abject and revolting also.

Kristine: Shut up. As I was saying, Lucie lived because she ran and did not try and save The Creature, even though it haunts her. Anna stays with Iron Diaper and that’s what gets her imprisoned. Sean, I am sorry. If I found Iron Diaper I would not hang out and give her a bath. I would fucking run then call 911 and say, “There’s an Iron Diaper situation, come quick!” In other words, caring = pain. Caring = bad news in the fucked up world of this film.

Sean: Oh. But I actually think we’re getting at something here. Because the tragedy of Lucie is that her instinct of self-preservation (she runs when she has the chance) brings her great suffering. That somehow relates to what happens to Anna. I mean, this is where the movie’s ideology disturbs me, that the movie is so “harsh” on Lucie and Anna for wanting to survive, to preserve themselves, and to avoid intense pain. It forces pain on them. It shows their instincts of self-preservation as an Achilles heel. The movie’s got this undercurrent of self-sacrifice that I don’t jibe with. It feels like the exact ideological opposite of the ending of The Cabin in the Woods (an ending I’d bet money would revolt Pascal Laugier if he were to see it).

Kristine: I disagree. First of all, Lucie doesn’t really have a “choice” to rescue or abandon The Creature. She’s a little, severely abused kid and The Creature was bound in shackles. It wasn’t like a “her or me” situation. And can I also say that the images of young Lucie running away are amazing in their horrific-ness.

Sean: They are, yes.

This is how Morrissey feels about Chicken McNuggets.

Kristine: Second, I don’t think Anna does have that much drive toward self-preservation. I wish she did. There are numerous times when, if she had abandoned Lucie and Iron Diaper, she could have survived. In her case, self-sacrifice is what gets her. A couple of other things: look at this picture of Pascal Laugier with Iron Diaper’s head. It is amazing.

Sean: Woah. I’m framing it. He looks kind of sexy.

Kristine: Isn’t that amazing???? Second, I read in an interview with him that the date on which Lucie escapes from her imprisonment as a child (which is prominently featured in mock-documentary style) is… Pascal Laugier’s birthday. This is one grim motherfucker. These things are related. Like, I give this movie more credence because I believe that he believes and that he loves Iron Diaper and he relates to Lucie, and that all of this for him is very real. Does that make sense?

Sean: Yes. I mean this would be the natural point to bring up Lars Von Trier. But I think we need to watch Antichrist first, then reopen this discussion.

Kristine: Okay. Laugier’s sincerity makes a difference for me. Remember how mad I was at Wolf Creek for “putting me though” feeling bad? I don’t feel that way with this movie.

Sean: Interesting. Why not?

Kristine: Because of what I said… because, even though I don’t think this movie is 100% successful, I believe that it is sincere, and it believes it what it is putting out there. Not just like, “Hmmm, what would be really fucked up?” I mean, I could be wrong. but that is how I feel.

Sean: Is Wolf Creek insincere?

Kristine: I think Wolf Creek is way more manipulative in that there are numerous times when you believe the girls will escape, they will be okay and it is a lie. Whereas I don’t feel like Martyrs lies to you.

Sean: But didn’t you just point out how Anna has all these opportunities to escape and doesn’t take them?

Kristine: Yes, but it’s different. It’s weird, even though I wanted Anna to make different choices, I felt resigned to the choices she was making. I didn’t have that feeling of, “No dummy, don’t do that” that people often get in horror movies, which I felt very much while watching Wolf Creek. With Martyrs I was like, “Well, this is how it has to be. Bummer.”

Sean: Well this is where I’d like to bring up this movie’s troubled relationship with lesbian desire, because the movie strongly implies that Anna is in love with Lucie…

This is me after eating Indian food.

Kristine: I want to hear but I just have to say and I know what you are talking about, but for me it didn’t have nearly the significance that it had for you. Go ahead.

Sean: Ok. Well, Anna plants that kiss on Lucie and it is strongly implied she loves her. Thus her unwillingness to leave and the thing that gets her trapped and martyred is her desire/love for Lucie. It’s more than just sisterhood. There’s something erotic about it. And then when Anna talks to her mother on the phone, the mother is very explicit about considering Lucie a freak, a pervert. And she is like, “Oh, you’re still with her? Then there is no hope for you” which, considering what happens to Anna in the film, feels like a homophobic bit of prescience. Anna’s mother’s basic attitude towards the Anna/Lucie relationship reminded me a lot of the way the mothers act towards there daughters in Pariah.

Kristine: I have things to say when you are done.

Sean: Ok, but hold on. The movie, in these ways, drives home this idea that there is something “unnatural” or unacceptable between the two women. Lastly, and I said this to you in person, once they shave Anna’s head and are beating her, I really feel like, aesthetically, she’s a gay woman now. I read her body as a queer woman’s body at that point.

Kristine: Finish! I want to respond. I am dying.

Sean: And it makes the amount and intensity of the violence a bit disturbing to me. Like somehow the “de-feminization” of Anna excuses the violence against her, or at least makes it more permissible. There, I’m done.

Kristine: Now, I will start with the most trivial first. The phone call with the mom confused me, because my understanding was that Anna and Lucie were both orphan wards who met in some kind of group home. So where did this mom come from? It doesn’t really matter, but I did wonder.

Sean: I think that Anna is the daughter of one of the people who works there. Remember in the flashbacks?

The L Word: Family Massacre Unit

Kristine: Oh, okay. As for what the mom said about Lucie… well, she is correct. Lucie is fucked up and damaged and no amount of love or caring can fix her, that is the hard truth. And if Anna’s mom WAS one of Lucie’s caretakers, she knows that better then anyone. I did not read Anna’s mom as hating Lucie for luring Anna into dykiness.

Sean: But the words the mom uses have a deep homophobic tone to them.

Kristine: And I actually did read the kiss and all of Anna’s sacrifices for Lucie as, yes, more then sisterhood, definitely love, but not necessarily sexual. I did not get that sense. It could be, but I did think it must be so for the story to make sense.

Sean: Huh. Interesting.

Kristine: As for the head shaving, I think it’s a really important scene, but not because it made her a symbolic or literal dyke. But the shaved head and emaciated body are a huge part of the aesthetics of torture, period. Whether it’s in the context of culturally-accepted conformity (i.e. the Army) or cults or the Holocaust. Whatever it is, head-shaving is part of the program because it makes everyone asexual and anonymous.

Sean: I take your point…

A snapshot of Suzanne Somers’ basement gym.

Kristine: Through the shaved head Anna becomes less “Anna” and more Victim, but I don’t think that is an act of dykifying her. It is just an act of dehumanizing her and making her unrecognizable as an individual. She is now…the subject.

Sean: But let me ask you this: Do you think the impact of the beating of Anna would be different if she still had her long hair, if she was in a sexy dress, if she were all femmed out?

Kristine: I don’t think you can be “all femmed out” living in a filthy dungeon getting your head beaten in. I really think it is all part of de-programming, making the subject lose their identity, and also, as you said, making US identify with her less. But it is not related to her sexual orientation.

Sean: You’re not taking my point at all.

Kristine: I just don’t see it. That is allowed.

Sean: I can agree that Laugier has her head shaved and stuff for exactly the reasons that you cite: To remove her identity, to make her “the subject” rather than “Anna” a person. But an unintentional side affect of this is that he thus transforms her into a queer body. That is a mode of queerness: a woman removing the markers of femininity. And so there it is.

Kristine: But like you said… unintentional. When men are starved and shorn, they lose their masculinity, also.

Sean: That’s debatable. But I believe that the audience, seeing her like that, makes an internal connection to “lesbian.” I truly believe that.

Kristine: Well, I believe that you do and I am sure others do. But I did not.

Sean: Touché. While we’re on this kick, let’s take it one step further, to the removing of Anna’s skin. I mean, we cannot help but think of medieval torture when we see that, right? And also scientific experimentation, vivisection, et al.

Kristine: Okay. I was very surprised that I was less affected by a woman being fucking flayed alive then I was by her being routinely beaten in the face by a man. It was harder to watch the beatings then the flaying. I think for several reasons: 1. It’s so beyond the pale, whereas women are brutally beaten over and over by a man they “know” all the time. 2. You know the flaying is the final act, whereas the beatings could have gone on for eternity. 3. The change in scenery from the dungeon to the sci-fi lab somehow broke up the tension. 4. It was weird and interesting, whereas the day-to-day torture was just fucking grim.

How do you know if someone is a Nazi? If she’s got a knack for industrial plumbing systems repair.

Sean: Good points all. You’re right that the change of scenery is just a huge sigh of relief. One of the things you think is, she’s never getting out of that room. That she does, even in this horrible way, is somehow weirdly a relief.

Kristine: Right? Even though it’s just to a new, fresh hell. Exactly. I don’t know how to say this without it sounding horrible… but also… it’s like, I can see why people would be interested in what happens if you skin something alive. Like, that is of interest.

Sean: Sure, right. It’s a demented mad scientist thing to do.

Kristine: Right. I was also curious what it would feel like. Statement to all sadists out there: I do not want to be flayed.

Sean: Just punching a woman is a cretinous thing to do.

Kristine: Eexactly.

Sean: Anna being flayed in that way was so Hellraiser. The Anna/Uncle Frank parallels are weird.

Kristine: Do you remember that Halloween song? “Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?/ Have you seen the ghost of Tom?”

Sean: Never heard of it in my life.

Kristine: Um, all children sing it.

Sean: Bored.

Kristine: It goes: “Have you seen the ghost of Tom? / Long white bones with the skin all gone /

Sean: Boring. Hate it.

Kristine: “Ohhhh ohh ohh ohh ohh ohh / Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?”

Sean: Dumb. A ghost is not a skeleton. Totally different kind of monster

Kristine: I love how if something doesn’t resonate with your childhood it is dumb and boring. This is you: “I don’t know that, so I hate it.”

Sean: Yes, so boring.

Kristine: I want to flay you right now.

Calgon, take me away!

Sean: What do you think of the moment when the camera goes inside of Anna’s eyes and zooms in on that burning black sun?

Kristine: I was let down by Black Hole Sun.

Sean: If that Soundgarden song had kicked in when the camera went into Anna’s eyes would you have died?

Kristine: Yes, I would have died. I actually thought the whole “Look at their eyes! They were still alive!’ thing was hokey. I am so torn on the cult thing, Sean, because part of me liked the movie being “bigger” then just fucked up nihilism and part of me thought it was dumb.

Sean: Yeah.

Kristine: Do you know that there are “people” who consider that song and video to be a ‘90s classic?

Sean: I just can’t with Chris Cornell. But the metaphysical stuff in the movie is like, sort of just mumbo jumbo, but sort of compelling.

Kristine: I want it to be compelling, but it’s sort of dumb.

Sean: I actually think that the camera going into her eye to reveal the burning black sun was great and if they had cut out some of the dialogue around it, and let that image stand on its own, it would have gotten the point across without seeming so silly. I guess I just found it, aesthetically, to be tremendously effective: that sizzling sound, just the feeling of intense overwhelming heat and the weirdness of the celestial body. I kind of love it.

Kristine: For me, it was anticlimactic. Okay, so… what did Anna whisper to Mademoiselle, and why did Mademoiselle kill herself? Also, do you know I went to a French nursery school in Luxembourg with a sadistic director known only as Madame?

Sean: You were the storybook character Madeline.

Kristine: Sorry, back to your point…

Sean: No, you actually just brought up my biggest beef with the movie and that is the Mademoiselle’s suicide. I think it’s a total cop out. I don’t like that movie doesn’t attempt to provide answers. It’s very Lost of them. It reminds me of David Lynch thinking that answers are reductive and questions are more interesting. But it still feels like a cop-out to me.

“No, Avril! You have so much to live for!”

Kristine: Yes, it was a mysticism-cop-out, and it makes me mad that I want to know. Here is why the ending made me mad: I think there is still somehow the hope that whatever Anna says can somehow destroy this group, make them all kill themselves or bring them down or make them realize their whole enterprise is fucked or whatever. So, when Mademoiselle kills herself, it is such a little thing. It nowhere nearly makes up for the pain and suffering Anna and all the other victims of this torture cult. Which is Laugier’s point, right? That there is no “revenge” for inflicting pain on your fellow humans? You can never make up for it.

Sean: But I forget what Madame says right before she does it. It is important what she says…

Kristine: She says, “Keep doubting.” She asks a bodyguard what he thinks about death, and he says whatever and she says, “Keep doubting.”

Sean: But if Anna told her what lays beyond death and then she kills herself, doesn’t that mean she was like, excited to go experience it?

Kristine: I considered that, but I don’t think that is it. But we don’t know, which is why it is a cop out.

Sean: I mean, what does “Keep doubting” MEAN?

…that this is my natural color.

Kristine: Nothing. You are right, it is Lynchian and annoying. So, here is my read of the end. I don’t think the oldies in the crowd have any real understanding of what is actually being done to these subjects. I mean, I forget if they are told if Anna was flayed or not, but even if they were, they don’t visit the dungeon. They don’t really know what is happening, nor do they care to. And I think this is Laugier totally making a political statement about the haves and the have-nots, and how the have-nots will always be exploited by the haves. Right?

Sean: Ok, I can buy that. Class-conscious social critique – very French.

Kristine: I think the fact that both Lucie and Anna are émigrés is significant, especially considering the cultural climate in France over the last couple of decades.

Sean: Right. La Haine and all that.

Kristine: France makes Texas look like the U.N.

Sean: Isn’t it funny that Paris is where American blacks fled in the 20th century to escape racism? Like James Baldwin.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: A lot of Harlem Renaissance people…

Kristine: I can’t believe this movie is less then 100 minutes long.

Sean: Right? It feels like 2 hours or more.

Kristine: One thing I was impressed by (even though it sucked sitting through) was how the third act really takes it time. All the scenes of just Anna sitting there, then being tortured… then just sitting there…. on and on…

Lucie wishes her parents would stop taking Dr. Phil’s child discipline tips.

Sean: The redundancy of it. Yeah, the drudgery.

Kristine: The pacing is all really good. The energy of the scenes always reflects what is going on with the story. Like Act 1 is so gonzo. Crazy fast, no time to think.

Sean: Which act is your favorite?

Kristine: I don’t think I can have “favorite” parts to this movie. If I was Lucie and you were Anna would you believe me?

Sean: Um, I don’t think I would.

Kristine: I am shocked. I thought you would say yes. You never believe me. : (  I feel deeply sad.

Sean: What a performance. I mean, if you were as shell-shocked and irrational as Lucie? I think any rational person would doubt.

Kristine: You would lock me in the loony bin like Fairuza.

Sean: I mean all the tension of Act 1 revolves around “Is Lucie reliable? Is she right?” Narratively, it’s brilliant. There’s a lot of tension in that question.

Kristine: Yes, and The Creature being a phantom is a great touch.

Sean: Also in Act 2, with the mystery of the basement… That makes Act 3 all the more crazy and intense. The narrative stops dead in its tracks.

Kristine: Well, literally, with the bodies being unceremoniously dumped in the mass grave. Very genocidal imagery, by the way. The cult appearing takes away from some of the great mystery in Act 2, though.

Sean: The first time I saw this, when those people showed up I remember feeling an insane hysteria, like, “THEY’RE GONNA GET YOU!” and panicking. I wanted Anna to escape so badly.

Kristine: Where did you first see it?

Sean: I rented it with my boyfriend.

Kristine: What had you heard? Was it already infamous?

Sean: I had Googled a bunch of “Best Horror of the 2000s” lists and this showed up on many of them. There were like 8-12 movies I discovered that way and for all of them I read no synopses, read no DVD covers, just watched them all blind.

This is the prototype for a new line of blow-up dolls: She’s called Goremouth Gerta.

Kristine: I have to say that it is not fair that you can watch these movies and think about these things when you live with Bubba (your Boston Terrier), who is comfort embodied. All I have is indifferent cats.

Sean: I thought Boyd was a feline Messiah?

Kristine: He is, but he is still a cat and not concerned with emotions. He is just concerned with… a drop on water on the floor. He is playing with an ice cube right now.

Sean: If a camera panned into Boyd’s pupil would it reveal a burning black star?

Kristine: Shut up. I have questions for you.

Sean: Ask.

Kristine: Does this movie scare you?

Sean: Scare me? No.

Kristine: Ugh.

Sean: Does it scare you?

Kristine: Yes. Ever since we watched it, I have had to shower with the shower curtain open and get water all over the floor.

Sean: I mean, being locked in a torture room scares me. The images of young Lucie locked up are upsetting. And obvs Anna’s fate is fucking disturbing and horrible.

Kristine: Can I just say that Jessie Pham, the actress who plays Young Lucie, is amazing?

Sean: She was amazing. I loved her.

This was my reaction also when I watched an episode of Glee. It really is that bad.

Kristine: When she is lurching but still booking like hell down the road? Howling?

Sean: That image is iconic, right?

Kristine: It has to be against the law to have a child do that, but wow it was amazing.

Sean: In France there are no “laws.”

Kristine: So, can we get deep for a minute? Do you think the oldies at the “announcement party” bear as much responsibility as Mademoiselle? Does the “mother” (who force feeds the subjects) and ‘father” (who beats them) have as much as Mademoiselle? More? Are there levels of responsibility as one gets further removed?

Sean: Ugh I hate to bring up Nazi Germany but….

Kristine: it’s impossible not to with this movie, Sean.

Sean: I know right? I mean, it’s a movie about fascism, really. I think the whole system is culpable. But I do think the ones directly responsible for making the decisions and enacting the brutality are culpable in a unique way. But those of us who know but refuse to do anything are also morally culpable.

Kristine: While we were watching this, we talked about how things like this are happening right now.

Sean: Right… Abu Ghraib? Guantanamo? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Kristine: So, are we fucked for not, like, working for Amnesty International and kicking down doors looking for Iron Diaper?

Sean: Ugh. Oh god.

Kristine: And for not trying to impeach Obama for failing to outlaw torture?

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me cause it hurts

Sean: This conversation is now making me über-depressed.

Kristine: How does one find one’s own place? How? How can we be at peace knowing this exists and we aren’t actively working to stop it?

Sean: I am going to make like this movie and shoot myself in the head to avoid having to answer. “Keep doubting, Kristine.”

Kristine: FYI, Houston is like the #1 human trafficking port in the U.S.

Sean: Isn’t the old mantra, “Think Globally, Act Locally”?

Kristine: Cop out. But what is it? I mean, what can an ordinary citizen do?

Sean: Ask Batman.

Kristine: Maybe if you are a teacher or a nurse you can “go through proper channels,” but what about folks who are off the grid? Just, like, keep you eyes out for Iron Diaper ladies in sewers?

Sean: I don’t have an answer.

Kristine: I guess, the hippie view would be to live in peace and put out loving vibes and hope.

Sean: I am nice to my chickens. Isn’t that enough? We give them watermelon slices.

Kristine: Did you see that story about the grade-schoolers who mercilessly mocked their elderly bus monitor? It is horrible.

Sean: I mean, I could cite a dozen stories MORE upsetting than that.

Um…. eyebrow

Kristine: This movie has kept my head busy for days. Sean. I watched Martrys.

Sean: Yes, you did it. You watched one of the most controversial movies of the past decade and lived to tell the tale.

Kristine: You are Mademoiselle and I was the subject, and I lived. And transcended.

Sean: Well I really feel like you have “crossed the threshold.”

Kristine: I have balls.

Sean: You are the Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Kristine: I have balls of steel. I am a badass. Braver then your boyfriend.

Sean: A Hell’s Angel.

Kristine: Braver then anyone.

Sean: Totes braver than the boyfriend.

Kristine: Okay, so I have a couple of closing questions.

Sean: Ok.

Kristine: How did the movie do financially? I am assuming well and that has informed the decision to remake it.

Downward facing rape-demon.

Sean: It never got a theatrical release in the States. But I think the cult success of the film on DVD is partially responsible for the remake plans. It’s a “word of mouth” hit.

Kristine: Okay, well when did you hear about the U.S. remake and what was your reaction?

Sean: It’s been on the backburner for a couple of years it seems like. But I kind of don’t think it will happen, and if it does, it will lag in distribution and then go direct to DVD. That is my prediction.

Kristine: Oh really? Do tell. You see it in the tea leaves…?

Sean: This is pure conjecture based on a few years of watching the market. This happens often – VERY few horror films actually get wide releases. Most get limited or no release and go straight to DVD and many never even make it to DVD in “Region 1” (U.S./Canada). The U.K. and Australia get a lot of shit we never see (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane for example). The best place to see horror movies is at festival screenings.

Kristine: I read that the production company responsible for the Twilight movies is attached to it. I wonder if that makes a difference.

Sean: I think that’s the weirdest thing ever.

Kristine: What? The production company?

Sean: That the Twilight people are involved in any way shape or form. I mean, they sat around and watched Martyrs? That is weird.

Kristine: Right????? Which led to rumors that Kristen Stewart would have the Anna role.

Sean: I am fine with Kristen Stewart. I don’t care. I mean, I am not invested in the outcome of a U.S. remake. If it’s any good, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But beyond that, shrug.

Kristine: Okay, well, let’s address the quotes we have read about the remake.

Sean: You mean like… the Forrest Gump quote? He said the following: “Every time you think you know where [Martyrs] is going, it goes somewhere else. It plays on things that are familiar — like two friends who can’t be separated, kind of a Forrest Gump and Jenny situation.”

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I mean, I feel like a Saturday Night Live writer wrote that. It is a joke, right?

Kristine: I don’t think it is.

Sean: My only thought is that this Daniel Stamm person needs some PR grooming. The horror market has specific needs. There is no way a remake of Martrys in any iteration that is even close to the original is going to be a mainstream U.S. hit.

Kristine: I am certain that they will try to infuse hope or optimism in the remake – which will mean that Anna eventually kills her captors and survives, right? Which is going to be a complete betrayal.

Sean: Hostel was a lightning in a bottle. So for him to choose that particular analogy is going to piss off and alienate horror fans and make them think he is a joke. There are millions of other possible examples to pull from. Forrest Gump?

Kristine: Did Hostel have sequels?

Sean: Hostel had one theatrical sequel and one direct-to-DVD sequel. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least 3 to 7 more DVD sequels.

Kristine: Check it out, this reaction is exactly what you are speaking of. Umm, the producer attached to the remake is responsible for… Daddy Day Care?

Sean: Her line about “a German” at the end is hysterical.

Kristine: Right?

Geordi La Forge’s girlfriend has a migraine.

Sean: I liked Vacancy just fine, but I don’t know. She made all my points eloquently, this writer Britt Hayes.

Kristine: I thought it was good, too.

Sean: I am in total agreement with her.

Kristine: Let’s read her original objection, before it was linked to Stamm.

Sean: OK.

Kristine: Ahem. “That exists infamously as one of those scary movies your friends dare you to watch as some sort of immature, outdated, horror fan litmus test.”

Sean: That’s me. Immature and dated. Well, I like Britt Hayes’ writing.

Kristine: Let me ask you this – if it does get made, will you seek it out and watch it?

Sean: I will probably watch a remake to satisfy my curiosity.

Kristine: Me, too.

Sean: And if it gets decent buzz, I will most assuredly watch it.

Kristine: We need to discuss it on the blog.

Sean: But I do believe that remaking a film as recent as this one is like, kind of pointless. But Hayes makes a good point about remaking older properties and how then you’re reinterpreting an old idea for a new cultural moment.

Kristine: The most obvious comparison I can think of is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, right?

Sean: Yes, and Let Me In, the American adaptation of Let the Right One In. But I actually really enjoyed both of those U.S. adaptations so I am a hypocrite.

Kristine: No. I think they both surprised a lot of people. I still haven’t seen the remake of Dragon Tattoo.

Sean: But in my defense, that thing had Fincher at the helm, a tried and true pop auteur. Daniel Stamm I don’t know. I thought The Last Exorcism was a piece of shit. I mean, I kind of feel like this film could only have been made overseas.

This is actually a scene from a Valentine’s Day movie shown on Bosnian television.

Kristine: So, do you think Martyrs couldn’t have been originally made in the U.S. because of 1. Violence 2. Nihilism or 3. It didn’t have proven market appeal, a.k.a. money?

Sean: I think a U.S. film company would be like “how do we market this movie? It’s too bleak.” I just feel like the best horror gets made overseas (this includes the U.K. and Australia). We get rare flicks like Drag Me to Hell every once and a while, but that was because of Sam Raimi, an old pro. I am not optimistic about indie American horror. Most of the ones I watch are really shitty. I just watched three – Exit Humanity, Absentia, and Wreckage – that were all basically crap. Every once and a while you get something cool like The Signal or The House of the Devil.

Kristine: Well, apparently Daniel Stamm has solved those problems by making it a Forrest Gump-type story of friendship with a hint of optimism. Can you imagine the pitch meeting?

Sean: Ugh. I hope it stars Jessica Alba and Katherine Heigl. I’d seriously rather have them remake it as a comedy or a musical or something batshit.

Kristine: Musical. I want the Creature to be on a zipline, flying all over the stage and into the audience, screaming. The flaying scene would be amazing on Broadway.

Sean: There is a horror movie goth musical, just fyi.

Kristine: What is it?

Sean: Repo! The Genetic Opera.

Kristine: Oh, I think I heard of that.

Sean: Paris Hilton is in it, and I kid you not. I tried to watch it and had to shut it off.

Kristine: Maybe this is what Smash should do in Season 2, is get rid of the Marilyn Monroe shenanigans and adapt Martyrs for Broadway.

Sean: I would watch the fuck out of that.

Ratings Roundup

The Girls Rating: This movie left me hollow and uncertain.

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

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30 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008)

  1. I thought this whole film was about transcendence and faith. Faith is such a strange thing, because its whole purpose is to exist without evidence. However, it seems that people of faith are constantly searching for evidence of the divine to affirm their faith. This film does a wonderful job of playing with the audience’s faith in the filmmaker and then subverting that faith. The same way that each of the acts and the actions of the characters subvert a film watcher’s faith that what they are seeing is a particular type of movie, the witness creators are subverting much of the traditional approaches to religious transcendence. Transcendence is normally achieved through personal sacrifice and penance, not through brutality and cruelty.

    The first act sets up a revenge story, then makes us doubt the revenge is justified. Once it’s established the revenge is justified (as much as revenge can be justified in the horror film sense of justice) the film hints at a much deeper horror story with the discovery of the dungeons. This does do a good job of setting up our expectations that it will be your typical torture film. Then there is the meeting with the Matriarch and it becomes quite clear that we’re going to get the torture we’ve seen in other films, but it’s purpose is different.

    The third act of this film does something I hadn’t expected. The third act actually delivers the divine. It could have just ended with yet another dead victim while the witness creators went about setting up things to create a new witness and continue trying. I mean, they were sure enough they could recreate this event that they didn’t seem interested in stopping until they did. That could have left the audience with a clear idea of who the monsters were in this movie.

    But the movie didn’t end that way. It ended affirming their faith. I wanted to think this was a critique of religion or faith, but it’s not. The film is an affirmation of faith and maybe even more so the affirmation that religious rights are correct and are a key to unlocking the divine, no matter what tactic you use to get there. So the witness creators subvert the rules of the divine to get a glimpse of the divine, and despite the Matriarch’s ending, I didn’t really get a sense that they would pay for their actions. Which begs the question, what sort of divine are we talking about?

    I think I read a comment on this film somewhere that the worst part of it is you can only see it for the first time once. I’d have to agree with that statement.

    1. Interesting but that’s not how I saw it at all and not sure that’s what the director was implying either.

      “The whole sect. What drives them to actually do these bad things?

      Pascal Laugier: Fear of death. And knowing the Ultimate Secret. And that’s something that could happen in real life. I mean, you know that when society is completely driven by the power of money, the power of the winners, you know? The power of capitalism, everything is possible. Everything is allowed, as soon as you pay for it. It’s not worse than going to Asia and fuck some… you know, because you can afford it. It’s not worse than… I don’t know. Capitalism should allow that because it breaks all the taboos in the power of money so it’s very, very possible that one day some people with a lot of money will try to break the last thing that makes us all the same, all equal, that is to say Death. That’s an idea, and maybe it’s a poetic idea but it’s very connected to the world we are living in.”
      http://www.aintitcool.com/node/39602

      Was it important for you to tie up all the loose ends in the film to justify all the violence?
      Absolutely. I don’t like the word justify but I knew it would explain to the audience why I’m showing so much violence from the starting point. It’s a film about suffering. It’s a film about pain. It’s not a film about torture. I wanted the audience to feel pain because I make my main actress suffer so much. I didn’t want any distance between their suffering and the audience’s suffering. My film, for me, is very empathetic. You have to feel for them. I never make a laugh at my main characters. I love them and I want them to stop suffering. It’s a very sad movie. I would even say it could be a depressing film. Its saying our time is over and evil has eaten everything. People are just hurting each other and it’s the end of it.
      http://www.whatsupmann.com/2009/10/pascal-laugiers-martyrs/

      DR: Do you personally believe in life after death?

      PL: I’m an agnostic. I just don’t know, and I don’t think it’s the goal of our life to know it. I think the only secret of the actual life is just live the present, live the moment. And we’ll see, in time, what’s happening. I hope so.
      Sometimes I have this feeling… Like everybody, sometimes I have this feeling of grace in me. It can be walking in the street, or watching a good film or listening to good music. Sometimes when I do nothing, like sitting on my couch, like a supernatural, unexplained phenomenon for a few seconds I feel the grace in me, that would almost make me cry. But it’s very short and like everybody the rest of the time is doubting.

      http://www.reviewgraveyard.com/00_interviews/09-03-17_pascal-laugier.htm

  2. In all of the reviews I have seen of this film, no-one, not one has understood why Mademoiselle removes her wig, head-scarf and make-up at the very end of the film before saying, “Keep doubting” and blowing her brains out.

  3. Here’s the woman who is, or was in charge of the Miss France competition:

    Genevieve de Fontenay, it is. Admit that it is kind of embarrassing every time you see Mademoiselle appear. I also thought that the movie was rubbish, save for that bath scene which was almost as moving as it was supposed to be. I understand the end: thusly, what comes after death is horrible, that’s why Mademoiselle prefers to sacrifice herself rather than reveal the awful truth (as Al Gore would put it), which doesn’t make sense since she’s hastening her dreadful post-mortem experience. Thought that someone really has to be dim-witted to think of such a film. Excuse the eventual errors, I’m French – the dialogue is horrible by the way, but it’s supposed to be an horror film, so who cares anyway…
    However I enjoy YOUR dialogues…