The Horror Honeys: Martyrs: Keep doubting

Martyrs: Keep doubting

A Tandem Revenge Honey & Head Honey Review

Martyrs (2008)

Revenge Honey's Perspective

Without a doubt, horror fans fancy themselves to be the true bad-asses of film fandom. They think, nay, they KNOW they have seen it all, so most claim that almost nothing phases them anymore. And yet, when you ask any horror fan for a list of the films that have driven them to a state of total abject misery, one film is always on that list: Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs. In fact, I know many people who won’t even watch this movie based on sheer word of mouth from other horror fans who have been so deeply disturbed by the movie. This lead Head Honey Kat and me to ponder… Why?

Years of higher education film study have basically turned me into an analytical theory machine. I can’t even watch a movie like How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days without considering the societal ramifications of its’ clich├ęd portrayal of women. (Seriously. I wrote a paper on that.) So, after watching Martyrs, and taking a long run while crying, and then crying in the shower, I sat down to think about why this movie affected me (and others) so deeply. This is what I came up with: Martyrs basically IS nihilism. Specifically in this case, the film is a representation of existential nihilism, which is a branch of philosophy that tells us that life is utterly without purpose or value. How did I come to this conclusion? Well...

The group conducting the experiments in the film has spent their entire lives (presumably) kidnapping and torturing women within a literal inch of their lives with the sole purpose of proving there is an afterlife. Why? To ease their own fear of death. But it never works. All they have done time and again are murder women without proving anything, thus killing in vain. And then there is Anna.

After all these years, they FINALLY find their woman who has the strength and courage to not only withstand the horrific abuse of her childhood, but also withstand the horrible torture they inflict on her. She is their ideal and achieves everything they have been looking for, and then she supposedly achieves the "transcendence" they have sought. It is my belief (and only my opinion, mind you! Feel free to argue with me) that when Anna whispers in Mademoiselle's ear, she tells her there is nothing. She has seen nothing. Everything the group has been chasing is a lie.

So when Etienne tells Mademoiselle that he doesn't believe in afterlife and she says, "Keep doubting," and then kills herself, she is not only affirming that he correct, but she is giving up her search because there is no point anymore. There is nothing left to search for. There is literally, nothing. She no longer has purpose to her existence, both because she has her answer and because she knows there is nothing waiting for her on the other side.

This is why I believe people are just so utterly miserable and defeated after they watch Martyrs. Not only have you been rooting for these women for most of the film to survive and fight through their trauma, but also if you have even a shred of hope that life has meaning, this film does well to destroy that for you. It may be a fucking wretched experience of a movie, but in some way I believe that Pascal Laugier has crafted a masterpiece. I have a hard time thinking of another film so genuinely divisive among even the most hardened horror fans. Can you?

Head Honey's Perspective

My own relationship with Martyrs is a very different one than the Revenge Honey's. I was first introduced to it by a lovely friend who lives, breathes and sleeps horror... it's one of her favourite films. To be utterly truthful, I can understand why.

Martyrs begins as a quintessential revenge film. A young girl, Lucie, escapes from 14 months of torture and captivity and begins the painstaking road to recovery and the search for a "normal" life. Like Lucie, her friend (Ana) grows up wanting to punish the people who tortured her friend... and rightfully so. Skip ahead a 15 years and we're smack dab in the middle of someone's utterly "normal life", complete with breakfast conversation about college choices and a dead mouse in the water main (what the hell, French people??). Normal, right? And then shit gets all fucked up.  Like...WOAH WOAH WOAH! WE'RE 10 MINUTES IN! WHAT THE HELL! fucked up.  And I'm talking Hobo with a Shotgun fucked up. But this time, it's Lucie with a shotgun.

I just wanted some toast...
Spoiler alert!!!  The absolutely unexpected slaughter of this "perfectly normal" family still ranks in the top "Totally Fucked Up Scenes I Wasn't Expecting In A Film." So... I found it for you because if you haven't seen have to see it. Yes, it's overdubbed (boo). Yes, it's amazing.

Oh wait... did I forget to mention? Lucie is more tarnished that we ultimately realize, she sees terrifying shit... a beautifully veined and totally terrifying apparition that attacks her with horrifying speed, viciousness, and OMG WTF WAS THAT weirdness.

You're welcome.
It's hard not to give away everything in this film while explaining WHY it's so genuinely fucked up. I will freely admit that I'm a fairly cold and desensitized person on the best of days... but something about this Martyrs got to me.

We all have those moments, those times when our brains are just... quiet. Sometimes while walking the dog, reaching for the door handle, doing the dishes, or any other mundane task when your mind is blank; you might get strong visuals streaking across your consciousness... great sex from the night before, some awesome cheese waiting at home... or in my case some fucking HORSESHOE NAILS BEING RIPPED OUT OF SOMEONE'S HEAD.  Yeah. That. That is Martyrs for me.

But Martyrs isn't just about enduring visuals. I find more than a few moments in this film utterly beautiful... namely the Mademoiselle and her exquisite monologue, the beauty of suffering experienced by Anna, the futility of escape and the lie of "normalcy." The poignancy of her final moments with Lucie, and Anna's final words, which to me are extremely special. As Revenge Honey mentioned, Anna's final words to the Mademoiselle are that she has seen nothing... experienced no ultimate revelation. I believe, that Anna is lying. What better revenge, than for the perfect candidate to experience the ultimate goal, and then lie about it. Anna lies to keep the truth for herself. Lies to keep it for Lucie. That lie is the only power that Anna has left after having everything she has ever cared about literally stripped away from her frame.

And as much as I ADORE old ladies who wear false eyelashes, Mademoiselle has abused Anna, held her hostage, taken everything from her. Why should Ana help someone like this, someone who has dedicated her life to torture and manipulation?  I believe that Ana has won this round.

I have to believe that.    

Mademoiselle: "Martyrs are exceptional people. They survive pain, they survive total deprivation. They bear all the sins of the earth. They give themselves up. They transcend themselves... they are transfigured."