Martyrs has been lumped in with all the other notorious 'torture porn' candidates ie Saw and Hostel, but undeservedly so. It is gory, and it is tough to watch, but it has a point to it that goes beyond mere shock value. Martyrs is about Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi), a young girl who escaped her tormentors and is then sent to live in an orphanage where she slowly befriends Anna (Morjana Alaoui) and over time, the two become inseparable. Lucie is plagued with what I think is an extreme case of survivor's guilt that manifests itself in the shape of a girl she failed to rescue when she escaped herself, and so the psychological torture continues to haunt Lucie long after the physical torture had ended.
While Growing up Lucie never gave up looking for the people who tortured her as a child, and 15 years later she finds them living an idyllic life with the perfect familial lifestyle. Spoilers! Lucie promptly delivers retribution as she sees fit, only we're never sure if Lucie has identified the correct family or is even in the right state of mind to do anything about it in the first place. Seeing the massacre firsthand, Anna begins to doubt Lucie's sanity and this breaks Lucie's spirit completely, and without going into too much detail, this is where Martyrs takes a turn for the truly heartbreaking, as if it wasn't bad enough already. It might sound like I've spoiled a lot, but believe me, I haven't, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Anna soon discovers that Lucie did in fact identify the correct family and that they were not the innocent victims of Lucie's wild imagination as she had originally thought they were. Turns out this family has secrets, a whole basement full of 'em.
Martyrs was a brave movie to make and like I said, it doesn't deserve to be dismissed as nothing more than 'torture porn'. It was brutal, it was gory, it was depraved, and it was extremely hard to watch, but there was more thematic merit to Martyrs than there is to movies like Saw and Hostel, no matter how repugnant or repulsive that merit may be. The two leading ladies who carry this movie both gave incredibly ferocious and fearless performances too. Martyrs also explored the depths of depravity in a way that wasn't inherently sadism-based, which is unusual for these types of movies. Pascal Laugier (director, writer) tried to infuse some intelligence behind the seemingly wanton and prolonged brutality, only it was more clinical than it was outright sadistic. Martyrs becomes a truly heartbreaking and gut-wrenching movie to watch when you can see the writing on the wall, metaphorically speaking of course.
The motives behind the assailants are..., you could almost say are academically based. There is no maliciousness behind their torture, no more than is necessary anyway. Their aim is to find out if there is life after death, or maybe not life after death, but another place after death. They do this by torturing young women, who are apparently more receptive to the 'other side' hoping they will reach a state of nirvana and will then report back to them. Definite Spoilers! The ending is open to interpretation as we never hear what Anna did say to the Mademoiselle, but if I had to guess, I'd say she fed Mademoiselle a lie.
Now bear in mind that Mademoiselle had spent approximately twenty years kidnapping and torturing young girls hoping to unlock the mysteries of the afterlife and to no avail. Yet when Anna reaches a prolonged state of Nirvana, and then knowing how much a nihilistic answer would crush her life's work, Anna told her that there was nothing, that all the suffering she had inflicted over her lifetime was all for naught. So despondent and possibly overcome with guilt over who knows how many victims, Mademoiselle ate a bullet. Some people have interpreted the ending as Anna telling Mademoiselle that there is an afterlife and so Mademoiselle killed herself in a rush to get there, but I don't think Anna would have given her the satisfaction. Whatever the case may be, Martyrs is an undeniably hard movie to watch, it's not for the fainthearted or easily offended. It's not a movie I can say I enjoyed, but I admire its courage and its audacity, I'll put it that way. A very powerful movie that transcends simple 'torture porn'.
Written by - The Sentry - 22/07/2015