Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beauty in Brutality: A Defense of Laugier's Martyrs

Major Spoiler Alert
This post is meant to be an in-depth discussion of Pascal Laugier's Martyrs. If you have not seen this film, I urge you, nay, BEG you: do not read this post. You risk ruining one of the great horror films of our time for yourself. If you're unfamiliar with Martyrs, it is a brutal, harrowing film, not for the weak of stomach. Only watch this film if you feel you're ready. In any case, please experience the film for yourself before you read this discussion.

I call this post a defense of Martyrs, and you may well wonder why it needs defending when it is adored by so many horror bloggers. The first time I watched it, by the time the credits rolled, I was in complete, slack-jawed awe. Watching Martyrs isn't so much like watching a regular movie as it is having a profound, deeply-unsettling experience. I thought about it all night and into the next day, then I turned to the internet to see what other people were saying. To my (naive) surprise, this film is not universally loved, and those who dislike it seem to hate it with a vengeance.

One commenter suggested that Laugier should shoot himself in the head for having brought this film into the world. Another stated that not only Laugier, but anyone who actually liked Martyrs should be sterilized. It was called a worthless piece of torture-porn masquerading as an art film, a psuedo-intellectual piece of expolitation. And, on some level, I understand this reaction. Martyrs is a film designed to repulse, to provoke, and to digust. But this negative reaction was so counter to my own that I couldn't help but feel these commenters were missing something important.

If you were to characterize Martyrs in one word, what would it be? Devastating is an apt choice. Repellent? Yes, it is that. Cringe-inducing? Thought-provoking? All true, but the one term that came back to me again and again as I considered it, was Beautiful. A strange term for such an undeniably ugly film, but that is the purpose of this essay: to illustrate how at its core, Martyrs really is a work of beauty, one that uses a canvas of brutality to expose the beauty beneath.

Martyrs plays like two different films spliced together, yet doesn't seem disjointed. If nothing else, Laugier is a master of misdirection. The film begins as a straightforward horror film that along the way, morphs into an entirely different beast. When the film opens, we know that a young girl has escaped from horrible abuse, and has been taken in at an orphanage where she pushes everyone away. Everyone except for Anna, another abandoned girl whose gentle nature makes her the only one worthy of trust. We shortly find out that the abused girl, Lucie, is haunted by some sort of vicious demon-woman who inflicts bodily injury upon her when she's alone. This demon-woman reminded me of something out of a Japanese horror film, setting up expectations that Laugier exploits masterfully.

After the initial appearance of Lucie's supernatural tormentor, we flash forward 15 years into the home of a typical family with an 18-year-old on his way to college, and a high school daughter who is a star athlete. The scene is cozy and the family seems amiable, with the kids and their father verbally jousting over breakfast. A ring at the doorbell rouses the father from the table, and no sooner has he opened the door than Lucie has blown a foot-wide hole into him with a shotgun. She storms the house, gunning down the entire family. And the thing is, she barely looks at the parents to see whether they are indeed her tormentors from fifteen years ago. You get the feeling that Lucie is out of her mind, projecting her past abusers onto a perfectly innocent family. At this stage in the film, that is where the real horror comes from. Not only does Laugier explicitly show all the murders, he makes you doubt they are justified at all.

After the killing spree, Lucie rubs her hand in the mother's blood, then holds it up, saying, "I did it. Look. I did it," to appease her supernatural stalker. But she is not placated. She stages a ferocious, terrifying attack on Lucie, jumping on her back and slashing long, deep gashes into it with a straight-razor. Every scene in which this woman appears, naked, bestial, and utterly relentless, is flat-out terrifying, rivalling any scary movie I've seen.

Your first clue that Lucie might be delusional comes when Anna arrives to help her clean up the mess she's made. After fleeing into the woods, Lucie says, "She's in the house," referring to the demon-woman. Anna says, "I know," and heads straight into the house to see what's happened. She doesn't seem to even entertain the notion that the woman is real, but instead needs to witness what Lucie has done.

Even in the aftermath of this horrible scene, Anna is fully committed to protecting Lucie, dragging the bodies out to a pit in the backyard. It is revealed that Anna is actually in love with Lucie, when Lucie expresses her gratitude by repeatedly kissing Anna's face. Anna then kisses Lucie on the mouth, only to be pushed away. Lucie loves Anna, but not in that way.

It is in Anna's nature to help people. She's committed to helping Lucie get out of the horrible mess she has made, but when she discolvers the mother is still alive, she can't help but to try and help her escape. When Lucie discovers this, she goes batshit, smashing the place up and accusing Anna of never believing her. Once again Laugier's talent for misdirection shows itself. You start to think that the rest of the movie will be Anna trying to escape from this enraged, psychotic that she has befriended since childhood. But it doesn't turn out that way. Instead, the demon-woman makes another appearance, and this time Lucie seems to give in rather than fighting. The woman carves deep gashes along Lucie's arms and bashes her head into the wall. It is here that Laugier confirms what you may have suspected: that the woman is nothing more than Lucie's delusion. The film intercuts shots of what Lucie thinks is happening with what Anna actually witnesses: Lucie cutting herself, and slamming her own head into the wall. There are also flashbacks revealing who the woman is. She is the woman Lucie saw when she was escaping her torturers, but could not save. The hallucinations were borne of Lucie's own guilt. The first half of the film ends with Lucie slashing her own throat.

If Laugier had lengthened the first half of the movie to feature-length, it still would have worked. You'd get the twist that Lucie is delusional and harming herself. It would have been scary, brutal, and sure to be talked about and revered in horror circles. It also would have been pretty pointless.  That's not necessarily a bad thing. If a horror movie scares the crap out of you, it's done its job, right? This is why the second half of Martyrs makes it transcend the genre and turns it into something utterly unique. It is also why so many people hate the film, and why I love it.

At this point, the audience is wondering where the film could possibly go. I had the idea that perhaps there would be a second twist and it would turn out the woman really was a vengeful spirit and she would begin attacking Anna, and Anna would have to solve the mystery of who the torturers were and stop them before the spirit would leave her alone. Misdirection. Instead, Anna finds a secret stairway to a dungeon in which the woman from Lucie's past is still alive and being tortured.

Again, Anna is compelled to help the suffering woman. She brings her upstairs, bathes her, and painfully removes the staples that have pinned a metal blinder to her skull. But the woman is not a vengeful monster. She is a victim, utterly ruined by years of torture. And unsurprisingly, she doesn't want to live. She begins cutting her arms and freaking out. All the while, Anna is trying to calm and comfort her. Suddenly, a hole explodes in the woman's head as a team of professionals with guns invades the house. Clearly, they're not the police, and have something to do with Lucie's torture. They take Anna to the basement.

This is where, for me, the movie really got interesting. An old woman in a head-wrap and shades shows up and explains to Lucie what exactly is happening. They are an organization that has been systematically torturing young women for years in hopes of discovering a martyr. The Mademoiselle explains, "Anyone can be a victim. Martyrs are exceptional beings. They survive pain, they survive total deprivation. They bear all the sins of the earth, they give themselves up, they transcend themselves." Then she makes it clear that Anna is going to be the next subject in their grand experiment.

In countless horror films, innocent victims are tortured and mutilated for the perverse enjoyment of a psychopath. But Laugier presents a group doing no less dreadful things all for the betterment of mankind. Think about it. Their goal is to create martyrs to gain insight into what lays beyond death. With that knowledge, we would no longer just be floundering about, wondering how to best be spending our time and energy. We would know what we had to do to prepare ourselves for the next world. In this way, Martyrs ceases to be a straight-up horror flick and becomes something akin to a grail quest - the quest for transcendant knowledge. The ultimate goal is truly the meaning of life. As such, we can understand their motives much better than that of your garden-variety psycho. We may despise their methods, but we want the answers just as much as they do.

What follows is 20+ minutes of isolation, cruelty, and torture, all performed as Mademoiselle says, "methodically, systematically, and coldly." Daily beatings are delivered not by maniacs, but people who don't enjoy what they're doing, yet believe in the cause. This phase of the movie is what really gets to people. Even commentors who reported liking the film admitted having to fast forward through some of this sequence. Some say that Laugier went overboard with this seemingly unending series of beatings, but I disagree. The repetition works in the film's favor, forcing the audience to vicariously experience the horror with Anna. It is also important in that you witness Anna's stages of dealing with her suffering. She begins by fighting it. Screaming. Tugging at her chains. But by the time it's over, she has resigned herself to her fate and ceases to fear anything they can dish out.

In The Power of Myth, Jospeh Campbell explains that the only way for God to become lovable was to take on human form, because as a human, he is capable of suffering. And it's true. It is precisely those times of suffering and loss that we really feel our compassion for others. Many Christians report seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ as one of the most moving religious experiences of their lives. Basically, that movie is a biblical torture-porn, showing every stroke of the lash and every harrowing moment of the crucifixion in graphic detail. It is easily as brutal as Martyrs, and was a huge hit among ultra-conservatives. I'm not a Christian, but I've always dug Jesus and was very much moved by Gibson's (admittedly anti-Semitic) film. Why? Because here was the gentlest man who ever lived, who preached a doctrine of "love thy neighbor as you love thyself," and he was made to suffer the most horrible death imaginable. It was the first time I ever felt I understood the notion of "He died for our sins." His sacrifice should have made all true believers shun the very idea of violence and stirred the most compassionate part of themselves, leading to an unwavering commitment to peace (of course, we all know how that worked out).

The point I'm trying to make here is that when I say Martyrs is a beautiful film, what I mean is that by creating this saintly figure, then putting her through the most atrocious torture imaginable, Laugier has made it possible for us to really feel her suffering. When Lucie commits her murders, we feel it is justified by what they did to her. We feel sympathy for their children, but it only goes so far. By contrast, when the hero of the movie becomes the victim, we feel compassion for her character, a compassion we can only feel fully when witnessing her destruction. This is what makes the film a beautiful, if painful, experience.

Some people have accused Laugier of tacking on a cop-out ending to Martyrs. After Anna is skinned alive, thus bringing about her martyrdom, she passes her transcendant knowledge on to the Mademoiselle. On the eve of passing the message on to her followers, the Mademoiselle tells her assistant, Etienne to "keep doubting" the existence of the afterlife, and shoots herself. After my first viewing, I defended the scene as the only possible way it could have ended, since Laugier clearly doesn't know the meaning of life. But since then, I've come to realize that what the Mademoiselle was really doing was sending a message to her followers, in the most certain of terms, that we are not meant to know the answers.

She makes it clear that she has received the message, it is clear, it is precise, and "it admitted of no interpretation," and then refuses to pass it on. She is telling her followers to abandon this quest for answers. There are many ways to interpret her final remarks. It could be that Anna told her there is no afterlife, and that knowledge was so disappointing that her life lost all meaning. Or perhaps Anna told her God is real and that her blindly ambitious and ruthless pursuit of power would lead to her eternal damnation. Considering her love for Lucie, and her kindness toward everyone, it is possible the meaning of life is love and kindness, qualities that the Mademoiselle clearly does not possess. But Laugier doesn't supply the answers, instead leaving the ending ambiguous and letting the questions linger in the audience's minds. I know that I couldn't stop thinking about this movie for weeks, a sure sign that Laugier did something right.

Ultimately, Martyrs asks the question: How far would you go to have all the answers? How far is too far? Clearly, the Mademoiselle's methods are too far. The knowledge kills her, which is a roundabout victory for Anna. If Mademoiselle's followers heed her message and abandon their pursuit of martyrs, then Anna's sacrifice is the salvation of countless young women who might have shared her fate. At the closing credits, we see images of Lucie and Anna as children and are reminded of their love for each other. For Anna, love is the meaning of life, and no one needed die for her to know it.

Perhaps Laugier's message is that the meaning of life is not knowing. The uncertainty we feel is what leads us to construct our own answers and meaning. Or perhaps I'm projecting my own views onto the film. So be it. The message is only half of communication-meaning only comes about from the receiver's interpretation of the message. The only certain thing about Martyrs is that it will make you think. It's easy to dismiss Martyrs as pseudo-intellectual torture porn, but what other horror film makes you think about the meaning of life itself?


  1. Yup. I think you hit the nail on the head. I love the ambiguous ending mainly because the individual's interpretation of the outcome says more about the viewer than the piece of art and I find, more often than not, that very notion of interpretation can upset many viewers.

  2. I know, its funny to watch how pissed off people get when an ending doesn't spell everything out for them. You know, because who has time to think about a movie outside of its 90 minute run time?

  3. I found this article while searching for others ideas on the kiss between Lucie and Anna. I honestly never even noticed it in my first viewing a year ago. Tonight, watching it again, you can certainly tell that the look on Anna's face when Lucie asks her what she's doing is of deep sadness / disappointment. The scene was so heartbreaking for me and made Lucie's suicide and subsequent "sorry"'s by Anna that much more painful to watch. Oddly enough, watching it again tonight, I nearly cried thinking about these various scenes - the heartbreak of loving someone that much who is so damaged and lost, and then watching that very person slit their throat... only to finally realize that their apparent psychotic behavior was entirely justified. The movie certainly touched me... and I greatly enjoyed reading through your synopsis and thoughts. Probably my favorite horror ever.

  4. waldy,

    Thanks for your comments. Martyrs quickly became one of my favorites too. Outside of horror circles, not too many people know about it. That's probably for the best though. Definitely not for mainstream audiences.

  5. You wrote, "...but I've always dug Jesus and was very much moved by Gibson's (admittedly anti-Semitic) film." Admittedly antisemitic? 'Admittedly' by whom? Antisemitism would be problematic for most Christians for the simple reason Christ was/is a Jew. It is sometimes irksome to read non-Christian writers and thinkers attempting to approach Christianity in any meaningful or insightful way. For my part, I've always marveled at the murderous hypocrisy of socialists, communists, and Marxists of all stripes, who condemn religious faith yet whose 'faith' somehow managed to murder more human beings in a single century (150 million and counting) than any religious faith at any time in the recorded history of mankind. According to its own meticulously kept records, the infamous Spanish Inquisition killed approximately 140,000 people in 200 years, which was more or less a slow week's work for the likes of beloved atheists Pol Pot and Mao Zedong. That enlightened non-believer Che Guevera, ubiquitously emblazoned on so many teeshirts, was fond of shooting prisoners without trial. Move over, Torquemada.

    That aside and to the point of this thread, I'm guessing it doesn't matter what Anna said to Madam. You're missing the point; rather, you're missing the point of view: Anna and the other women who 'saw' aren't the martyrs referred to in the title. We are, you and me, the audience, the witnesses of Anna's brutalization, torture and death. Life is suffering, at least according to the Buddha, and Anna's life depicted in the film, with all of its pain, torture, brutalization, and death, was a metaphor for the human condition. Or so it seems to me.

  6. Troy,

    I can see your point, but does this really have to be a confrontation? I'm not on an atheist crusade as you seem to think. And yes Christians and atheists alike have committed horrible atrocities in their quests for power over others. That is another part of the human condition, and the part that attracts me to horror. It helps me come to terms with the capacity for brutality within us.

    As for "admittedly anti-semetic," what I meant was that I am admitting that I think it's anti-semetic. I defended Gibson's movie right up to the point that he gave his infamous DUI rant, showing his true feelings and making it impossible for me to defend him.

    And I can appreciate your interpretation of Martyrs, but just because my interpretation differs from yours, it doesn't mean I'm "missing the point." That would imply that your interpretation is the "correct" reading of the film. From my critical viewpoint, there can never be a single "correct" interpretation. Communication occurs when a message encoded by the sender is interpreted by the receiver, making the meaning a shared interaction. So even if Laugier came out and said, "I intended Martyrs as a metaphor for the human condition," it would not make that the one and only "correct" interpretation.

    Similarly, when I read the Bible, I interpret it differently that someone who reads it as a believer, creating my own meaning. When I read your complaint that non-Christian cannot approach Christianity in a meaningful way, I interpret it as you discounting any approach to Christianity that doesn't agree with yours. Their approach to Christianity may lack meaning or insight to you, but that doesn't mean it is devoid of meaning and insight.

  7. I saw this film a few years ago and thought it was a pretty decent horror flick. After watching it again last night however, I really haven't been able to stop thinking about it. This led to me watching it again this morning and then going onto the internet to find out other people's thoughts on it (which is how I've stumbled across this essay). For me, so much of this film focuses on love. One of the parts of the film which impacted on me deepest was where Anna begins hallucinating after extensive torture but doesn't see anything like a dead girl attacking her, or cockroaches covering her skin. Instead, she hears the voice of the person she loved, Lucie, and it's this internal monologue with Lucie that finally enables her to let go and no longer be frightened. It really shows how close the two of them were, even if Anna's romantic idea of love was unrequited.
    I'm not sure whether I was too young to fully appreciate the film a few years ago, but I'm really glad I watched it again. Outside of the film's plot, a personal highlight was the brilliant make-up used in the film (Anna, who was rather pretty and gentle-looking became more and more beaten and bruised until she was unrecognisable by the film's end).
    It really enhances the experience to read other people's thoughts on the film (especially thoughts which don't deride the film as being 'gross', 'disgusting', 'torture porn', etc). Thanks so much for posting this essay!

  8. Hi, (sorry if some sentences are not totally correct, I´m not native english)

    recently I saw a lot of horror movies, some were really good and some were just movies not even worthwhile to watch. But this one had this WOW effect. I did not read any critics or even seen the trailer beforehand. So in the beginning I thought that Lucie would walk around and kill all these guys who were torturing her. But surprisingly it came different, what of course caught my attation much more. After Anna was put into these people dungeon (naively) I thought: hmm how will she manage to escape? But soon I realized that this movie is not just another horror flick, but has a deeper meaning instead and a great story line. Then I tried to read between the lines and here is some output:

    Anna is/was always a deeply good person, she knew that Lucie had done terrible things to this family, but still she loved Lucie (she wanted to show her love with a kiss). But as much as she loved her, also she wanted to help the mother, who survived (even though the mother, Gabrielle, was probably a bad person). Again shows how much grace she has.

    Even thought Mademoiselle tells that martyrs have nothing to do with religion, but I see a link to it, because many names in this movie have their roots in religion. Anna for instance was in the new testament the first woman to understand fully that Jesus was the messiah and proclaim the good news (Luke 2:38). In the new testament there was the angel Gabirel, who tells: Being first to hear doesn´t always mean being first to understand. Gabrielle (mother) asked Anna, while she was carrying her out, why Lucie was doing this, although she should know! Gabriel’s name means “God is my strength and helps to overcome fear and procrastination and is female! Look it up..
    Also I see a link between Lucie (Lucifer) and Anna (in this case it would be Jesus, who was the greates martyr) Jesus also loved Lucifer but.. we know the story. Also Anna as she hangs in the end skinned, it looks like she would be crucified.
    Ok, the ending for me at least is kind of clear: Yes, Anna was in heaven and she saw what was there, this is exactly what she says: ...there is no room for interpretations. Mademoiselle knows exatcly what will happen to all people in the afterlife. But the doubters don´t have to know..in other words they should keep doubting or believing, this is why she kills herself, nobody, also not us watching the movie should know.
    Then we see Anna when she was young, and full of love..usually an ending shows the outcome:) Good people go to... bad people to..!

  9. Don't Matter what you think, what he thinks or she thinks and it does not matter what Anna Said at the end. THAT is the point of the movie. You don't need to know. That's the problem with human beings and clearly the guy who made this movie wanted you to get that through your head.

  10. Honestly, I always took the ending to mean that Anna told Mademoiselle that the answer to salvation had been within them all the time. Mademoiselle then realizes that in trying to find out the answers, she and her cult have made themselves into monsters. Realizing that there is no hope for the cultists, she tells them to 'keep doubting' because only by not knowing the truth that they are damned can they potentially save themselves.

    Anyway after reading the answers above, I think I can see those arguments too, so maybe the movie is genuinely a blank slate that people put their own feelings about the afterlife onto.

  11. Really wonderfully insightful, penetrating and well-written review and having just watched this film I agree completely with your analysis. What a sublime and beautiful movie it is, regardless of differing interpretations. Thank you.

  12. I was randomly checking what movies were on tv tonight while I finished some chores, and Martyrs was the only one that had just started. I started watching from the scene where we see the "happy" family starting their day.

    I love a good horror flick, and this shaped up to be quite a good one! I thought the "being" haunting Lucie was bad enough, quite terrifying, and couldn't imagine how the movie could get more horrific.

    Maybe I'm sicker than most, (or watched waay too many horror films) but i was so mad at Anna for not believing Lucie, even when it's apparent that this woman was all in Lucie's head. I was mad at Anna for not trying to use her chains as a weapon against her torturers. I scoffed at Anna for not believing in Lucie, and the fact that her kindness had caused her to be careless of the time factor, and she didn't get out and away from the house in time before those people in black came and blew crazy lady's brains out.. and dragged her downstairs to be the next victim.

    I was pretty moved by Anna's inner dialogue and her ability to gain strength from the craziness, rather than letting it consume her and drive her crazy and hallucinate something more negative i.e crazy-lady's cockroaches on her skin or Lucie and her self-harming demon.

    As Anna was being prepped to be skinned alive, I thought she would get the stapled helmet as well, and was shocked to see her skinned.. AND STILL ALIVE!!

    I watched the last scene (with mademoiselle and Étienne) a few times, trying to make sense of the film.. WHAT DID ANNA SAY?!?! -- I had to find the films meaning.

    And here I am. :) I found this review/post on Martyrs the most helpful from what I have seen on the net so far. I do like a bloggers thoughts that the meaning to life is not meant to be known. Or in my opinion, perhaps it is different to everyone.. Anna (im assuming) only saw the bright light and perhaps felt peace.. knowing Lucie would be with her through it all gave her the strength to give them what they want so no one else would have to endure the same.

    Either way, i would love to know what happened to Lucie after that?? did she die?? or grow skin and keep living???

  13. Oops, I meant Anna... does she die or keep living?

    And another thought I had about the end... maybe what Anna told mademoiselle was beautiful and she wanted that wanted to be there (wherever that is) so she killed herself to get there. And hog al the info for herself, "keep doubting" and you will find ur own way there :D

  14. Really just wanted to give kudos yo your essay. Martyrs is one of my fave
    movies, even though I don't think I could watch it again. It moved me more
    than any other I've seen and it's truly thought provoking.
    Which leads me to thanking you and the others that have posted here. It;s
    really great and affirming to see people actually take the time to think about
    this movies profound, beautiful meaning instead of just knee-jerk reacting to
    what they think Martyrs should have been. I understand that different people
    like things for very different reasons, but it saddens me that many people will not be bothered to ponder ideas when they are challenged.
    Anyway, thanks for actual discussion instead of finger pointing.

  15. I feel that it is important to understand the old woman’s actions at the very end of the film. Until the very last scene Madamoiselle has full make-up and a head-scarf on, “hiding” her age and ….let’s say, lack of natural beauty. As the ultimate messenger to the *elite* gathering in the moments before she tells her messenger that he should, “Keep doubting,” (in the aftermath of the torture and ultimate end of the emotionally mature and strong Anna) she removes these facades and then kills herself quickly and without any other ceremony. I do not believe that this is, “ambiguous.”

  16. This is a well written essay! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I very much enjoyed reading them.

  17. Question regarding your argument that the film is not pseudo-intellectual torture porn because the motive is the meaning of life: Why did the torturers not just martyr themselves? Allow themselves to be tortured and at least then they'd know the answer for themselves. ..Because then the director would have to provide an answer about the definitive meaning of life which of course is impossible. Therefore, the whole "meaning of life" is just a thin veil over yet another torture porn film. The director's skill in surprising hardcore horror fans through misdirection does not alter what this film is at heart, because if not torture porn why the hell can a martyr only be created through torturing young women?

  18. Anon #7,

    Being a martyr is an exceptionally rare condition. I get the feeling that the organization has been in the torture business for a long time with very limited success. They can't just allow themselves to be tortured because it most likely wouldn't produce a martyr, and they feel it is their duty to bear witness to the wisdom passed on from a martyr when they do, in fact, produce one.

    As for being "torture porn," I guess pornography is in the eye of the beholder. To me, the film raises all kinds of questions about the price of knowledge. How different is the organization in Martyrs from the pharmaceutical companies that tortore lab animals for the advancement of medicine? Also, as horror fans, what are we looking for in these gruesome films that explore the depths of human depravity. I don't know about you, but I'm looking for some insight into the human condition and trying to come to terms with the inherent evil that resides in every one of us. Do I have all the answers because Pascal Laugier spoonfed them to me? Of course not. But his movies do make me think, and I like that.

  19. Thank you for a great essay. Watched Martyrs tonight and it was spinning through my mind. in a similar way to A Serbian Film, there seem to be many answers/questions that you can take from it and it is always good to be challenged as well as horrified. This is my take : https://kendalllacey.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/is-martyrs-the-most-disturbing-film-ever/

  20. Everyone seem to miss the final scenes of the movie, just after mademoiselle kills herself: the director is serving there the answer for you all. Please go and see again the end of the film. There is again Anna unskinned with the air of witnessing something. Then the credits appear and we see innocent, charming scenes of young Anna and Lucie playing outdoors, just like free and happy children. The loyal friendship of these two girls is the core of the film and one of the things that makes it far more attractive than a regular exploitation/gore tape. The sweet memory of her dead friend is also what keeps Anna going through her journey into hell, and maybe what finally makes her ´special´ among the other victims: she did not arrive there by accident but guided by love. Let´s go back to the final scenes of the movie: that footage has the hazy feeling that old memories and dreams have. It could be a flashback of their past, an ethereal existence out of time, or both. At the gates of death, beyond physical exhaustion, Anna is experiencing a lapse of grace (or call it relief after extreme pain). Whether an "after-life" or just a brief inner vision (after all, who knows what “eternity” actually means? ;-) ), her mind is flying to the place she would best like to be: outside in the fields, free, unmolested... playing again with her best friend. This is heaven for her. And this is the “after-life” that she describes “with no room for interpretation” to the Mademoiselle . The message was so pure and sincere, so innocent and human, so immanent and simple, that it could only destroy that wicked, spiritually crippled b#tch (and later cause the dissolution of her league of wealthy psychopaths, we assume). Anna and Lucie have won. And probably saved many other girls from following the same fate. They are in fact martyrs. But not in the pseudo-scientific, heartless and artificial way that Madamme understands martyrdom. Madamme was caught in her own trap, the quest of her life is over after confronting Anna, she found what she was looking for: an ultimate truth and lesson… but not the one or not in the way she expected it… she has miserably failed about everything for ignoring the most important clue: love and compassion. Martyrs is much more than gore or entertainment. It is a word of warning against sick “transcendence-seeking” and how easily it can dissociate you from your heart.

  21. @Anonymous January 7
    I think that's about as close to the films message as one can get without being inside the director's head. The ending had to be ambiguous. If it were not, the director would be viewed as either a militant atheist or a religious fanatic... and the film would specifically fall into one of those two niches as well. The film transcends either niche by exploring (in an extreme manner) the curiosity of human beings and how far that curiosity could take them rather than relying on cliches. Without the ambiguous ending, the film would have lost its power to move you and make you think deeply about it long after viewing. It was a bold and risky move, but it worked incredibly well. PL could have taken the lazy cliched approach to satisfy the Friday the 13th crowd, but he went all the way. Great film.


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