Film Review: Pascal Laugier’s MARTYRS (2008)

☆☆ If you haven’t seen Martyrs, I would STRONGLY recommend that you watch it without reading this review…or any reviews for that matter. I think it is best to go into this movie without any idea where the story is going to take you. You will only be able to experience watching this film for the first time once, so I suggest you make the most of it. ☆☆

Martyrs (2008, Written and Directed by Pascal Laugier) opens with the young Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) running down a deserted street, screaming and covered in blood. She had been kidnapped and subjected to extreme forms of torture before escaping. The authorities remain completely mystified about who did this to her and (more importantly) why. Severely traumatized, Lucie refuses to speak to anyone, save for her only friend Anna (Morhana Alaoui). Fifteen years later, Lucie knocks on the door of a normal suburban home and executes the entire family living there. She is convinced that these are the people who tortured her as a child, and calls Anna for help. Anna is skeptical about Lucie’s convictions – especially since Lucie also believes that she has been being attacked by a monster ever since her escape.

After a few plot twists that I won’t mention here, Anna discovers a sleek and completely sterile torture chamber hidden underneath the house. In the dungeon, she finds another woman who was being tortured by the family. Anna attempts to help her, only to be abducted herself when the leaders of a mysterious organization arrive at the house. The leader of the cult-like group reveals to Anna that they are torturing women in an attempt to recreate the experience of martyrdom. By using pain and violence, they want to push these women into a plain of higher existence in an attempt to discover what lies beyond life and after death.

There is something called a ‘peak experience,’ a psychological turning of our heads when the boundaries of ordinary experience fall away and we experience a wider form of consciousness. Most people have had some sort of peak experience in their lives and most spend the rest of their lives trying to replicate these experiences. Of course, these experiences become harder and harder to come by, as we gradually begin to turn off our brains and close ourselves off to new experiences. I believe this is why so many people turn to some sort of abuse – drug abuse, alcohol abuse, nymphomania. They are trying to replicate, in an artificial way, a peak experience from their past. In Martyrs, the abuse is physical; it is pure, unrestrained violence.

The problem with modern society that Martyrs touches upon is the lack of interesting (or at least immediate) challenges. Civilization is a recent development for mankind and one that comes into direct conflict with our instinct to fight and struggle. Civilization allows us to become victims of an annoying habit of relaxing our concentration, of living comfortably and without purpose. In his interview with Ain’t It Cool News, Pascal Laugier mentions that he drew the inspiration for Martyrs from HP Lovecraft, “There is a line from HP Lovecraft that drove my energy to do the film. Just a line, you know? He once said that Horror was a genre that was supposed to be against the world, against society and against civilization.”

There is no doubt that ordinary man is condemned to a form of blindness by his habit-bound existence; he plods through life like a blinkered horse, never seeing too far beyond the end of his nose. He is a sleepwalker. But what about the man who wakes up? What kind of world meets his eyes? What was Wordsworth describing in The Prelude – what is “the reality of the unseen”? This is what Laugier sets out to explore in Martyrs, and as an member of the audience the film made me question (yet again) my own motivations for watching horror films.

So how do we wake up? How do we expand our consciousness? In Martyrs, Laugiers uses the experience of suffering as a way to ‘wake up.’ It is no secret that death, or coming close to death, has the ability to snap us out of our apathy. This is what Christopher Walken’s character in The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978) is attempting to achieve by playing Russian Roulette after his experience in the Vietnam War. Our instinct to resist death, to run from suffering, puts us in a state of heightened consciousness. We are no longer living at half-pressure. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment says he would rather stand on a narrow ledge forever, in darkness and tempest, than die immediately.

Religion is basically another name for this dissatisfaction with the constricted vision of modern life. Intensely religious people want to escape the ‘cloud’ that weighs upon us. Ordinary consciousness focuses upon certain objects or ‘facts’ the same way eyes do. However, beyond these central facts there are other things of which the consciousness is only half-aware, things that lie at the margin. But consciousness can suddenly widen, so that things that were once at the margin are suddenly grasped and absorbed. There is no fixed limit. This is a peak experience.

There is the idea of ‘thresholds’ in psychology. A threshold represents our psychological limit; a person with a high noise threshold can stand a lot of noise. “Misery will never end,” said Van Gogh immediately before committing suicide. This is an example of a low pain threshold – not meaning how much physical pain a person can stand, but how far he is aware of the pain in the world. Anyone who is too aware of suffering, and their own inability to remedy it, is likely to fall into a state of anhedonia.

Anhedonia is the most dangerous form of schizophrenia – it is the complete inability to feel pleasure. To a person with a low pain threshold, it seems that anhedonia is the inevitable state of all human beings, if they are not too stupid to draw the correct conclusion from their experiences. This is what happens to Lucie, who is haunted by a ghoulish naked woman, and the unnamed woman Anna discovers in the torture complex hidden beneath an idyllic suburban house, who is convinced that cockroaches are crawling all over her body. They both suffered irreparable psychological breaks during their imprisonment and torture. They will never be normal or happy ever again.

But on the other side of this balance, we have to take into account peak experiences and mystical experiences, in which pain and misery make no difference. This is the experience that Anna finally has at the end of the film, the so-called ‘martyrdom’ that her captors are attempting to recreate.

Of course, peak experiences do not only follow physical suffering. They come from a sense that there is something that seems most worthwhile, a personal center of gravity. This is an important concept; a man who lacks a strong personal center of gravity is bound to be weak and self-divided, whereas the word ‘saved’ always means possessing a strong personal center of gravity. Newton is ‘saved’ by his love of science, as is Einstein. Beethoven is ‘saved’ by his love of music.

There is something wrong with ‘normal’ human consciousness. For some odd reason, we seldom get the best out it. The main trouble seems to lie in our sense of values, which only seems to come alive in moments of great excitement or crisis. Otherwise, we only live at half-pressure. If you keep up a certain conscious straining, you can break through the boundary between the conscious and sub-conscious. We are certainly capable of a far broader and deeper sense of reality than we are accustomed to. This is what happens in religious experiences; this is why Zen Buddhists meditate and practice koans, why Hindus fast, and why some sects of Catholicism engage in self-flagellation. The mysterious organization in this film is using violence to achieve this heightened state of consciousness and literally force these women through the boundary between life and death, or the conscious and subconscious mind. Obviously, most of the women are broken in the process and few achieve this state of martyrdom.

The main problem with Martyrs is that it is ambiguous why Anna possesses a strong enough center of gravity to reach this state of enlightened consciousness. It is true that a martyr is ‘one who suffers.’ However, a martyr is a person who suffers for something – a people, a country, a belief that they refuse to renounce. Particularly when it comes to religious martyrdom, it is for the sake of a religious belief that the martyr suffers. Anna doesn’t really seem to be suffering for the sake of anything and she certainly isn’t suffering due to some deep internal conviction. Therefore, it makes her martyrdom seem somewhat arbitrary, even more arbitrary than the violence inflicted upon her. Where does her strength come from? Why doesn’t she suffer a psychological break similar to the two women before her?

Of course, this may be because Laugier cannot answer this question, just as he cannot reveal the vision that Anna saw during her martyrdom. As long as we are restricted by reality, the mendacity of normal existence, we cannot be expected to understand a higher plain of consciousness.

I was martyred and all I got to see was this crappy swirl of light.

With Martyrs, Pascal Laugier has created a really extreme, intensely uncomfortable exploration of peak experiences, mystical experiences, and the boundaries of human consciousness. Laugier is asking basic questions, “What is transcendence?” and “What do we do with pain?” He pushes a lot of boundaries in Martyrs in an attempt to bring the audience, along with Anna, to another state, another level. Some people will see this film and immediately love it; others will immediately hate it and hate it forever. For me, it certainly was a film that required a bit of time to digest and process. Ultimately, I really appreciate and like this film. Not only is Martyrs an extremely successful horror film, but one of those rare films that forces you think long after the end of the movie.

Highly recommended, but not for the faint-of heart.

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Comments (38)

  1. ohdrahcir

    You are so right about watching Martyrs knowing as little as possible. I fortunately did and the film left the kind of impression on me that I probably won’t ever forget the rest of my cinema-watching life. I don’t remember the last time a film of any type left me so numb and jarred. Martyrs haunted me for days, which is usually a mark of a great film in my personal definition. There is a fine line when making an utterly humorless horror film. It either turns out to take itself too seriously for no good reason or it’s sadistic with no redeeming quality. I’m not a fan whatsoever of torture horror films. I really dislike them, but I tolerate them because films like Hostel and Saw are absurd. I couldn’t find one instance in Martyrs where it didn’t take itself seriously. There was something a little funny in the family at the beginning appearing eerily like some modern version of the Cleavers, or a good christian family, until we find out who they are. But my point is that Martyrs actually worked because it had something very unique to say, which you pointed out so concisely. It’s almost to a fault however that the idea behind Martyrs is so serious that it almost teeters on self-importance. But, regardless, something like that is too small to notice when the film’s vision so supplants pretty much everything else. I do agree with you though that I also questioned what Anna was suffering for the sake of and why Anna in particular was able to endure the torture when the others could not in the same way. The definition of a martyr there was a little wobbly in regards to Anna’s character, but I figured since we’re dealing with a sick religious cult maybe they got it wrong? Laugier gives us the definition of martyr at the end of the film, right after the mademoiselle kills herself, in a surprisingly revelatory kind of way as if he’s revealing to us that martyr — marturos in Greek and temoin in French — really means witness. But is there any undeniable truth that can be gained from being a witness to martyrdom? I still think about why the mademoiselle kills herself. I guess Laugier just wants us to keep doubting!

    September 29, 2010
  2. constantineintokyo

    I too wonder what Anna told the mademoiselle that made her kill herself. Obviously, Laugier couldn’t actually tell or show us what she saw, because it would be pretty impossible to try and conceptualize what comes after death/what exists on a higher plain of consciousness. That said, wouldn’t it also be impossible for Anna to explain it to the mademoiselle? How could the mademoiselle even comprehend Anna’s experience without witnessing it for herself? That’s kind of where the movie fell apart for me. You can’t describe the indescribable. But, any movie that makes me ask so many questions HAS to be considered a success!

    Though I have little patience for films like Saw and Hostel (which honestly just strike me as cruel and mean-spirited) I think Martyrs is very different from them. Yes, it’s violent, but the violence is used in a meaningful way. Or, it’s actually instrumental to the story itself and not just self-indulgent.

    September 29, 2010
  3. ohdrahcir

    That’s a very interesting point about whatever it was that Anna told the mademoiselle that she couldn’t possibly have comprehended without witnessing it herself. Perhaps that was what Laugier was getting at in the definition at the end of the film? To be a witness to something transcendent as death/higher state of consciousness is to be a martyr, and to believe what is said by that spiritual entity and believe it unconditionally is like blind faith. The mademoiselle doesn’t question it. You can’t convince a creationist to question his or her beliefs. She was willing to die for it, even if Anna really didn’t experience anything transcendent. There’s still the question of whether what Anna saw is really what the mademoiselle thinks Anna saw. How could anyone know that experience when it happens and is experienced for the first time? There’s nothing to compare to it if it is a singular experience by the individual. Ahh, I give up.

    The religious angle to Martyrs is just amazing. The more I think about the film, the more I get out of it. It kind of bothers me at times when films leave the viewers to come up with their own answers. I know it’s wonderful and all, but it just gets me all analytical and I usually don’t like getting all obsessive compulsive about things. But I think that’s what will make films like Martyrs be remembered ten, twenty years later.

    October 2, 2010
    • constantineintokyo

      I love movies that tie my brain into a pretzel…they rock!

      October 10, 2010
  4. elie

    wow great analysis of a movie belonging to a genre that people never take seriously

    October 10, 2010
    • constantineintokyo

      Hahaha, thanks! I definitely take the horror genre very seriously, but I think all the credit here goes to Laugier to making a very serious, insightful horror movie. They are very rare these days.

      October 10, 2010
  5. josephmallozzi

    Alas, I wasn’t a fan. I found the initial premise intriguing but thought the movie immediately undermined its engaging set-up by following a fairly pedestrian horror movie route. And then, suddenly, it does a complete u-turn and becomes a completely different movie. Unlike Audition which did a masterful job of presenting an engaging story whose unhurried pacing lulls the viewer into a sense of complacency, all the better to cold cock them with the harrowing descent into horror at film’s end (apparently people at its initial New York screening were getting up and leaving the theater), Martyrs’ bizarre turn is jarring – and not in a good way. I also disagree that the movie was no mean-spirited. I thought it was, incredibly so, and found it no more redeemable than any other slasher movie with the exception that the crimes committed on its innocent victim were exceptionally gruesome. I think it’s a shame because I thought the idea of this search for the ultimate answer from the beyond was terrific. In the end, this movie stayed with me – but, again, not in a good way.

    All in all, it was sloppy with a lot of wasted potential. It was smart but failed to impress – unlike, say, one of my most despised horror movies of all time, High Tension, which doesn’t make any sense!


    October 26, 2010
    • constantineintokyo

      Yes, people seem to either love or despise this film. Either way, it’s at least good that it inspires some sort of reaction from the audience…rather than just leaving you cold. While I wouldn’t necessary say the violence in MARTYRS was mean-spirited (at least, I can think of plenty of better examples), it does at times seem arbitrary…which makes it seem pointless.

      And I really agree with you when it comes to HIGH TENSION. I can’t stand that film.

      Also…HOLY CRAP, did Joseph Mallozzi actually just read my blog??

      October 26, 2010
  6. josephmallozzi

    You have an excellent and very entertaining blog which I happened across while doing researching for my upcoming annual Tokyo food trip (and, of course, horror movies). Will be in town from December 7th to 21st with a friend, eating our way through the city. If you’re free, lunch/dinner/Pierre Herme macarons are on me!


    P.S. Hey, which Stargates presently air in Tokyo?

    October 26, 2010
    • constantineintokyo

      While that would have resulted in a pretty epic nerdgasm, I won’t be in Tokyo in December. Blast!

      As for Stargates in Tokyo, SG-1 and Atlantis are aired on satellite (スカパー) and cable in Tokyo, in both English and Japanese (disturbing).

      October 27, 2010
  7. josephmallozzi

    Ah well. Ivon and I will be sure to do double pistachio macarons in your honor. 🙂

    October 27, 2010
  8. Kris

    Hi. first of all great taste.
    I love audition saw your review on youtube and followed it to your blog.

    I have seen martyrs, serbian film and human centipede this year and martyrs was the most disappointing one. You say at the beginning that if you haven’t seen martyrs you should stop reading and you couldn’t be more right.

    Ok spoilers now

    I read that sitting out the last 30 minutes of martyrs would be an endurance test as she gets a constant beating but alas that wasn’ the case. I was impressed with the movie until Anna was captured. well maybe the first few minutes after that was okay too.
    I was utterly disappointed with the end of the film where a suicide prevents us getting the word of the other side.
    I don’t mind not getting the word of the other side but the suicide just before getting public with what anna has to say is rather pointless.
    I would have prepared that she comes down the stairs and that the movie ends at the start of her speech.
    Like you I failed to see how she gets in the martyr stage.

    Don’t get me wrong I think the performance of both lead actresses was very good. And I saw the english dubbed version. I like to see my japanese, korean movies in their original language.

    Kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri!

    October 31, 2010
  9. Kahler Hahn

    Amazing review to one of the most uncomfortable films i have ever seen.
    It is great to read stuff like this – written by people who are not affraid to see beyond the violence and see that there is a deeper, psychological level in this. It was not only the intense level of violence that really made me feel a little sick when i watched this the first time – it was the feeling of total helplessness in the end and the total disbelieve what’s happening there.
    Since the original Funny Games I did not think that much of my way of watching horror or gore, but this made me feel kinda twisted or f*cked up.
    Also nice to see that you do not complain about the (some say spiritual) way the movie ended.
    I love that i had huge discussions with a few of my friends about what Anna said to the woman before she shot herself – did she have some sort of spiritual experience… if yes: what kind?
    I kinda go with your way and say that she really reached this “peak” and reached a level in wich she could see beoynd what we know.
    I am not so sure if it could be just caled “near death experience” – like a buddy of mine (a little too) simply puts it.

    Anyway… i really enjoyed being knocked to the head by this film and I really enjoyed your review

    PS: Sorry for my bad english

    December 11, 2010
  10. Oliver Jovanovic

    The Grannies Homonym Gang

    Hello everyone.

    Nice thoughts about the movie. I see one big problem with it. It was by all means two movies in one (but that is not the problem mentioned).

    First part (movie) till the discovery of the tortured girl I really liked.

    It was intense, we never decide what to feel about the characters and the ending with little work, would have been more than satisfactory.

    But, but, but, would there be as much talk about it nooo.

    So comes an overambitious monster creeping out of the lack of movie material.

    Most disturbing is a use of a very cheap trick to connect torture and the “other world experience”. The word martyr.
    In ancient greek it means a witness ok, so today it doesn’t.
    Today’s meaning of martyr (wiki): “somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce a belief or cause”.
    Would any one of us eat compost if in ancient greek it meant grapes.

    I say there is more martyrs among heroin addicts, by this cult’s criteria, than among young tortured women.

    There are few other flaws but this was the one that ruined the movie for me.

    Would be glad to hear different opinions.

    March 9, 2011
  11. Tabitha Kane

    i think the concept of martyrdom is actually far less ‘arbitrary’ meaning superficial than it would be have been, had it been about religious dogma or some other heroic idealism.

    it focuses on what could be called ‘natural martyrdom’. all the examples of other female martyrs that the evil and reminiscent of ’70’s exploitation films -Madam gave, were not women of special, religious significance -most of them were victims of domestic violence; one stole a chicken and was an atheist. the ecstatic facial expression on this real, historical victim -(another thing i think is interesting about Martyrs is that it explores the torture as a human behavior, rather than something completely fictitious) was also commented on by George Bataille i think, who was wondering about the same phenomenon -what is the difference between an endorphin rush, pain, pleasure or any emotional experience and ‘consciousness’? when does the physical become transparent to the non-material? when is the individual a kind of medium for the universal consciousness? assuming there is one. some people think it conceited to think there is anything beyond human consciousness, some think the opposite… but in any case, why limit experience in general when it is so broad and mysterious in and of itself?

    the transcendental power in the film comes simply from the same material life itself is made out of. how we cannot even explain our own existence even though we try through various ways, including science and religion, to control what we can prove, perceive or imagine. we can’t see beyond death and we can’t see the existence we inhabit. but that doesn’t make the ordinary any less extraordinary. that’s the obvious trap the cynical fall into. cynicism is about pointing out the obvious and believing that is the only limitation. this film, like any good horror film, is about confronting the self-limiting cynicism which leads to repressed emotions and cruelty. do we need power or simply the freedom to feel love? in a world where freedom is limited by either material resources or cynicism, freedom is scarce. so freedom in itself can be arbitrary. hence the failure of religion to embrace love by rejecting ambiguity.

    the film explores how an endorphin rush or peak experience can become a spring board to an embodied realisation of a co-existing with the physical, unlimited timelessness, where a non-object, non-material bound consciousness is unleashed. what is the difference between the person with the strength to endure and reach that state and another? i think this is where it does indeed become intentionally arbitrary, just like pain and victimhood is never a choice but an external, arbitrary circumstance… if it is that way in life, why do we think art should create meaning out of something orchestrated? that is what the cult tries to do, while life intervenes. victims escape, Lucy and Anna form an affiliation. two is all it takes to defeat a cult.

    Lucy was called a ‘victim’ by the evil Madam, but it was being witness to Lucy’s suffering which gave Anna (?) the strength to endure. Lucy taught Anna a kind of purpose so Anna and Lucy formed a kind of ‘psychic bond’ in other words a relationship bond which became an internal refuge for Anna, where she could become ‘more than herself alone’. there is even a trinity in the film, with three girls victimised. one girl resembling a cyborg christ, arguably endures the worst torture which is sensory deprivation combined with psychological isolation. madness leading to suicide is her martyrdom. she is every bit a martyr as Anna, whose torture seems more of a mentorship leading into detachment from pain. it is only the reverse-transcendental fetishisation of the evil cult seeking to put their victims to a materialistic use, giving them some sense of objective security in the unknown -which creates their sense of a ‘suffering hierarchy’… which just like the religious concept of suffering is perverted.

    ultimately i would see the experience of transcendentalism as being ordinary love, the polar opposite of ordinary violence. transcendentalism is not an exclusive hierarchy or one thing being more special or sacred than another, but again, an all inclusive natural process. one side of the coin of existence. i think if anything, the martyrs shown by Madam were ‘peasant women’, people of no social importance and therefore more likely to be in tune with natural instincts rather than highly socialised ones. politically the film uses women as martyrs i think, because female martyrs are both highly fetishised in an erotic sense while being seen as politically insignificant.

    if ‘Love is the answer’ then of course the ending shows how Anna has indeed entered a transcendental state which confronts the Madam with her own darkness and emptiness. the ‘other world’ was never some simplistic, cynical (denied) desire for immortality of the object, materialistic ‘ego’ the cult was hoping for, but rather the death of the individual within no-thingness. this in itself is the source of love and ecstasy, which the tortured individual has already overcome… but which the sadist can never achieve because it is actually their greatest fear. the torturer not only tries to sacrifice another in order to avoid both suffering and transcendence themselves, but they also place a conceited hierarchy on strength and bravery -things they themselves only have the narcissistic illusion of possessing. they judge others but cannot endure the same scrutiny. so the ‘truth’ Anna gave Madam, was the ultimate ego-blow. Madam has built her entire life on a narcissistic delusion that the truth is enough to kill her pride, which was the core her being was built around.

    the beauty of love is that it needs no security or attainable immorality to empathise and accept vulnerability. in other words, not being afraid of the entirety of existence. sacrifice itself does not require suffering, it is simply the acceptance of love without power. Martyrs is a story about sacrifice -without the usual hierarchy/ mythology. yes, we are fascinated by the gory potential of suffering that every body is at risk of. we share the same nature of existence, how do we connect rather than destroy? this film is about exploring different sides of that taboo.

    i personally liked the light from the lamps being psychedelic, rather than a vision of something else. Anna’s consciousness transcended her physical body and so she saw the essence of light coming from both the lamp, a universal source of ‘light itself’ and the perception of the light from her gaze… time and space folding in on itself. i think the end is not an object but an experience. the extraordinary and the ordinary are one and the same.

    that is what Madam means when she says ‘the Martyr changes shapes”. in a cynical world, we’ve exhausted even images of beauty. the only thing left is to do the work of imagining yourself. we usually avoid ‘peak experiences’ of the imagination because we’re taught that imagination is not a part of reality.

    at the end of the film Madam dies, while despite everything, Anna is still alive. Madam was never alive while Anna and through her witnessing of the other victims, has become the undead. for a modern world, i see the love of one human for another or life itself as being more meaningful religion.

    December 10, 2011
  12. Tabitha Kane

    * more meaningful ‘than’ religion.
    (no edit options on comments, unfortunately!)

    December 10, 2011
  13. Jack

    Worst film ever, it isn’t even an horror. If a group of sado masochists, think leaving the sphere of the flesh to reach the greater consciousness (The Other World). They are sadly mistaken, the title is even WRONG! A martyr, is defined as someone who dies for a cause. Not for a group of delussional fucking MORONS, to use as an excuse to torture innocent girls. This film is nothing but a travesty, from french fools.

    January 6, 2012
  14. Egyptian Haynekoo

    Utter bollocks and trying to pish posh it with psychological analysis and other pretentious codswallop won’t save it. Worse film ever produced? quite possibly. argh the French..the wackiness knows no limits.

    000 Laugier should be flayed for making this grotesque rubbish!

    January 16, 2012
  15. Patrick Galloway

    Dude, you totally nailed this film. Best bit: “The mendacity of normal existence.” You rock.

    April 14, 2012
    • constantineintokyo

      Nailed it! LOL

      I was reading a lot of humanistic philosophy/psychology when I wrote that review.

      April 19, 2012
  16. Josh

    My comment is this:

    It is sad that brutal torture is somehow excusable, and downplayed when it comes to the subject matter of this film. I understand the matters being addressed, but see no need in believing in them. One can attain that level of enlightenment using meditation and things like isolation chambers. One can find that type of self awareness and trancendence without the use of ultraviolence. The fact that religion has been brought into this at all is horrifying to me. Religion gives no weight or credability to what happens after death. There is no evidence, there is no proof, period. There is no ground upon which torture like that can stand, it is folly. What can be said about this movie is it is an utter piece of trash. What a waste of time.

    April 17, 2012
  17. boyka

    definitely a masterpiece ! devides us on 2 sides, one likes the other doesn`t. accept it or not, just like religion.
    i think that Anna said :” Wait untill you`ll see ! ” and maddam was absolutely amazed and rushed into suicide. but the fact that she told to that sucker to doubt , i would take it this way : we all shall see what`s beyound , but suicide is not a way to get there, living a respectful and honest life untill the One who gave it to you will take it in order to bring you to another level, is. Oh , questions , they make us think, reflect and doubt.
    My sugestion : live correctly or how physics says for any action is a reaction.
    Cheers !

    May 3, 2012
  18. Herbert West

    it seems alot of people missed the point, who cares what the modern definition of Martyrs is, it gave you at the end what Martyrs is Witness, not anything else, easy HUH, Most so called torture porn is not porn , i didnt see any sex in this movie or rape, this movie somewhat parellels a old black and white french film that had a girl skinned alive i saw 20 years ago when i was teenager, even her troture scenes were not even about gore or porn it was about the breaking down of feeilings, do you consider Missing in Action, or Rambo Torture porn or any other war prisoner movie, what about Midnight Express, must be a new gen way of thinking but i have been around longer than the spainish cave painting so dont mind me !!!!!!!!!

    June 15, 2012
  19. Oliver

    To Herbert West: The point of my martyr term ranting is that they used two of it’s totally different meanings as one. They made a fusion of what it meant to ancient greek with what it means now and got the idea that by torturing people they make them witnesses of other world. Blyayk.

    The other miss in your comment is the understanding of term torture porn. It has no sexual context it just describes when the torture is used for tortures sake, as in porn all the plot is subjected to showing coitus, here is the same with showing torture.

    June 19, 2012
  20. Horriblehorriblemistake

    You`re the first reviewer to actually include shizophrenia and psychological themes. Since the depiction and description of schizophrenia was done well in the movie, I thought, there might be more to it and I found this:

    Did you know, that there is something called “Martyrs complex” in psychology ?
    Did you know it happens mainly to young women in abusive relationships ?
    Do you think, the “torture” scenes are reminiscient of domestic violence ?
    After all, it`s not really gruesome. She`s just confined and beaten on a regular basis. Nothing too far fetched from reality. I think, that`s why it evokes such a strong emotional response.
    Is it coincidence that everything happens in a seemingly normal household ?

    Before her capture, Anna tries to help everybody despite the horrible consequences it might have for her. She was in the same mental institution as Anna in the beginning, although we never know why and she doen`t seem to have any apparent mental illness.

    This movie is packed with symbolism and implications that flew over my head because I was too busy being disgusted. I am not even sure if all of it was intentional. I don`t want to watch this movie again, but I`m afraid, I`ll have to.

    June 26, 2012
  21. Mark Braban

    Great explanation of the film martyrs. I understand the idea of martyrdom but was not completely sure of what peak experience was but am now.

    August 5, 2012
  22. Aseem

    You’ve got an interesting take on the movie but more than anything I’ll agree that it makes you think. Hallmark of a great movie. Though halfway through, I was willing to throw in the towel because I simply couldn’t figure out why I was putting myself through that much discomfort. I hate pointless gore. I’m glad I did finish it but that’s the way we tend to rationalize our decisions in hindsight.

    I love how the movie stays open ended. Mademoiselle could have shot herself either because Anna had something wonderful to say about the afterlife or that Anna simply made her realize that her lifelong pursuit of understanding ‘the other side’ was pointless. Her telling Etienne to keep doubting before she kills herself – an act of selfishness to keep the truth from the rest or an act of benevolence to keep the mystery alive?

    For me, Anna seemed like a good fit for martyrdom because that’s who she is – utterly unselfish. She has spent her life taking care of Lucie. And while she’s in that basement she doesn’t have much of a choice. She could either keep fighting or give in. To give up the attachment to the one’s body is a theme you’d come across in Buddhist teachings. Her experiences with Lucie make me believe that she’d forsake herself.

    Letting go. If you’re meditating and you’re fighting all the distracting thoughts in your head then you’re doing it wrong. You have to give in to all of them and eventually it all quiets down. It take a lot of patience but it heightens your senses a great deal. Peak experience, perhaps? Sounds like a load of bull, but try it before you trash it. It’s just brain chemistry I think. It’s the same state of mind when I push past the wall when running long distance. Utter peace. Endorphin overload or spiritual awakening? I’ll never know.

    This is fantastic! I came looking for an interesting discussion on this movie and boy, did I find it. Thanks!

    August 29, 2012
  23. Matt8

    THE ENDING EXPLAINED (my interpretation anyway – so please let me know if you agree or disagree).

    What was it that Anna saw or experienced, and what did it mean when the cult leader then killed herself and told her fellow cultist to ‘keep doubting?

    My interpretation is that Anna somehow told and made the cult leader realiase that there is nothing after death, she made her accept the reality and finality of our mortality – and this was a realisation that the cult leader cannot tolerate living with and so she kills herself.

    The religious cult is thus a cipher to show religion as the somehwat warped construct of people who simply cannot tolerate this truth of our mortality like the atheist can.

    When she says ‘keep doubting’ it turns the traditional juxtopisition of faith and doubt on its head.

    In the past faith always meant belief in God and this was the norm while only a minority of individuals within a community or culture had any doubts about it. The existence of God and presence of an afterlife was accepted and assumed by all (or most). That zeitgeist has now changed in Western societies, and here the director is suggesting that the absence of God and the afterlife is self evident – deep down we all know it or suspect it, we all know that our mortailty is finite and thus religion is what we create to try and fool or distract ourselves from accepting that this is the case. Anna made the cult leader admit to that truth,she can no longer deny it and unlike Anna who embodies the courage of the athiest she cannot live with it. So to ‘believe’ (in God) is ultimately to ‘doubt” what deep down we know to be true, but that not all have the courage to accept.

    Her ‘keep doubting’ comment to her colleague is delivered with a hint of dry sarcasm, because she knows deep down he and all the others know it aswell, but have to doubt it and delude themselves into believing that there may be a God and an afterlife, so she tells him to ‘keep doubting’ the finality of our mortaility because she knows that like herself he could not tolerate life without holding onto his cherished doubts which manifests as religious superstition and is perversely called faith.

    Anna thus is the embodiment of the strength of the atheist and the existentialist, wwho despite being stripped down, beaten and broken, steadfastly has the courage and integrity to stare head first into the finality of her mortality.

    This interpretation only makes sense if the Director is an atheist – as I’m sure he is. And of course he is French – which is the homeland of existentialism, and this film is the commentary on religion, on its reasons for existing and on its consequences to others that Sartre and Camus themsleves would have made had they had film cameras instead of pens (and were in a really sick mood).
    When re watching film to so whilst reading and considering the final chapter of Camus’ ‘The Outsider’ and Sartre’s comments on what he calls ‘bad faith’.

    September 15, 2012
  24. Julien Sorel

    Please dont forget, It is ALSO just a film about girls being tortured by mostly upper class past mid-age selfish hypocrites who are fanatics following a false-philosophy and want to objectify bodies of OTHERS (not theirs or of their family). Not their body, but somebody else’s body, that’s the whole point!
    Their abstraction and theory about experience and death are always done on the real body of a woman…!

    This exactly why the crux of ethical philosophy is about caring for the ‘other’.

    The film runs the risk of falling in love with the premises of this violent fanaticism parading as a philosophy after a point.. which troubles me.
    You are still a thinking, philosophising being, if at some point in the second half you actually wished these selfish people are kicked and tortured themseleves! (That is why Lucie’s actions are justified in a sense in taking revenge.).

    October 30, 2012
  25. MeMe

    IT’S A HARD CORE PORN FOR SADISTS…and that is all…

    November 30, 2012
  26. Horror Movie Medication

    Wow. That is an in depth review. I don’t know if I can look that deep into any movie. Especially one that (in my opinion) isn’t that deep. I was wondering, if you had to take a step into the picture, how would you categorize this movie?
    I took a shot at it my self on my blog. I would love to have another critic give me some feedback on a review.

    Check it out, let me know.

    February 11, 2013
  27. Deborah

    Do you really not know why Mademoiselle killed herself after saying, “Keep doubting.”?

    You may think me sexist for saying this, but why would a woman who thought so highly of her appearance remove her wig, make-up and outward appearances and then shoot herself unless she were saying, “It all means nothing.” ? Anna told her nothing more than we all already know (and so the joke is on us…..) We search for nothing…..

    October 1, 2013
  28. R. Lulay

    Martyrs is an interesting film, disturbing and thought provoking. As a horror movie, it has done its job–which may be the most one should ask of a horror movie. After all, what is the purpose of the horror genre? To be shocked, startled, reviled, disgusted in the safety of one’s family room or the local theater. Entertainment.

    However, it is odd to me how some people seem to find “greatness” in Martyrs. This is not a great film. I do like the acting, the camera work and editing are technically competent, the sound and music good–which quite a few horror films lack! Martyrs is a well-crafted movie in the Hollywood style. (It IS made in the Hollywood style–Media Studies majors get over it…) But, the grand epiphany that supposedly comes through intense and prolonged physical pain as seen in the photographs of other tortured people throughout history, although intriguing, is not supported well enough in the script to overcome my willing suspension of disbelief. The cellar hallway scene, of course, with the cult’s leader explaining to the main character the need for torture with the photo album (despite the fact that the same larger photos are on the wall next to the actors) is almost comical in its brevity. The film would have been creepier had it delved into the occult and the mysterious efforts of alchemists…or, say, if the secret organization were financed by the Vatican. We’re not told, and I think to the film’s detriment. How can martyrdom be talked about without religion? And, how can torture be rationalized without some self-serving (most would coin this kind of enterprise as evil) intent? Of course, anyone thinking that the male torturer and the others are just “doing their jobs” would probably find “that whole Nazi thing” to be no big deal….

    No. What horrifies me about this kind of film is that it glorifies a false intellectualism that treats graphic torture in a relative light. I’m not as worried about “American Rednecks” loving this film as much as the mildly educated 20-somethings who think that they have stumbled upon something deep in this “wicked Euro-flick”–which they’ll probably buy and place next to their TOOL CDs….

    June 23, 2014
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