Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017) has violence that undercuts its strong feminist messages

by Martin Hafer

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a very daring film, as it has some very strong feminist messages…yet it was made in Indonesia…a country with a majority Muslim and very traditional population.  This just goes to show that you cannot automatically assume what a film will be like just because of where it was made.

The story begins with Marlina being visited by a thug named Markus who announces that his gang will soon be joining them there…and they intend to rob and rape her now that they know her husband has died and cannot protect her!  What is Marlina to do?  Well, she is no typical lady and uses her wits.  When ordered to cook for the men, she manages to poison four of them.  Then, in the midst of Markus raping her, she fights back…beheading the guy with a single blow!  The two other gang members were not present…and Marlina needs to get out of the house before they return.  But remember…she is no typical lady.  So, with the head of Markus in tow, she heads off on a long trek to town to inform the police of what she’s done and enlist their help.  Unfortunately, she finds the police to be completely indifferent to her plight.  Soon after this, she receives a call from her friend…and she learns that the pregnant woman is being held captive by one of the gang members and he now dares Marlina to come to her rescue!

Throughout the film, most of the men on the island seem like jerks….not all, but most.  Despite mistreating her and her friend, however, she maintains her demand for justice and isn’t about to run away scared.  Again and again, the sexist attitudes are clearly demonstrated…and the two women stand up for what’s right and the film presents rather convincing feminist messages.  My only regret is the rape scene…it’s problematic.  I hate seeing vivid rape scenes for many reasons.

One is that anyone watching such a graphic scene might experience some Post-traumatic reactions to watching it…imagining once again what it was like to be victimized.  Another is that by showing a bit too much, some viewers might be a bit turned on by the rape.  Because of this, think twice about seeing the film…or perhaps consider seeing it with someone you love.  But despite my misgivings, the film is an amazing and surprising story…and deserves to be seen.

Martin’s Grade: B+