This may just be a film about roleplaying, but it’s some serious work.
Three people sit on a train and narrate a movie they want to make, inspired by events around them and another passenger, as well as collaborating and figuring out the details of the narrative as it occurs. Obviously, as the narrative unfolds, things go uber-meta as scenes are acted out later to be thrown away, plot holes are directly pointed out within the narration, and of course as meta always goes within the story within the story are other stories told.
However, Robbe-Grillet is not just being silly. The main character’s paranoia and distrust runs towards the brink as the movie goes along and every action turns out to be a test, or misdirection, or false plot device. He cannot keep his own role straight, meaning he falls into every trap the mysterious coke dealers set for him as well as gives away everything to a police officer, he cannot remove himself enough emotionally from the mindgames that his roleplaying with the femme fatale comes to a fatal end, and the running train and close-ups on faces punctuating the story show his anxiety and mental breakdown as it seems his fate is, truly, in the hands of flippant writers and outside forces that don’t let a man go about minding his own business.
Similarly, the focus on bondage is juxtaposed by Robbe-Grillet’s almost abject inversion of The Gaze. The Gaze is the term for undercurrent of male-dominated perspective in cinema, as women are treated by the camera as objects to “gaze” at whereas men are typically the ones “gazing”. This would seem to be the case here what with the main character’s pornography magazine, his roleplaying of rape, and the finale in which that obscure object of desire literally ends up in chains. However, this same protagonist finds himself uneasily the subject of the gaze itself as women, passersby, and the writers continually stare at him with mocking and seductive expressions. The woman he sleeps with herself is in more control of everything going on than he is, and unable to handle that control, he eventually kills her. By the end, he cannot look at a woman without feeling implicated into something, and paranoia sets in.
This theme finds its final punctuation in the final scene when the writers brush off their own storytelling as a decent enough yarn, only really interesting simply because it’s not real life. Real life then finds the protagonist and the femme fatale as everyday lovers—but their grinning embrace directly into the eye of the camera implicates the audience, because we were not there to see them have a nice day and go about their lives happily ever after, we were there to see them in bondage and self-destruction, and were entertained by those notions.