Does anyone really know what this movie is about, or is it just an unsolvable puzzle?
Its about the Uncertainty principle
The characters are particles.
Resnais was into physics.
Previously he had made a film about plastic
Le chant du Styrène
Don’t even try. The Director himself said he didn’t know what it ment. The meaning is derived from your own head.
It is about pretty people standing around playing senseless games and muttering inanities and doing the same old thing over and over and over again. God it is a bore.
For me it was somewhat of an allegory on the nature of cinema. But I think that’s pretty dumb sounding though. I prefer to think of it just as a moving representation of the emotions comprising the experiences of deja vu, memory loss, nostlagia, and the meeting of a beautiful woman.
The first ten minutes seem to be something about ceilings. Can’t tell you much about the rest of the film because I haven’t seen it (all the ceiling talk didn’t inspire me to watch the rest of the film – maybe one day I’ll go back and give it another go).
Although I’m not sure what it’s really about, I love the film to a great extent perhaps only because it is incredibly hypnotic and thought-provoking or because of its immense in oneric film theory. I will report back after a dozen rewatches.
I second Drew Kelly
You’ll have to ask M …
(Although … I taught this film last year … and, no, I don’t have any more of an answer than the rest of you. That, for me, is the fun of it — there is no answer. But do any of you get the strong horror vibe from it? I do, and so did most of my advanced class)
Jeez, from what you guys are saying I feel like I should avoid renting this film.
@Christopher – how could you teach a class about a film if you didn’t know what it was about? lol. If that’s the case, I want to teach Shakespeare! What were the discussions like? As a student, I need answers! I need to know what the hell I’m watching!
Yes! I did get kind of a German Gothic Horror type of vibe from it. A lot of it comes from the music, and a lot of it comes from the feeling of uncertainty, and not knowing what’s happening and going on around you.
Maybe that’s the point of it. Maybe it’s a horror film.
That’s what I taught about it. It was a class devoted entirely to the French New Wave, so they were already in tune with some way-out filmmaking. We did a ton of reading everybody else’s (published) thoughts and ended up just laughing at them all. Amazing cinema experience, though, and glorious on the big screen.
Yeah, I did really enjoy it, if for nothing else than it was beautiful to look at.
I haven’t seen this film yet, but I have made this assumption: given that the story is about an alleged meeting the previous year, I take a lot of it to be about peoples’ histories. I know this isn’t saying much, but coupled with the famous image of the people in the courtyard with shadows while none of the other things (trees, etc.) have shadows, highlights the idea of historicity.
I wish I had taken your class.
Jake: I have a theory that accounts for about 95% of LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. I published my analysis many years ago in a film journal called POST SCRIPT. If I knew how to post attachments or files on this site, I’d forward it to everyone. It’s difficult to summarize in a few words, but it also helps to explain the themes of other Resnais films such as HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, MURIEL, LA GUERRE EST FINI, and even NIGHT AND FOG.
Even better than sending around my article, I’d post the frame from MARIENBAD in which, hidden in the shadows on screen right, a life-size cardboard cut-out of Alfred Hitchcock can be seen (and his feet are off the ground). I’m not sure that this in-joke will help explain the film’s deep meaning but it certainly shows a sense of humor (and maybe it’s a tribute or homage to Hitch, who also used both long takes and montage editing). Those of you who just got your Criterion DVD in the mail should look for this shot. On screen left is a hotel corridor and in screen right there is some grillwork (probably the elevator). Right in front of that grillwork is Hitch’s profiled body, probably a movie lobby cut-out. What’s it doing in that creepy hotel? I don’t know — that’s part of the 5% of the film I don’t understand!
Just watched it the other night and had a very love/hate relationship with it. I thought it to be boring, frustrating and brilliant all in one. The hotel had the same eerie feeling you got from The Shining. The photography was at times very awe inspiring as well. I just got bored with it’s almost repetitious nature.
The best explanation for Last Year at Marienbad came from my Film Theory professor Bruce Kawin. He had contributed essays for past Criterion releases such as De Palma’s Sisters, Carnival of Souls and The Blob (as I have said previously if you want to know why a certain movie is in the collection read the essays). The man was also a close colleague of avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brackhage, he can be heard in the audio recordings on the Criterion DVD. “Mindscreen” was the name that Kawin gave to any kind of recolection, dream, fantasy or any kind of mental projection presented on screen. In his book “Mindscreen” he dedicates an entire chapter discussing how “mindscreens” are used in Last Year at Marienbad and Roshomon.
The point of Marienbad is that a man, M, and a woman, A, spend the length of the film arguing about what happened the previous year. All of their recollections and imaginings are treated without any kind of discrimination from the camera. Events take place on the grounds of Marienbad and characters play their roles regardless of whether or not they actually happened. Marienbad exists on an amorphous plane of existence where people and events materialize based purely on the mental manifestations of the lead characters. The camera exists as an impartial spectator, able to move through walls and distort time, though never discriminates between what is the truth and what is a lie. It is interesting to note, as Kawin explains, that the director, Resnais, and the screenwriter, Grillet, have conflicting interpretations on what actually “happened” in the story:
Google Books sample of Bruce Kawin’s “Mindscreen”. You can read his explanation on Marienbad in chapter 5:
Just in time for next months release of Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, in the book Kawin also goes into great detail about the nature of subjectivity as it is used in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. The central thesis of the book is that it is possible for a film to be told in the first person, with the camera acting as the narrator. Even though a film can be narrated from the first person the camera still remains a third person spectator.
Also checkout this thread on the film – that where some of us put our own comments and interpretations:
Always a fascinating film to argue over and discuss. It is personally one of my favourites. It is the perfect film for analysis – much like the recent Inland Empire. It either works for you or it doesn’t – like certain forms of dense poetry or abstract painting. I love its very open-endedness and allusive quality
I had been wanting to see this movie forever and finally watched it twice over the last two days. The first time, I was utterly perplexed – but endlessly fascinated. I was so entranced by all the visual techniques he had utilized to tell the story that I couldn’t really keep up with what was going on (nor did I care to after a while).
The second time, I was still amazed but was able to actually follow what was going on narratively. Honestly, I don’t see any bit of fantasy in it at all. I see it as all real now. However, it threw me off plenty the first time watching it because one of the things done visually is to jump so freely back and forth between the previous year and the present year. But I felt this was discernible to me the second time through.
What also changed for me upon viewing this the first and second time was who I ended up following by film’s end. The first time I was focusing on A (Woman) and X (Stranger) but the second time I found myself following M, the woman’s husband. I see it as his story now. There are occasional scenes of him playing the matchstick/card game with people and he relates confidently that he doesn’t lose. (Here’s the spoiler) However, the irony is that he winds up losing absolutely big when he loses his wife at the end to the stranger. The overall ending impression reminded me of La’aventura.
That’s not to say this is some absolute explanation for the movie. It’s just my own personal take on a movie that has become an instant favorite for me. I’d advise anyone to check it out if they haven’t though. It truly is a one-of-a-kind film.
I personally think that the happenings in the film could best be described as repetitions of unchangegable events, a closer look at Bioy Casares´ novel The Invention of Morel which was a main inspiration for Robbe Grillet when writing the screenplay gives a possible explanation to in which way the characters are captivated in repetitions. The protagonist of the novel comes to a house on a strange island where people are always repeating the same rituals, he also falls in love with a girl who doesn´t recognize him, and he effortlessly tries to convince her to go away with him, at the end he discovers that everyone except him is actually just a proyection of the real self, which a scientist named Morel succeeded to reproduce with a machine, they died and their copies are repeating their acts, an attempt to reach immortality. I think what makes Marienbad a mystery is that it leaves the explanations out, though always suggests hidden meanings. In showing the various mirrors and reproductions, there can be found some Borgesian devices and the orderly controlled and structured world of Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius is present, the use of labyrinths, as well as the Minotaur which is obviously the character M from whom A has to be saved by X make that Marienbad can be interpreted in a mythological and metaphysical context.
Both Robbe Grillet and Resnais were fascinated by the idea of endless duplication Borges developt in many of his short stories, and wanted to use all possible devices in order to show the infiniteness of the universe. Since it wasn´t intended for the viewer to find clear answers does it make more sense to focus on the devices (mirrors, labyrinths,…). Stanley Kubrick used many of those structural devices that can be found in Marienbad for his film The Shining, and it becomes most evident during the Red Room Scene where a possible continuos repetition of events is acknowleged, and also at the end of the film where the Minotaur (Jack) hunts the woman and the son through the labyrinth. One has to consider that the Minotaur like most mythological creatures was intended to suggorate the animalistic desire that can be found in human beings, described by Freud as “Es”. An underlying sexual reference can thus be found in both Marienbad and The Shining, and the impossibility for man and woman to come together which both films clearly suggest have their orign of the Aristophanes myth that describes an original creature with two heads and four arms and legs that got seperated, and later hopelessly tried to unite again with his other part. Many archetypical structures which were the foundation for the mythology Marienbad and Shining make use of, can be seperated into Anima (feminine image in man’s psyche) and Animus (masculine image in woman’s psyche), a distinction which also brings us to the understanding of Robbe Grillet´s use of the opposite letters A and X which represent the two seperated shadow-selfs (of the unconscious mind) which is thought by C.G. Jung to be the creative force of human being. Both A and X are continuously inventing, and sometimes we´re even allowed to enter their mind, like when X is confronted by A at the bar and one gets to see those highly overexposed images.
The creativity and mythological invention which is thought to help the human being over incertitude is constantly appearant in Marienbad because of the unconscious minds that are desperately trying to make sense out of their situation in the world. It´s obvious that Marienbad was intended to work as a microcosm, and nothing seems to suggest that there´s in fact a world outside of Marienbad. The film is highly philosophical, though doesn´t even try to find answers on human question. It rather depicts how humans created art in order to make sense out of something they were incapable to understand, and loose themselves in repetitions and creation of patterns without ever capturing the whole truth, but somehow creating beauty on their way to find pretended answers.
Yeah Apursansar, I was kind of thinking that too…
But seriously, a fascinating theory. Almost makes the film sound like a sci-fi.
@ Apursansar and RaySquirrel
Thank you for sharing, I love your interpretations of this film. You’ve made me want to go watch it.
Read the essay and watch the interviews about it on the disc, they help clarify many things that you may have missed.
Apursansar and Franciso Torres are right. Francisco’s mention of the Uncertainty Principle is an excellent starting point as it brings in the cosmos, and leads on to Apursansar’s infinite possibility- 2 ideas that interest me greatly, the latter, with infinite variations and repetitions i very foolishly thought was my own idea when a kid! Perhaps that why i love Borges’ short story The Garden of Forking Paths so much, a whole universe (there may be infinite universes in space and time) in barely a few pages, and of course he was into labyrinths.
I wasn’t aware of the various mythological readings; brilliant post, Apursansar. I did come to the same sort of wider philosophical conclusions as you mention. The small details will doubtless be very rich in meanings- i’d certainly like to read Frank’s article- but should not be examined at the expense of the overall larger implications i think.
Anyway, the interpretations of the film are (possibly) infinite, at least without boundaries, and none are definitive. It encourages exploration of ideas and the making of connections, while we should remind ourselves of human (and critical) fallibility. The match sticks game could be read as God and unknowing, uncomprehending humans. The film could also be read as a warning against intellectual arrogance- the idea (beloved of scientists) that we really know anything- while encouraging intellectual thought. After all, Resnais also directed Toute la Mémoire du Monde, with his camera gliding round the Bibliotheque in Paris; an explorer of memory (with its fallibility), and a great knowledge gatherer, a la John Dee and Peter Greenaway who’s a huge fan of Marienbad, visually too hence his enlisting Vierny as his own cinematographer..
We must finally all come to our own truth. Subjectivity v “reality” again, as in Hiroshima mon Amour.
It’s not about anything. It’s just pretentious and weird. And sorta fun if you’re into that kind of thing, which I guess I am.
“What separates us from yesterday is not a rift but a changed position”- opening of Kluge’s Yesterday Girl/Abchied von Gestern. As Acquarello at Strictly Film school links Kluge’s film with Resnais i thought i’d interrupt my viewing of the film. This quote seems to link Resnais’ concern with memory to the uncertainty principle. But then, it may just be common sense.
It’s meaningless, and therefore that means it has the potential to have the greatest meaning: All the explanations in this thread (this, of course, included) are both correct, and totally off, at once.
There was a thread that I started that was named “Random Last Year At Marienbad interpretation thread,” and though it went nowhere, the idea was to encourage people to find themselves (or whatever else) within the film given its amorphous construction, but concreteness of concept.
To paraphrase Thomson in his Have You Seen…? : The film is about nothing, and must be about everything. Seeing it once may say little, but it makes further viewings far more meaningful than the one previous.
And at the most basic level, it can be taken as immense cinematic joy of the freedom of expression, raised to the highest level of (diegetic) meaning and craft; indeed, I myself would far prefer Last Year at Marienbad to have existed than Breathless
I can’t explain the film.
But from what I have heard, I can explain the game that M plays. ;)
There’s actually a fairly simple mathematical winning strategy.
You mean beyond getting Delphine Seyrig on screen wearing couture?
That would be enough but I think it’s safe to say that like a number of Resnais’ films it makes us a participant in an excursion into memory and it seems distinctly less important that the events in Hiroshima or Muriel. It’s a chance to use the camera rhythm to have a little fun, really. There is no critical story or meaning here.
But there is an artistic history in Proust and the paintings of deChirico for instance.