Last Year at Marienbad

Last Year at Marienbad - Delphine SeyrigLast Year at Marienbad (1961) – dir. Alain Resnais

I always thought the weavers who fashioned the emperor’s clothes have been unfairly maligned.  Their scheme is almost unthinkably difficult.  The emperor’s naked parade was a work of art in itself — and the way the weavers were able to bring the imaginations of the entire populace, each responding individually in a sort of participatory performance art, was nothing short of genius. Unacquainted with the techniques of late modernism, the weavers invited the audience’s reactions through coercion and intimidation.  Director Alain Resnais and writer Alain Robbe-Grillet however used more acceptable methods in Last Year at Marienbad.

For the past 50 years, Marienbad has invited at least 2 interpretations for every 1 viewer.  (Visit the bottom of the post for a link dump)  What parts are dreams, memories, malleable, ‘true,’ symbolic, nonsense, absurd, etc.?  Marienbad supplies the content, while the viewer supplies the meaning.  It’s not a LEGO Star Wars set or a LEGO Airplane set – it’s the odd assemblage of LEGO pieces you find in the bottom of your grandmother’s toy chest.

There is no “solution” to Marienbad – no clothes on the emperor.  But we can’t help but imagine some.  This is its beauty.

 Last Year at Marienbad

Marienbad is aggressively ambiguous, but constantly hints at meaning.  The long, floating takes – later appropriated by Kubrick for 2001 and The Shining and by Alexander Sokurov for Russian Ark – gives us the feeling of a dream, but unlike other works of experimental film (Maya Deren comes to mind), we’re not totally committed to that interpretation.  There seems to be some meaning just out of reach, and perhaps if we re-watch and analyze it enough, we can discover this meaning.

In honor of Inception, Last Year at Marienbad topped Time Magazine’s “Top 10 Movies That Mess With Your Mind.”

Various Critical Reactions: Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-TimesMark Harris, The New York TimesJ. Hoberman, The Village VoiceDennis Lim, Los Angeles TimesJeremy J. Shapiro, International Salon-Journal Jorn K. Bramann, The Educating Rita WorkbookShannon Gramas, Spectrum Culture

Also, play the math game featured in the film here.

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