Quick-Thoughts: Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Alain Resnais Marathon Part III of III

Can we get a “W” in the chat for the organ music in this?

I haven’t seen a movie this surreal since I saw Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel nearly a year ago. Unlike Bunuel though, Alain Resnais takes a strict “horror” approach to his locationally contained piece of familiar yet reshapable hallways and rooms. Last Year at Marienbad is essentially a lover’s faded memory of a one night affair between him and his supposed female partner in crime. This premise has allowed the film to use the rare and often detested use of “repetition” as a rare occasion of fabricating an advantage, however, in that each repeated recollection of the same scene is slightly altered with new camera angles, new camera shots, new context, new dialogue, slightly changed dialogue, new tones or new characters, which visually and dialectically mimics the trial and error process of our wills to hold onto an important memory.

Sometimes we sugarcode or dramatize our brain storage with desires, but it deludes us from reality and replaces it with questions or contradictions, a never-ending vault of them that can rarely be answered as we grow older and older, and review our memory over and over again, wearing it out like a solid material. From there on out, we begin phasing forward into even more confusion, punishing ourselves with the moral dilemmas of how you may have immaturely handled this failed attempt at an ongoing romantic connection, trying to hide ourselves from objective truths with subjective comforts as we carnally attempt to ignore the mistakes and sins that could’ve led to the termination of such an allusive love affair. The complexity of a connection you once understood has become unraveled again and again in mortifying tangles, to a point where maybe it was never love to begin with; maybe it was always one-sided, between either you or between either her.

I love how nearly every scene in this movie lays itself out like a puzzle that you need to hastily figure out in time before it ends, but is than followed up by the next scene which is formatted to completely contradict what you had discovered or thought you had understood beforehand — it plays completely well with mental realism and how we tend to process personal information too emotionally despite being in the light of facts. Ben Shapiro would’ve adored this movie if he actually had good taste in art. 

Another way of interpreting Last Year at Marienbad, to add to the spirit of “surrealism”, is to think of our characters as spirits of a haunted hotel — which the atmosphere of the movie ingeniously makes it feel as if that were the case — trying to recollect emotion, trapped in a glitchy “groundhog day” sort of situation. Allowing disinterests to completely control a memory seems impossible even for a spiritual, all great and wise being, as the tiresome and agonizing chastise of perfect iterations have the ironic ability to force you to want to deceitfully revise the plot of your very own once pondered over experience. 

Totally immature timing to end this review off on, BUT, I had to mention that the main dude in this movie totally looks like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino’s lovechild! I don’t know why, I just kind of found that to be absurdly funny. Umm… ahem… very serious movie though, yes, indeed… 

Verdict: A

My All-Time Favorite Movies, The French New Wave Ranked

“Last Year at Marienbad” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

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