exits’ Dernière année à Marienbad / Last Year in Marienbad.
à Marienbad (1961). Director, Alain Resnais.
Script, Alain Robbe-Grillet.
…‘le long de couloir’…
…‘ les fausses exites.’
No exit. The
denial of (the possibility of) escape. But escape from where; and when? For
even these most fundamental ‘placing’ co-ordinates of human experience are
denied to us…
And as for why?
This small matter of the story’s motivation, the plot construction, is also
left up to us to puzzle out, to re-construct (always assuming there is an
original single meaning to ‘re’-construct…).
When? Our options
on interpretation; a situation in past, present, or future; and then the
implied question of whose memory, viewpoint, or fantasy (imagination) we
occupy. Rhetoric of our choice, a puzzle, a game, film as play; but open play
means all comers are welcome; choice implies renunciation of the control of
meaning… Time (place in history) as open, timeless, so implying myth, or
collecting its force (even the costumes are timeless, perennially in fashion?).
Does finding a time imply more or less meaning? As we are continually reminded,
the viewer must choose, as in linguistics in the role of context and its final,
pragmatic, arbiter or embodiment, the perceiving self, so it is ‘us’ who make
highly-structured and calculated work… featuring much experiment in
juxtaposition, so using techniques since become dominant in art (as in the
post-conceptual visual riddle or the ‘combine’ from Rauschenberg on) and
already well-established in the poetic world. A matter of
juxtaposing elements… and then leaving the audience to decide… to sense the
‘feel’ and construct the ‘meaning’. An effect which offers profound
ambiguity in this film (but in recent art history all too often declares an
abdication on the part of the artist). An ambiguity which
extends to the relation of each episode to its predecessor. Even up to
being its inversion (even up to being its predecessor’s predecessor…).
Which version; inversion…? When each scene may be an
‘inversion’ of the previous, so denying the cumulative effect which is the key
to understanding, the ‘simple arithmetic’ or addition which forms overall
Which vision; re-vision…? When each scene is already a
re-visioning of the previous one(s), a reshuffle of the deck, a shaking of the
dice of permutation…
(standby of all and every means of sense making – foundation of ritual, of
of key moments, as if repeated many times in the past. Or, conversely, why not,
once this series, this relation of repetition, has been admitted as a
possibility, of a sequence projecting into the (or a) future… Repetitions, of apparently similar events, as an examination of
options, a set of elegant variations. Repetitions, of events, images,
processes, as an indicator of ritual, of ritual effect - visual incantation.
(matches, cards, guns, photographs). Games as ritual combat, or bonding,
binding and place finding… A safe outlet for competitivity (male? sexual?). A
nonsense game, codes unknown… Aleatory, with an ever-so-slight suggestion of having been
made-up between the players as a surface manifestation of hidden agendas and
maneuvers, of complicities and allegiances, rivalries and conflicts of
interest; a mapping out of the contours of potential conflict – ritual in form
and function; open in content and combination.
A sequence of rituals; an infinite series (with or
without, or even as, a ‘line of flight’, an attempt at escape through form and
variations); but also a culture, a way of life, a habitus…
so a trap, prison house - a hotel no longer read as the site of escape(ism) but
as limit, a gilded cage.
Where? The hotel:
as popular/privileged trope of our times… (a sign of
increasing wealth, of the opening of travel, offering access to mass society of
some form of cosmopolitanism). A place at once both private
and public, a new ‘in-between’ of these key aspects of felt space… an ideal
place, place of fantasy, of opportunity (obviously sexual). But still,
in reality (in economic reality) a place of privilege, replete with echoes of
feudal privilege, whence the signaling of these settings as sumptuous,
privileged; in actuality, in terms of cultural ‘taste’ or ‘class’, the habits
of a given class, its habitus.
But real, or now merely historical or past, such a ‘place’ is also to be found
in the collective social imagination as the site of collective cliché, the
clichés of possibility, of transgression, of escape. Imaginary
site of imaginary events; imaginary place of the imagination.
California’; the trap of luxury, of vice, the lure of satiety (The Eagles).
hotel (image as Zeitgeist); a choice
of readings, of ideological points of view, or appropriations, suggestive of
leisure and play, of choice itself; though perhaps more usually happening as
peoples and cultures mix with the global fluidity of labour
markets and refugees - creating ever new waves of Diaspora. Of
disembodied beings in disembedded places (whatever
their point of origin). Also with the meaning of
Everyman/woman (although possibly subjunctive with respect to such a place, the
fantasy element). So existential.
Background. Architecture as the
star. Rooms and corridors… The container that incites,
dwelling place of the imagination, of desire, of repetition and all the rituals
of life and thought (of event and representation, of habits physical and
mental, geo-political and psychological).
Containing excess; inciting excess. Negative
appropriation of everybody’s desire to be higher up in the social pyramid
(recognition; people are as dressed by architecture as they are by clothes…). Positive appropriation of everybody’s desire to live in a beautiful
space (the hope of architecture).
Containing desire: the desire to be to be placed
(recognition); and the desire for an object, and other… (sexual
desire, the possession of bodies and minds, or the possession by such of the
self… sexual desire and its dance). Containing desire; setting the rules of the
game, the pattern of the dance – the desired-ends and the
dead-ends, the come-ons and the outcomes. Configuring desire; giving it
triangle. Symbol or situation. Real or imagined.
Feared or desired. Not -in this most untypical of films- untypical as a
narrative driver; in fact overwhelmingly the most popular motor force of the
tales we tell and like to hear - especially if we include the obstacle as
putative third party. The triangle (itself the most typical narrative
institution): its presence provides the content that will fill the finite
extensions in space, the extensions of the hotel as institution, as well as the
infinite reach of the imagination. Providing the incitement, as well as the
filling, of the actual spaces we behold, the halls and corridors, the gilt
décor (back drop to the guilt triggered by transgression); the baroque and
rococo décor that is the ever-present background of the film (the first
presented, the frame, the container, itself within the limit of the film as
frame, border, horizon, demarcating the ‘world of the film’ to be crossed as
self-reference, as post-modern, border-crossing – only with special effects in
mind…). All these frames within which unfold the play of the
triangle. The eternal triangle; beloved of the
imagination, as evinced by the history of our stories about ourselves; the
infinite variations. Figure on a ground; space as ground, containment as
limits… trap within which to play out the possibilities or fantasies of escape…
The dice falling again on the black cloth of the table.
Dice the tumbling of which sets the tone for the ritual play of variations
(the most intensified form of the combination of time and space, or of ‘when’
and ‘where’). And ritual’s foremost role in human culture is that of renewal;
the renewal of society, of life, the turning of the generations, reproduction
of the species: in art depicted as the sexual dance… (echo
of fertility rite, now signaling social reproduction, the passing of the baton
to the new generation). Among which the violent form (rape);
beloved of avant-garde writers (perhaps desperate to maintain audience
interest). Rape as the hidden event around which the memory game centers
is (biographically, if not textually) foreclosed by Resnais,
who wanted to play down this reading of the film; but preferred by
Robbe-Grillet, the script writer… whereas the lovers unification and possible
‘escape’ would seem to minimize this reading. Yet if the reading-in of rape is
accepted as an option, then so are other versions based on the ‘evidence’ (the
film text)… For example, marital rape by the husband-figure is also an option:
yet whilst some ’versions’ (episodes in the series of ritual repetitions,
ambiguous as to temporality and point of view) show or imply violence, others
suggest amity and complicity. All readings (based upon the text) are acceptable
(indeed a sweep covering the range of options would seem to be what
we are presented with, so suggesting the creativity of fantasy). The debate
about the film’s context of interpretation is another matter (but one too prone
to fundamentalist distortions… anyone can find a context which will support
their own reading – yet all readings do have contexts). The search for a
(hidden) controlling or guiding event, however, is out of keeping with the
film’s sense of repetition–variation, and the constant ambiguity or openness to
interpretation it fore-grounds (as in ‘post-modern’ physics we are offered
probability only). Rather, a range of options are suggested, as in this
instance, from violent possession to consensual romantic obsession.
Obsession; stuck in one place, a new hiatus of
libidinal exchange. An ‘eternal return’… to the eternal Same.
The passage without becoming the return within. Caught
somewhere - with the awareness that there is (or should be) somewhere else…
When every prospect of utopia runs sour (the results of
progress look increasingly problematic)… and the perspective twists into duration
-sitting it out- an existence haunted by the trace of redemption. The goad that built the prison walls.
Purgatory (a no-where
with no when…). Perhaps one of the longest, ‘deepest’ of
cultural tropes, because part of the history of religion as key input for
cultural history (most particularly those cultures with a Judeo-Christian
heritage). Even in a society become increasingly
neutral in terms of religious enthusiasm (or perhaps more easily become entertainment
in such a context); ‘agnostic’ towards religion (the ‘weak’ ‘belief’ of
cultural inheritance or reception, the habits, or ‘colouring-in’
of the geo-cultural calendar). Purgatory, as the
awareness of being trapped between, transforming a place of escape into a
prison, a playground of meaning into an obsessive set of restatements. With everyone waiting on the next variation for an indication as to
the place or manner (or even possibility) of exit. Purgatory: a picture
of those awaiting escape or redemption. Purgatory: the status of the waiting
room when there is nowhere else to go…
So returning us to repetition (and variation) - and so
(again) ritual. And from the world of ritual also, as from received behaviour patterns and the organized clichés of ideological
points of view, there is no escape, only variation. A further
shuffling of the deck of cards.