I remember three years ago when I was doing some reading for a class on world cinema from 1960 onward and I came across a discussion of this film. It sounded so interesting that I began searching for the film. A year later I got a chance to see it and it was all I had hoped for and more. Last summer the Criterion collection put out a version and I decided to watch it again today so I could post an entry about it since my initial viewing predated this blog.
It’s still as good as I remember. The movie is about A (the woman), M (her husband), and X (the stranger). To try to explain the plot is really to give your interpretation of the film. I will give mine and throw out a couple of other ones.
To me the film has A and X in a sort of mind meld which he controls for the bulk of the film. He tries to recreate an affair that they supposedly had a year before at a resort that may or may not have been Marienbad. He tries to convince her that she asked him to wait a year before she would run away with him. The events that happen don’t necessarily happen sequentially if they happened at all. Since these are memories, all the other people are pale shadows of human beings. To borrow again from science fiction, it’s like his memories of what happened are laid out in the form of a string. Ball up the string and all those memories touch each other. X can be describing something that happened later to A and with the turn of a head or a few steps forward they are there. He begins to lose control later in the film as she begins inject her point of view. In the end, he does convince her and they leave together.
Another interpretation is that the people are all the victims of a holocaust and that is whey they all seem to move and pose like the living dead enclosed within a resort that seems to be itself dead. Another interpretation that fits in with mine is that there was a rape. The fact that she asks him to leave her alone numerous times throughout the film and that we see him enter her room, her respond in a manner characteristic of a rape, only to have him deny that happened and pull us in a different direction lends weight to that interpretation.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to make up your own mind. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the sets and costumes and the fun director Alain Resnais has with the possibilities of cinema. I highly recommend it.