In many ways, Alain Resnais
’ ‘Last Year at Marienbad
(1961) and Stanley Kubrick
’s ‘The Shining
(1980) are quite similar. Both films take place in sprawling resorts that are sparsely populated. Both films pose narrative mysteries that have deliberately ambiguous solutions. In the former, did the woman (Delphine Seyrig) meet the man (Giorgio Albertazzi) last year at Marienbad or not? Or perhaps they did meet, but not at Marienbad. If they did meet, did the woman forget because she was traumatized after being raped by the man? Are the characters even “real” or ghosts or fragments of someone’s imagination? Resnais’s French New Wave classic has fascinated, baffled, and frustrated viewers for half a century quite simply because it is a puzzle without a key to guide the viewer. You have may an interpretation after watching it, but it is tentative (I change my mind almost every time I watch the film) and far from being definitive. Kubrick’s ‘The Shining
offers up ambiguity in a slightly lower dose. Quite simply, is Jack (Jack Nicholson) motivated by cabin fever or ghosts? If we accept the former, how does Jack escape the freezer after he’s locked up by Wendy (Shelley Duvall)? If we accept the latter and the ghosts can take physical action (who rolls the ball towards Danny?), why do they stop short of killing the Danny (Danny Lloyd) and Wendy? Moreover, how can Jack exist both in the early 1980s and in a 1921 photograph? These are ambiguities that have encouraged numerous interpretations, ranging from the ridiculous theories of ‘Room 237’
(2012) to my own video essay “Free Will in Kubrick’s The Shining
Yet, the connections between these two films go even deeper in how they attempt to use spatiotemporal ambiguity to further disorient the spectator. The hallways and spaces of Kubrick’s Overlook do not make any spatial sense. There are windows that look outdoors in rooms that face inwards. The flow of time, as aforementioned, is also mysterious. The film’s title cards marking off days and hours represent a linear march of time, yet Jack’s encounter in room 237 and the photograph at the end would suggest that time is a circular or that alternate timelines exist simultaneously. Similarly, the times and spaces of Resnais’s film blend together. Costumes provide only a temporary reference point, because jump cuts, voice over, and the similar interiors of separate resorts make the differences between past, present, and future indistinguishable. Yet, viewers of both films can probably agree on one aspect. Violence haunts these corridors.
Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. He the co-editor and co-founder of
[in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and
Cinema Journal). [in]Transition recently won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship competition. His publications have appeared in
animation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com
, Senses of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies. He is currently completing a manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic book style.
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