When People Go Through Life Like Eyes See the Visible or Ears Fill With Sounds and Human Heart Pumps Blood Just Because that’s What It’s Job Is

A good looking couple with intelligent and sensitive faces – Claude Ridder (Claude Rich) and Catrine (Olga Georges Picot)

The dark moods and the inability to understand what was bothering them, what intervenes into their happy life together with a strange melancholic veil from nowhere?

Even successful sexual mutuality in our couple’s life wasn’t able to make them resit deterring the intervals of sadness clouding their togetherness. They felt happy with one another, but… They were lucky that they were able to share their sadness as a part of their love.

Because their nameless torments were incorporated by their love their amorous feelings were enriched by their spiritual pain.

Catrine was first who died – although the exact reason of her death was difficult to establish – she died from a gas poisoning because she fell asleep near the fire place.

Catrine and Claude are better than regular philistines (tautological survivors) fighting for success of their survival. Catrine was very sensitive about dying/death – she was afraid to lose Claude. He was so gentle, not like other men. He was able to love without any affectation.

Claude participating in a scientific experiment had a fellow traveler – a tiny mouse with him. For this tiny gracious creature the whole world was her environment dedicated to her needs. The mouse could return from the past at any moment, but Claude obviously couldn’t – the time machine was not able to take him back because it was, probably, confused – was Claude (sent by machine into his past) was revisiting his past or the world of his past imagination, which controlled him – made him a little somnambular he always was in his past life? He lived the unreality of his past life as if it was reality. It is exactly how he lived before his suicide – as majority of people who live through their imagination and judge the world according to their imaginary perceptions.

In the background of this shot we see the very time machine itself – looks like a giant onion or, may be, garlic from a famous book for children with vegetables, fruits and berries as anthropomorphized characters. Look at the scientists in the foreground – they’re like insects always know what to do.

Here, we see Claude Ridder in the time machine chamber, on a scientific mattress which was made, probably, to soften the transition for the time travelers between two incompatible realms – reality like fantasy (life of Claude in the past – before his suicide) and fantasy like reality (genius of science).

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Our natural (pre-scientific) time-machine is our memory accumulating not only facts about our life for retrospection but also our feelings and thoughts connected with them. Resnais, had to somehow connect the semantics of his film with science-fiction time machine since not many are interested in human memory. But they’re very interested in science fictions because they want to see scientific miracles (if not directly, imaginary – the mass audience’s first preference, or at least scientific ones). Resnais’s project got an attractive and prestigious label of being categorized as a science-fiction movie. Of course, in “Je t’aime…” he also had a chance to mock science-fictional facet of mass-culture – at least some satisfaction for a director who is “forced” by necessities of the circumstances to try to bring some profit for its producers, etc., a burden for the disinterested artist who makes cinema because of love for the art, concern for understanding of human motivations, life, and an irresistible philosophical bent.

Resnais’ film, it seems, is about our very inability to judge and use our memory (to adequately apply it to our actual life – to judge not in a sense of how exactly or not exactly it registered what concretely happened to us or how disappointed or satisfied, and unhappy or happy we are about what we remember. Resnais thinks not about human memory as such – the time machine as a part of the plot does its best to distract us, the viewers from Claude Ridder’s (Claude Rich) life, because it’s broken or just a “capricious” scientific aggregate. Through the metaphor of a broken time machine Resnais makes a point about the broken life of the characters – broken not in a sense that it is interrupted by the intervened disaster or their inability to follow the society’s rules and norms, but because it is broken from the beginning – by the pettiness, meaninglessness and emptiness making human life absurd in essence. In other words, what is broken is not computer (time machine), but life, the social container of human life, because of the absence of life’s meaning. Life of Claude Ridder, Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot) and Wiana Lust (Claude’s alt-[other]-mistress – Anouk Ferjak) plus the film’s endless small personages including the very serious scientists, is miserable by being not touched by secular spirituality in action, by the depth of human personalities.

It’s very symptomatic that the “time machine” worked perfectly at the end, when the hero (who is stuck in his past because of the machine’s inability to bring him back) is re-experiencing his own attempted suicide again, as if, going through it the second time. When while visiting his past he reached the point of his suicide the machine very quickly throws him bleeding back to actuality. It is, as if, his life was inevitably leading towards his suicide following by its dark but genuine logic pushing him to meet the horrifying but real event of his suicide. Here for the first time the machine acts “adequately” spitting him out of the past into actual reality. Indeed, Claude’s suicide before the scientific experiment was the only real event of his whole life. The reason Claude couldn’t return to actual life from the kingdom of the past before is that his past life was completely artificial, not existential – the time machine, as if, couldn’t see the difference between his real past life and his memory of it according to his past perception which the time-machine was reading from his mind. This machine, as if, permanently made mistakes in distinguishing between what is Claude Ridder’s memory and what was the lived reality in his past life. Claude lived his past life as if he was imagining it – he never felt the taste of reality, until he was engulfed by the extreme despair triggering his suicide attempt.

It’s very important not to forget that Claude Ridder is very intelligent and a witty person, and so is Catrine – his main love. But the basic flatness of their personalities – they live, as if, collecting cherries from the cherry trees is a fatal existential weakness, reinforced by their mindlessly, although minimally prosperous way of life. All their life Claude and Catrine looked around smilingly. They liked the quiet and cool waters of living.

But let us be just to the time-machine which gave Claude Ridder the chance to look into his past and, we hope, to understand how inadequate his very way of life was. Of course, he survived his suicide attempt, but will he be able without the time-machine experiment and make the risky mistake of feeling that he comprehends what was going on with his past life, how amazingly inept he was in his perception of what was going on, with life, how weak he was in his inability to help Catrine. Existential passivity was his compass. He was, as a human being a kind of an invalid, as most of us are, in different ways. The creator of the smart time-machine was able to a make mistake but because of that very mistake became the enlightening force for Claude and as it can be for some of the viewers – was Alain Resnais himself, and not the scientists. It is he as the artist of cinematic art tried to help one person, the hero of his film Claude Ridder to understand his basic problem and to help us, the viewers of his film, to reconsider our own psychological condition, either similar or different from Claude’s, without the dark need of to rushing to our death in despair.