Last Year at Marienbad

August 5, 2006 at 4:29 am (marienbad, nim)

Dan Hoey sent me this interesting page he’s put together on the game of Nim in the screenplay of the movie Last Year at Marienbad.

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Moments in Last Year at Marienbad when that weird character plays misere Nim against the other hotel guests

February 5, 2006 at 6:19 pm (marienbad, nim)

Last Year at Marienbad is a 1961 French movie directed by Alan Renais. It’s mostly annoying to watch, but it has the benefit of having the game of Misere Nim played several times in the movie.The starting position is always four heaps of cards (more often, matchsticks). The heaps have sizes 1, 3, 5, and 7. A move is to take some number of cards from one heap only, removing them from play (including the whole heap, if desired). Play ends when the last card is taken, and the player who takes that card loses the game. This starting position is a forced win for the second player to move (ie a P-position) in best play.

Last night, I suffered through the whole movie, keeping track of when Misere Nim is played.

#1) Elapsed time: 15:11 (roughly): Misere nim with cards. Best view of play in the movie. As always in the movie, the strange-looking guy who proposes that the game be played wins. He lets the other guest move first. The actor playing the Guest does a great job of looking disgruntled as he is forced to take the last card (and loses the game).

#2) Elapsed time: 20:56: Misere nim with matchsticks. “What if you play first?” The weird guy obliges, and makes a (losing) first move, but the guest makes an error and the weird guy wins again.

#3) Elapsed time: 37:00: Misere nim with matchsticks, set up for play only.

#4) Elapsed time: 1hr 13:00: Misere nim with matchsticks. This is the best part, with the highly amusing speculation on the part of the guests—”I think you should always take an odd number.” “He’s using the theory of logarithms.” [In translation to English on my DVD, that is “It is a type of logarithmic series.” “How does he always win?” This last scene is the best one for commentary by the guests.

I like this review of the movie at Amazon, by Jack Walter:

I am an avid fan of foreign, avant-garde, bizarre, challenging and/or enigmatic films, but this one is just plain agonizing to watch. The photography and the characters are beautiful, but I had to view this film in two sessions, both of them tormentingly slow. At first I thought it was some kind of variation on Sartre’s “No Exit,” but if it was, I was the one in the waiting room in Hell! This movie is pointless, vapid and pathetically pretentious. I hope God adds ninety-four minutes onto my life as a reward for sitting through Last Year at Marienbad!

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