Bodies assail the viewer as Hiroshima mon amour (1959) begins. This visual metaphor will serve as an anchoring theme throughout. These embracing bodies are slowly being covered with ash. They grow less and less discrete, almost indistinguishable as bodies. The skin does not melt or burn with the accumulation of ashes; rather, ironically, it begins to sparkle, almost becoming beautiful. These are the consequences of an atomic bomb, we must conclude; the return of radioactive embers to the earth. Just as this image begins to sicken us, these bodies disappear and new, healthy bodies, presumably belonging to our nameless narrators, appear. How burnt, scorched, scarred bodies can return to such health remains a mystery. All we see is the movement from one image to the next.
This visual metaphor envelopes the principal problems of Hiroshima. First and foremost, memory appears and returns through the body. Second, all memories are affective; they are imbued with emotions or feelings and desire. Third, memory has the peculiar quality of timelessness. Memory is future and past and present and not in any particular order. Fourth, memory is anonymous. It belongs to no one, to 1000 women and to 1 woman. Fifth, memory is forgetting.
The first problem in Hiroshima mon amour—the memory’s appearance or return through the body—we see in numerous dimensions. The pain implied in the ash covered skin invokes the oldest form of memory, what Nietzsche says is how remembering was created in humans. Humans remember what causes them pain, like all animals. If that is so, there is much remembering in this film, as we are repeatedly treated to images of bodies deformed in numerous fashions.
Our female narrator—whom I will henceforth call “her” or “she”—claims these memories as her own. She says that she saw them and that they are hers. She claims these memories for herself. They become her body—their affective dimensions—the pain they experience, is something she identifies with. I say this emphasizing that bodies are not things but sites of affection and action, of emotion and feeling and desire. Nothing says this more than the pain we see in these tortured bodies.
But if affection and action are the signs of bodies, then our experience viewing the film is the production of a memory and a body. We are implicated in her lie, her claim to have seen these events. She had not lived them and so her lover says no. This is not yours. But she insists, acknowledging that this experience is derived from the museum in Hiroshima. The audience is implicated in her lie: viewing these bodies is experiencing that torture, assuming those bodies, bearing that memory. This artifice is uncovered when we see her on the scene of the shooting of a film. This illusion is so perfect, she will say, because the memories are the event. And those bodies are our bodies.