When Marnie Was There is one of Studio Ghibli‘s heart-wrenching yet wholesome films. Tears may be streaming down your cheeks by the end of the movie. At the same time, you may be confused about the events that transpired. What exactly is Marnie? Is she a ghost?
The circumstances surrounding Marnie’s meetings with Anna seem to suggest she is more than just a ghost. She could perhaps be Anna’s memory.
Marnie’s true nature was never confirmed by the director or writer. So it seemed like the audience is free to interpret the events themselves. In this article, we will be giving you answers that are not set in stone. It may help you think about it, and come up with a conclusion yourself.
She Is Not a Traditional Ghost
If Marnie is a ghost, then she does not seem to act like your traditional one. Ghosts tend to be translucent often, and are just hanging around certain places for unfinished business. Marnie did have unfinished business of leaving Anna behind. But if we take that into the logic of a ghost, then she would have made her appearance to Anna in all those years. She didn’t and she can only be seen when Anna went to the Marsh House. Specifically, if there is water connecting from the main island to the Marsh House.
More importantly, if we follow the traditional ghost logic, then the Marsh House would have been in its current modern state. Whenever Marnie was there, interestingly, the Marsh House seemed to revert back to her time. It was like stepping into her memory. It indicates that Marnie is more than just being labeled as a ghost.
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Circumstances of These Memories
These memories were also not that simple. Usually whenever there’s a memory scene in any films or series that we are watching, the outside character cannot interact with anyone. In Marnie’s case, Anna can actually interact with the people in Marnie’s memory as if she was really there. No characters ever question Anna’s existence.
In the climax of the film, Marnie is bullied by the maids and locked in the silo. But when Anna helps Marnie throughout the whole ordeal, Marnie mistakes her for Kazuhiko. It was as if the experiences Marnie made with Anna seemed to be with Kazuhiko instead. It seemed like Anna was in Kazuhiko’s shoes the entire time during Marnie’s memories.
But we can also clearly see that Marnie recognizes Anna as well. If Anna were strictly in Kazuhiko’s shoes the entire time, then Marnie would not have acknowledged her as Anna herself.
Anna’s Subconscious Memory
Considering what is happening with Marnie and Anna’s encounters, we can safely assume that Marnie is more than just a ghost. We can say that instead of literal events occurring, it was probably all in Anna’s head. She was starting to recall Marnie’s stories being told to her when she was young.
The plot twist in this film is that Marnie is actually Anna’s grandmother. Marnie took care of Anna when she was a baby, because her parents died in a car accident. Anna’s biological mother is Emily, Marnie’s daughter with Kazuhiko. Kazuhiko died due to a sudden illness, which led to Marnie becoming depressed and unfit to care for Emily. Emily was sent to a boarding school instead, in which she became bitter because she felt abandoned.
This is why Marnie spent every waking moment with baby Anna. She does not want to make the same mistake with Emily over again.
She told various stories to baby Anna, which included her experiences at the Marsh House. Even though Anna was so young to recall such memories, it is important to remember that this was the time Anna felt really loved and cared for. Until Marnie passed away from old age, and Anna was left in the care of foster parents.
Yes, her foster parents genuinely love her too, but at this point, she did not have knowledge about her biological family. Anna probably thought that her biological family left her on purpose, so there’s a deeper sense of abandonment.
With her grandmother Marnie, she felt belonged. Assured that her biological family did not left her behind on purpose. Assured that a biological family member truly loved her. This subconscious memory acts as a comfort to Anna during a difficult time in her life. The mind forgets, but the heart remembers.
When Anna saw the Marsh House, we can say that it triggered something within her. A possible vague memory from the past perhaps. It was like she had seen the house before, but cannot specifically recall when. This led to Anna dreaming of Marnie every night and eventually meeting her. The water connecting the main island to the Marsh House can mean that this is the bridge or crossover to Anna’s subconsciousness.
This would also explain why some events in the film with Marnie seemed mixed up, and Anna seemed real in these memories. To add, Marnie’s humming also feels nostalgic for Anna, as if she had heard it before. This can make recalling memories all the more plausible.
Marnie is Symbolical
The entire journey Anna experiences is symbolic of her growth. It signifies a change in her adolescence, and that is what Studio Ghibli specializes in. Their films are considered ‘coming-of-age’, which tackle adolescent protagonists undergoing growth to become more mature, young adults. In Anna’s case, Marnie served as a symbol of her coming to terms with her pain.
Anna is experiencing extremely low self-esteem, always thinking of herself as a burden to others. She believed that her adoptive parents are just taking care of her because they are getting paid. As such, these feelings made Anna difficult to accept love, even though it is what she really needs. Deep down, her desire to be loved genuinely comes about the journey of acknowledging her pain. Marnie is borne out of this.
We can say that Marnie is part of Anna. She is part of Anna’s inner desire to move past her pain and to be loved. Marnie represents what Anna has to do to move forward and grow as a person.
In the ending with Anna and Marnie’s last conversation, this is the closure that she needed. While loss and grief in life is unavoidable, Anna is reminded that she is loved. She will never be alone in her life, as she marks this within her heart and soul.
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