With varying success, Resnais has proved himself among the most adventurous of film artists, and certainly his present concept confirms it. Unfortunately, he has chosen as his collaborator for [Providence, an] exploration of what might best be termed a creative nightmare, David Mercer, the British playwright who last gave the screen Morgan!, based on his own play. In his first "original" screenplay, Mercer proves himself suffering major indigestion with the dialogue styles of Wilde, Coward, and Pinter; and it is indeed the English language itself … that is the stumbling block….
It is Resnais's vision that holds the attention: the suggestion and shadow of environment, the lurking terrors of the night, the quick silver changes of character from flesh and blood to puppetry, the foisting of the narrator's suspicions and self-hatreds upon others….
The dialogue becomes obvious, tedious, and intolerable in its stilted wordplay: "You have inner peace," "You have inner stagnation"; "Some people might say you're your own worst enemy, but I think you're your only best friend," on and on. And ultimately, with forays into the scatology of the novelist's ailments, the repetition and thereby the portentousness of the extermination-camp scenes and the recurrent land- and skyscapes combine to put a heavy-handed contrivance on what, in less self-conscious writing, would have been a tantalizing vision. In the last quarter there is a straightforwardness that is a blessed relief and refreshment. But as [a character] says early on: "If one has led a fatuous life one must have fatuous nightmares." As for Resnais—even a fatuous screenplay can become intermittently interesting in his hands. (p. 42)
Judith Crist, "'They Say In Harlan County, There Are No Neutrals There …'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1977 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted with permission), Vol. IV, No. 11, March 5, 1977, pp. 39-42.∗