Movie Review–La Jetée (1962)

Written and Directed by Chris Marker
Narrated by Jean Négroni
Length: 25 min
Not Rated

Available on HuluPlus


La Jetée is a groundbreaking feat of creativity and master story telling. It is one of the strangest, most absorbing stories ever committed to celluloid. I was completely captivated, despite the fact that the film is told entirely in still black and white images, with a narrator providing the thrust of the plot. This might be a turn off to some people, but let me assure you, it is a technique that works brilliantly. Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein once said, “Cinema achieves meaning not through a single image, but in connection of one image to another. Any collection of images makes a story.” What director Chris Marker does with La Jetée is strip away the movement and slow down the progression. This creates a pace that allows enough time for reflection on the very profound topics at hand.

It’s Paris, post World War III and the surviving humans are living in colonies filled with hunger and decay. The war has left the surface inhabitable due to nuclear fallout and has forced humanity underground. “The victors stood guard over a kingdom of rats.” A group of scientists look for the answer in time travel and eventually send a man back in time to get food and medicine, and to search for an answer to their current crisis. I will leave the twists and turns for you to discover.

Many people have called this a film about time travel. I disagree. Time travel is part of the story but it isn’t a story about time travel. Rather, it is a story about memories and meaning making–about the frailty of the human mind and the fragmentation of reality that occurs in our brains. Human memory is imperfect, and yet it defines us to an extent. Though La Jetée is only 25 minutes long, it leaves us time to think about these things–to mull them over in our own minds.

The film is little known these days, but its influence on science fiction storytelling is quite notable. Not only did it put a story to the theory of “time loop”, it also spawned a more famous sci-fi film called 12 Monkeys from director Terry Gilliam. La Jetée is a powerful story packed into less than half an hour, but the musings it creates will last a lifetime.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 11.01.58 PM

4 out of 4 stars


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