Pure Science Fiction #6–La Jetée

La JetéeLa_Jetee_Feature_Current_original

France, 1962

Written and directed by Chris Marker

Available to stream on Hulu Plus


Here is an excerpt from my previous review of this movie:

“La Jetée is a groundbreaking feat of creativity and master story telling….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….

…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…

…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.”

la-jetee-zone-books002I still agree with everything I wrote back then, but I feel there’s more to be said about the science fiction elements of the story. To begin with, I think Chris Marker’s conception of future Earth was a warning and, in some ways, a prophecy. It was made during the middle of the Cold War and has similarities to the doomsday scenario of Dr. Strangelove. In fact, it can almost be viewed as a more serious continuation of that work (although Strangelove was made 2 years later).

What we are presented with is a post-apocalyptic situation, a manmade worldwide devastation of the planet. The narrative utilizes the science fiction motif of time travel to beautifully contrast Paris-that-was with the underground infestation of Paris-that-may-be. By doing so, stories like La Jetée stand as a vigil against a society that would destroy itself.

Science fiction has a rich history of foresight and watchfulness. We fear the Big Brother of 1984 becoming a real threat to our freedom.  We keep a close eye on artificial intelligence because of movies like 2001 and Terminator. Science fiction has long informed the world of its possibilities, but also its dangers. La Jetée manages to do this, as well as tell a compelling story about human memory, in the span of a half-hour. Like many great sci-fi shorts, it is succinct and rich–packed with plot, theme, and meaning.

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