A Critique I Wrote Back In 2007 On La Jetée

La Jetée is a commentary on time and how we perceive it. Memories can be a series of pictures in our heads that we cannot be sure of, especially in terms of which pictures are real memories and which are pictures of our imagination.  I felt an emotional connection with the still images because I have thought about time travel and how I could go back to change events in my past that I have fixated on. 

In the essay “Unchained Melody” by Jonathan Romney, he states that “La Jetée’s narrative…is a Möbius strip” in a never-ending continuous loop.  I can’t agree with this because we only get to know the man and his story through the lens of what is told to us in the narrative.  We can never be sure if the man really time travels or if it is an hallucination from the experiments.  We also do not know if someone eventually prevents the pre-destined time loop from re-occurring in the future.  Like Romney, I also see that the man is fixated on a single memory.  He fixates on a series of moments in the past even though he has the opportunity to go to the future.  He focuses so intensely on the woman that he forgets what else occurred that day.  He doesn’t learn that what we fixate on in life affects every aspect of our life and that foresight is as valuable as hindsight.

The symbolism in the eye movement could be viewed as a comment on how life is so fast-paced that it just becomes a series of situational moments until one moment is so impactful yet so fast that one does not understand what they just saw.  For example, if a person is driving down the street and suddenly sees someone out of the corner of his eye, he may be startled and think “Do I know that person?”   Some people would say that the woman’s eye movement was one of the most impactful moments of the film, but, in my opinion, I was more impacted by the man’s reaction while his eyes were covered by the equipment that enabled him to time travel.  This stuck with me due to how graphic and realistic it seemed while at the same time feeling as if it sprang out of a comic book. 

I feel that La Jetée meets the test of validity as a real film.  Even though it was shot as if it were a slideshow by using still images, there are duplicate shots used to sustain certain parts of the story and this makes it feel more like a film.  One of the things done in the film to make it different from a slide show is that certain shots are shown at varying speeds and, at times, there is even a shaking to the image to give a sense of motion.  The shots of the man’s execution are done in a way that mirrors a flip-book.  There is a feeling communicated of the man running even though it is through still shots.  In fact, La Jetée can be considered a real film because early filmmakers such as Edison and the Lumiere Brothers treated films as experiments of perception and motion.  (Reference article.)  In the “Unchained Melody” essay by Romney, he points out that the “illusion of motion in film is always composed of a series of still images…the single atoms of cinematic flow.”  This provides another reason to perceive La Jetée as a valid film.

The film explores time, space and reality in various ways. Perception is reality. What a person perceives is very real for that person even if it is not real for someone else.  For example, a person without sight has to create his own reality of what colors are just as the man in the film has to create his reality of his memory. 

I agree with some of the thoughts expressed in Sander Lee’s essay “Platonic Themes in Chris Marker’s La Jetée” regarding the view that one’s wants and desires affect one’s reality and memory.  The man in the story focuses so much energy on the memory that, whether he is time-traveling or not, he feels joy in being with the woman and, thus, he has a clear idea of what he views as the past reality.  When he perceives going into the future, since he has no real desire to be there, he feels emotionally distant from that reality and he parrots the lines he has been told to say to the future inhabitants.  The method of time travel used in the film is done in a way that feels like a forced catatonia, because the subjects have to look inward for an image of the past or future that they want or desire. 

I don’t agree with Lee’s view that the time travel is more symbolic than real because time travel can be real based on how it is defined.  For example, if I board a plane in the US and go to Russia, I have time traveled by changing my reality and my location.  Another example of time travel is the use of technology such as a cell phone or computer that can transmit images and information across space in an instant.  Lee ignores the use of the machine and the drugs to facilitate the man’s time travel and focuses on the symbolism versus the reality of it. 

As a film, La Jetée provides influence for other films in the science fiction genre such as Twelve Monkeys and Terminator.  La Jetée used the popular genre of science fiction during the Cold War and played upon fears of an apocalyptic future.  It is a product of its time, but some of the film’s elements continue to be used in film.  In Terminator, a pre-destined paradox is used.  An event occurs that triggers a chain reaction of events that will affect the future.  Kyle is sent back to Sarah Conner’s time to save her from being killed by the Terminator and this creates a time loop.  Time travel and futuristic technology play key roles in science fiction and in Terminator and this can be credited, in part, to the influence of La Jetée.


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