Film Review: Chris Marker’s “La Jetée” (1962)


Figure 1. ‘La Jetée Movie Poster'

Chris Marker’s “La Jetée” (1962) is the sort of film where you would need to keep an open mind in order to understand the events happening and why. Only thirty minutes long, this film isn’t video recorded with moving images, but rather, it is a photo montage that portrays scenes and the being described by the narrator.

The story is based around the concept of time and memory, and opens on a view of Paris. We are then taken to a pier, where we are then introduced to the main character whom the story focuses on. Although we do not discover the names of any of the characters, it is required that one makes a mental of the opening scene. As a child, the main character remembers viewing the pier, and running down the boardwalk, only to be greeted by a man dying. But what stood out to him the most was a woman’s startled face, her reaction to this man’s death, creating the most impressionable memory that will stay with him throughout his life.

As the story progresses, the scenes develop into what we now understand as a post apocalyptic Paris, where little traces of life remain. Those that do survive are taken as prisoners and experimented on. The techniques used within the film are notable for having a meaning and a reason behind them. As quoted on filmslie.com, “La Jetée repeatedly uses dissolves in order to create the feeling of elapsed time in an otherwise still visual atmosphere.” (N/A) With each transition of the scenes, our minds are lead to interpret the measurement of time through the different types of dissolving. This is also emphasised by the illusion of movement, but as we are mistaken into taking the still images for moving images, this then results in us perceiving that the scene is prolonged due to it’s lifeless stillness. We are then able to experience the emotion behind the film. To be trapped in what feels like a dream, never being able to have the free will to move, much like the animals in the taxidermy museum.

Figure 2. ‘Man being experimented on’

That is noted to be one of the memories the man experiences. The reasoning behind capturing these prisoners was so that they could be experimented on to find a way to travel through time. The main character, being the one with the strongest memories, is taken in for experimentation, which lasted for a prolonged amount of time. Through the power of his memories, he was able to construct a world, to which he meets a woman; the same woman that he had seen on the pier that day in his childhood. He creates a bond with this woman, visiting her frequently through using his memories within the experiment. This continuous process allows his memories to become stronger to the point where he almost feels as if he could control himself. But he can’t, for it is all but an illusion of the brain, warping his memories to create a world resembling that of the previous one before the war. That was the reason of the experiment. All of these events lead up to one moment. The man, after completing the experiment, was released. He stood at the beginning of the boardwalk on the pier that he remembers from his childhood. With a sudden realisation of what could happen, the man runs towards the end, is desperation to see the woman’s face. He gains speed and closes in on her, but was then stopped in his tracks. A scientist working on the experiment he was involved in had shot the man. He was no longer needed. As Patrick Samuel states, “His choices will complete the circle of events he first witnessed as a child. If time is real, as many believe it is, then once an event has occurred, it will always occur and can never be undone or escaped.” (Samuel, P. 2013) At the end of the experiment, the man had managed to reach the people of the future. They were waiting there, welcoming him with open arms to their world, but he chose to live in the past, thus leading him back to the pier. And he is now dead. The death that he had witnessed as a child was his own, but he didn’t realise it up until the very moment it happened.

Figure 3. ‘Man at the moment of his death’ 

This film is rather symbolic in a lot of aspects. The historical context included in the film was influenced by the current events of time in which the film was made. In one review, it is noted that, “The film was shot during the Cold War, when the fear of nuclear annihilation was a major source of concern, and the post-apocalyptic setting of the film demonstrates this, among other themes.” (N/A, 2011) Sound was what stood out within the film, with it representing different things such as using sound effects to display airports, footsteps and the whispers of the German scientists. Music was also relevant to shaping the transitions of mood from each scene.

The black and white imagery as well as the emotional theme put with unemotional imagery deserve to be noted, creating an atmosphere of which the audience begins to question time and space itself. Overall, it was a very thought provoking film.

Bibliography:

(N/A) (2011) “La Jetée Film Analysis” (04.05.11) In: http://filmandhistory.blogspot.co.uk/ (2011) [Online] At: http://filmandhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/la-jetee-film-analysis.html (Accessed on 07.01.15)

(N/A) “Chris Marker’s La Jetée Analysis: Mortality and the Illusion of Time” (N/A) In: http://filmslie.com/ (N/A) [Online] At: http://filmslie.com/chris-marker-la-jetee-analysis-temporality/ (Accessed on 07.01.15)

Samuel, P. (2013) “La Jetée” (03.01.13) In: http://staticmass.net/ (2013) [Online] At: http://staticmass.net/world/la-jetee-1962-review/ (Accessed on 07.01.15)

Illustrations:

Figure 1. ‘La Jetée Movie Poster' (1962) [Poster] At: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f7/La_Jetee_Poster.jpg (Accessed on 07.01.15)

Figure 2. ‘Man being experimented on’ (1962) [Movie Still] At: http://s3.amazonaws.com/criterion-production/stills/3638-17f9fe315ecf2a7fea2c96036271f6ba/P_original.jpg (Accessed on 07.01.15)


Figure 3. ‘Man at the moment of his death’ (1962) [Movie Still] At: https://cosasquehemosvisto.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/la_jetee_4.png (Accessed on 07.01.15)

Comments

  1. 'To be trapped in what feels like a dream, never being able to have the free will to move, much like the animals in the taxidermy museum.' - elegantly expressed, Chels! And good to see you getting your reviews up nice and early - keep on top of it and feel less stress in the long run - it's a life-skill!

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  2. Good stuff Chelsea! As Phil says, get the reviews published as soon as you can, and that's one less thing to worry about :)

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