Concepts Week 5: La Jetee

March 5, 2011

Well, boys and girls…or at least the crazy hobo who sometimes reads my blog, it’s been a helluva week. Full of chills, spills, AND thrills…and I have absolutely no energy to explain any of it to anyone. So, let’s just put it at, “I was very busy” and move on.

So, last week my illustrious classmates and I had to watch an interesting French sci-fi film titled “La Jetée,” which is considered the first movie to handle the concept of Time Travel (so important it deserves capitals). At the time of its release, 1964 I believe, most people who saw it just didn’t get it. Well, of course it makes sense as this is a fairly new trope in fiction. H.G. Wells touched on it in his amazing book The Time Machine, though that had an actual, material thing that acted as a vehicle, pardon the pun, for the idea of Time Travel to be understood.

Chris Marker is a genius because he start the concept of Time Travel Through the Mind. That one can use their memories to physically reach the past and their imagination to reach the future was something no one had even thought of.

Because this film is so short (28 minutes), it’s a bit difficult to figure out when one act ends and another in. But here is what I think:

Act I begins with what I see as the first inciting incident. A little boy, our hero, sees a man die on a pier at the same time he sees a woman he finds very beautiful. This memory haunts him for his entire life and he doesn’t forget it even through a third world war that destroys almost everything. The Man (as he is named) finds himself an adult in ravaged France and in a concentration camp. The men who had everyone penned in would run experiments that would drive inhabitants mad. No one knew what these men were trying to do. Finally, it was The Man’s turn. He was surprised to find out that the human race was in danger of dying out and that they needed to figure out a way to get more supplies to keep everyone alive. They came up with the idea of getting them from the past, but all the people who tried were driven mad by the intensity of waking up in a place out of time. But The Man had something the others didn’t, a vivid memory that would act as an anchor and keep him focused as he traveled. So he was chosen for the experiments in the hopes that he would be strong enough to reach the past.

Act II begins immediately after when they set The Man up for the experiments and have him think on the memory that has stayed with him since he was a little boy. He focuses on the beautiful woman and finds him in the past, in a market where she was buying groceries. But he was so intrigued by the market (as he probably hasn’t seen one in decades) that he loses sight of her and is brought back. He focuses again and thus begins the strange love affair between The Man from the future and The Woman who doesn’t ask questions. Each time he goes back, he gets stronger and the world seems to solidify for him until that fateful moment when he sees her blink awake. That’s when he knew that he was able to do this as easily as breathing. To try something different, they send him into the dark future to see what awaited them. He finds a group of people who have not known war or hardship and pleads with them, saying that if they don’t help him their world wouldn’t exist. Understanding the urgency of the situation, they give him a machine that would give his people a neverending supply of energy. He comes back a hero…and a condemned man, for his captors won’t let him live. In desperation, he speaks once more to the people in the future, who give him the option to stay with them. Instead, he asks them to send him to the past so he can be reunited with his love.

Act III ends explosively with The Man showing up on the pier to meet his lady love, but before he gets to her, an agent from the camp appears. He shoots The Man dead, completing his duty as the Woman looks on, and, he realizes, himself as boy. That is when we know that the vivid memory of a man being killed, was actually his own death.

INSANE movie and absolutely wonderful. Sets the stage for the next 50 years of science fiction. One thing that really gets me is the fact that, like all good stories, no special effects were really needed. I can feel the desolation and the despair, despite the lack of actual acting and movement. The film itself is nearly hypnotic with the voiceover and it makes me want to watch it again. Which I think I will as soon as possible!

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One Response to “Concepts Week 5: La Jetee”

  1. Tom said

    Trippy 0_o!

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