La Jetée tells a story that has been told many times – the aftermaths of war and how humans live in a dystopian future. Also the concept of time travel is nothing new. On the other hand, black-and-white photographs and serious, monotonous narrations are staples of War documentaries. Separately, the story, concept and form used by the filmmakers are nothing close to innovative but combining these three is like seeing two stable elements in a chemical reaction, producing a highly destructive compound. It is horrifying to see how the wars leave indelible marks to people and places but there is a certain relief knowing that what I am seeing are images of the past. It is more disturbing though to see one’s future. And although I am perfectly aware that I am not seeing a vision of my own future, the way the movie tells its science-fiction in pictures makes La Jetée appear almost real.
The movie is intact but I find the story the weakest among the said elements. The romance between the prisoner and a girl from the past, a person he remembers seeing at the airport decades ago, is important but the interaction between them eats majority of the runtime, I almost fell asleep. Nevertheless, it shows interesting images of a pre-War Paris. I remember the man mentioning seeing real birds. Several minutes after, we see him and the woman touring the museum that contains stuffed animals. The camera shifts its focus on stuffed pelicans, while the two fades in the background. That scene stands out because it’s scary that in a peaceful, War-free city, there seem to be early signs of extinction.
Regarding time travel, I like the way the film shows the physical and psychological effects on people subjected to the experiments. We cannot actually see them twitch in pain. In those pictures, their eyes are either covered (with white material the ‘doctors’ use for time travel) or wide-open. Yet it’s more disturbing to see no signs of fear, loathing, happiness on people’s faces; their traumatic experience sucking all expressions of emotions from them.
The filmmakers vision of the future is all the more interesting because we don’t see any flying cars or high tech machines in it. It’s all black, except for the people whose only visible body parts are their heads. It almost looks like space, or do they still live underground? I don’t know, but it’s not what I expected from a society who have successfully invented time travel years and years before, and who can already provide a solution to their present situation.
I don’t see the film done in a different way. Photographs capture only what is essential, and they makes us focus on them. It gives us time to examine the characters, observe their features, and try to see the expressions on their faces. (I think) I see where the inspiration for using the jetty as a setting comes from. Since it is a place where people just come and go, arrive and depart, it fits a movie that concerns itself with the past, present and future. And although I may be interested in seeing the in-betweens – how they have invented time-travel, who is this woman in his childhood memory, etc. – I ultimately want to know the fate of the man who apparently, as a child, has witnessed his own death.