There’s something about black and white photography that makes it so versatile in story telling. They can easily produce a somber mood or indicate sadness, oppression, and longing. Conversely, black and white pictures can also depict joy, victory, and triumph. The lack of any specific color allows the viewer to “fill in the blanks” so to speak. This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Chris Marker’s photo-roman. La Jetee allowed me to participate in its storytelling so effortlessly, and that is no small feat. Many filmmakers struggle to have their audiences reciprocate. Conventional filmmaking calls for films that are visually stunning – spectacles for the eyes, if you will. The problem with a perfect looking film is that it leaves no room for the viewer in which to move in. He’s stuck looking at a perfected piece of art and his inputs are next to meaningless.
I had the same sensation when watching Kevin Smith’s independent film, Clerks. The whole film was shot in black and white, and I found myself constantly imagining the colors of the characters’ clothes and the settings wherein the film took place. Being able to choose the colors myself makes me remember everything much more clearly. Black and white won’t work for all films, however. It succeeds only in films that are driven towards intellectual stimulation. Kevin Smith’s character, Silent Bob, made a damn good point towards the film’s conclusion – a point that is still largely unlearned by many. If this is true, then what is so intellectually stimulating about La Jetee?
Well, it definitely wasn’t the ending. After having seen the sci-fi film Twelve Monkeys, I clued-in to the ending once the narrator mentioned that the boy “only till years later, realized that he had seen a man die.” But from what I’ve learned, Twelve Monkeys was based of La Jetee, so I have to give credit to the latter. Still, as haunting as it may be for a child to witness his future death, it wasn’t this event that captured my admiration. Looking back on the photo-roman, it is my opinion that La Jetee can be viewed as a metaphor for pre-destination. Pre-destination is a concept that has controversy written all over it, and thus makes a great foundation for an experimental “film” such as La Jetee.
I was born a Roman Catholic and I live in a nation with the largest Christian population in Asia. Pre-destination is especially controversial in my setting. It’s not as simple as believing it or not. Not believing in pre-destination seems so un-Christian. But who can blame anyone for resisting such a notion? It’s basic human nature to rebel. Tell a man that he will fail at something, and you can bet your money that in all likelihood, that man will struggle to prove you wrong. Some people may be comfortable with everything being planned out for them. But others, like myself, cannot and will not accept the idea of a future not written by our own bloodstained hands.
What makes La Jetee so great to watch is that its conclusion tears at the very fabric of my belief system – that man is always in control of his fate. He, and no one else, chooses the path of his destiny. In La Jetee, we see the unnamed protagonist struggle, and struggle, and struggle, and struggle to carve a future for himself with the woman at Orly. But no matter how hard he tries, he inevitably meets his own demise at the place he first saw her as a boy. Perhaps it is true – no man can outrun his destiny.
But that’s not enough to stop me from trying.