La Jetée (1962)

la jetee poster 1962 movie 12 monkeys criterion
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 5/10
Visuals: 10/10

All about the visuals and story

Some might expect a traditional film

Movie Info

Movie Name:  La Jetée

Studio:   Argos Films

Genre(s):   Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Romance

Release Date(s):   February 16, 1962

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

la jetee time travel 12 monkeys criterion

You’re getting very sleepy…

A boy sees a traumatic incident at an airport which forever influences him even after the outbreak of World War III.  In the future, a prisoner (Davos Hanich) finds himself part of an experiment to send someone back before World War III in an attempt to stop the war and save humanity.  Using the man’s memories as a link to the past, the man finds himself transported back in time to see the woman (Hélène Chatelain) he saw at the airport.  The man and the woman find themselves in a timeless romance, but time could come crashing down.

Written and directed by Chris Marker, La Jetée is an experimental short film.  The movie was released to critical acclaim and the story is often cited as one of the best time travel stories.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film along with Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (Criteron #387).

I heard about La Jetée like many people did when 12 Monkeys was released.  12 Monkeys took La Jetée as its inspiration and basically borrowed much of the plot by expanding the short less than thirty minute film into a full length feature.  I wondered how La Jetée would tell the story with any emotional impact…and was surprised when it did in a truly different way.

la jetee vertigo scene sequoia tree

It’s like we’re trapped in a weird dream where time means nothing…

What is unusual about La Jetée is that essentially it is a picture book.  The story is composed of photographs that tell the story.  It is a little like watching Reading Rainbow in that sometimes the photographs are reframed to tell the story and often even movement is indicated by the use of multiple pictures in a row (like near the end when he is running).  There is one brief sequence of movement, but the film’s style might be more of a result of budgetary issues with the cost of film equipment only allowing him one day.  As a result, the movement takes on more significance and an eerie tone by almost breaking the fourth wall.

The story of the film is relayed through a narrator (provided by Jean Négroni).  It is a French film but often an English narration is provided as an option and due to the format of the film.  It isn’t necessarily a distracting feature as opposed to many dubs of foreign films.  It is true science-fiction with different concepts and ideas and questions if the past can truly be changed.  Time appears to be set in stone here and attempts to “fix” the past are impossible.

la jetee time travel prisoner 12 monkeys

Take me away…I don’t mind. You better promise me I’ll be back in time!!!

The film’s interesting take and strong storytelling manages to breathe life into the picture.  When it came out in 1962, I’m sure the story was a lot edgier and non-informed viewers might not have seen the ending coming.  With 12 Monkeys redoing the story, I went into it knowing the end is the beginning.  Instead of ruining it for me, it made the ending of La Jetée more tragic.  The man’s fate is inescapable and his love is doomed.

La Jetée is so short and concise that it is worth checking out even if you are just curious about it.  It isn’t a commitment, and the revolution high concept story and style are interesting enough to carry you through the movie.  Chris Marker even manages to mix in an homage to Vertigo in the film in when they are looking at the sequoia tree, and Vertigo had a similar dreamy-romance nightmare feel to it (he revisits this in Sans Soleil as well).  12 Monkeys was a good picture that really explored the entire possibility of La Jetée but it is good to go back to the original to see the inspiration.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response