Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

La Jetee (1962)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

La Jetée (1962, Fr.) (aka The Jetty, or The Pier)

In writer/director Chris Marker's landmark, eloquent, short, philosophical sci-fi French featurette film that was part of the Left Bank artistic movement in France; the cautionary science-fiction tale was composed entirely of B/W still photograph frames ("un photo-roman") and voice-over narration (by Jean Negroni in French, or James Kirk in English).

The challenging "photo-novel" was set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopic time after WWIII. It told about a group of experimental scientists in bombed-out Paris who attempted to send a man (haunted by his past) back in time to his life before the devastating war, to find the key (a source of energy) to continuing life into the future.

[Note: The influential, narrated slide-show film was remade as Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995), while it paid homage to Last Year in Marienbad (1961, Fr.) and Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958).]

  • the opening title cards (voice-over by Narrator (Jean Negroni or James Kirk)) provided a brief, post-title credits prologue: "This is the story of a man, marked by an image of his childhood. The violent scene that upset him, and whose meaning he was to grasp only years later, happened on the main jetty at Orly, the Paris Airport sometime before the outbreak of World War III"
  • the film's opening sequence provided an unexplained, vague, haunted and fateful pre-war boyhood memory that occurred at the Orly Airport on a Sunday with his parents while watching the departing planes
  • a young boy remembered the face of a beautiful Woman (Helene Chatelain) at the end of the jetty: ("Nothing sorts out memories from ordinary moments. Later on they do claim remembrance when they show their scars. That face he had seen was to be the only peacetime image to survive the war. Had he really seen it? Or had he invented that tender moment to prop up the madness to come?")
  • the boy was shocked and horrified when a man fell dead and his body crumbled, as he was running toward the Woman on the airport's pier (jetty) or rooftop viewing platform; the images blurred due to fear and then faded to black: ("Later, he knew he had seen a man die")
  • the confounding plot told about a nuclear global holocaust (WW III) that hit the city of Paris, with many photos of the hellscape of vast devastation and radioactive wasteland: ("Above ground, Paris, as most of the world, was uninhabitable, riddled with radioactivity. The victors stood guard over an empire of rats")
  • surviving mad scientists (the victorious commanders or jailers), who ominously whispered in German, were headed up by a "Dr. Frankenstein" Experimenter (Jacques Ledoux), operating under the Palais de Chaillot; they conducted time-travel experiments on "guinea pigs" (the victims or prisoners) in a network of filthy underground bunkers, galleries and caves, in an attempt to solve society's collective problems, or otherwise mankind was doomed; their efforts to have some subjects travel to the past were disappointing, and led to many failed attempts for those who died or lost their minds and went mad

The Victorious Survivors Stood Guard Over Prisoners
Prisoners Were Subjected to Painful Experiments - Lying in a Hammock with Wired Blinders Over Eyes
  • the subterranean experimenters proposed to select a new "guinea pig" - an unnamed frightened prisoner-volunteer (Davos Hanich); the narrator identified him as the film's main character; the Head Experimenter believed that "the only hope for survival lay in Time"; by a time travel mission, it might be possible to rescue the Present by finding food, medicine, and sources of energy: ("Send emissaries into Time, to summon the Past and the Future to the aid of the Present"); it was considered very risky and too much of a shock to "wake up in another age" (and) "to be born again as an adult"

The Man - Time Traveler Prisoner-Volunteer (Davos Hanich)
  • the volunteer-prisoner had a single, fixated memory from his pre-war childhood; he was selected because of the searing and vibrant image he had maintained from his past in his brain: ("The inventors were now concentrating on men given to very strong mental images. If they were able to conceive or dream another time, perhaps they would be able to live in it"); the Man was selected "from among a thousand for his obsession with an image from the past"; although the Man suffered from numerous injections, he did not die or go mad; the auditory soundtrack played sounds of a rapid heartbeat
  • on the 10th day of experimental time-travel, "images began to ooze, like confessions"; in the Man's head, he visualized images of the past that formed (similar to scar wounds); images included a peacetime morning, a peacetime bedroom and a "real" bedroom, "real" children, "real" birds, "real" cats, and "real" graves; they were labeled "real" by the Narrator, although they were only imagined or "unreal" projections that were made up, or that were elements of dreams
  • on the 16th day of time-travel, the Man was on the empty jetty at Orly airport; amongst other images of happiness, he saw a girl who could be the one he sought - the girl he passed on the jetty, and the girl who smiled at him from an automobile; other images appeared in the "museum" of his fragmented memory

The Girl He Passed on the Jetty

The Girl Smiling at Him From an Automobile

Fragmented Memories and Other Images in the "Museum" of His Mind
  • on the 30th day of his time travel to the pre-war past, the volunteer recognized and met the mysterious Woman (the one on the airport jetty) in an affluent area, filled with fabulous materials (glass, plastic, terry cloth); but then when he came out of his trance, she was gone; however, he was sent back out to pick up her "trail" once more - "Time rolls back again, the moment returns"; he spoke to her and she welcomed him "without surprise"
  • the Narrator described their first meeting in detail: ("This time, he is close to her, he speaks to her. She welcomes him without surprise. They are without memories, without plans. Time builds itself painlessly around them. Their only landmarks are the flavor of the moment they are living and the markings on the walls"); later on, they entered a garden, and were seen together as a couple; she asked him about his combat necklace (the one he wore at the start of a future war), and he was forced to invent an "explanation"
  • while looking at a cut slice of the trunk of a giant redwood tree (marked with historical dates), the Man from the future showed the Woman the time from the future that he had come from by pointing to one of the tree ring circles outside the circumference of the trunk (a point beyond the tree): "This is where I come from..."
    [Note: This scene paid homage to Hitchcock's similar sequence in Vertigo (1958), although circumstances were now reversed. In the 1958 film, Madeleine (Kim Novak) showed Scotty (James Stewart) the location on rings of a sequoia trunk marking the past when she was born and died as Carlotta Valdez.]
  • the experiment paused when he fell back, exhausted, as another "wave of Time washes over him - the result of another injection perhaps"; she basked in the sunlight and slept, and as he sat next to her and observed her, he thought to himself that he might have returned to her and found her dead; he was relieved when she woke up from an "unreachable country"; soon, he became obsessed with her and often stared at her

An Unbroken Trust Began to Develop
The Man Was Relieved that the Woman Woke Up After Sleeping in the Sun
  • the Narrator described how he eventually developed a relationship of trust and love with her: "Is it the same day? He doesn't know. They shall go on like this, on countless walks in which an unspoken trust, an unadulterated trust will grow between them, without memories or plans. Up to the moment where he feels - ahead of them - a barrier"
  • the first set of experiments came to an end, and he would soon have to begin a new series of tests or experiences with her; the next dreamy narration implied that the images of them together in the past were all fictitious: "...he would meet her at different times. Sometimes, he finds her in front of their markings. She welcomes him in a simple way. She calls him her Ghost. One day, she seems frightened. One day, she leans toward him. As for him, he never knows whether he moves toward her, whether he is driven. Whether he has made it up, or whether he is only dreaming"
  • in the film's most memorable sole moment (accompanied by the deafening sound of birds), the Woman was asleep and unmoving in bed - but then in a single, startling and effective moving image (the film's sole moment of animation!) - she dreamily opened her eyes from deep sleep and looked directly at the camera and blinked
  • around the 50th day, the Man and the Woman from his past visited a museum filled with dead "timeless animals" (stuffed, ageless, immobile or taxidermied giraffes, elephants, rhinos, zebras, hippos, a whale, bobcats, exotic birds and other species, etc.); the Narrator described how the couple was indistinguishable from the preserved or frozen animals, as static or still images: "Now the aim is perfectly adjusted. Thrown at the right moment, he may stay there and move without effort. She too seems tamed. She accepts, as a natural phenomenon, the ways of this visitor who comes and goes, who exists, talks, laughs with her, stops talking, listens to her, then disappears"
  • however, "Once back in the experiment room, he knew something was different. The camp leader was there"; it was decided that after all of the "brilliant tests" in the Past, he would now be shipped off into the Future; acc. to the Narrator: "The meeting at the museum had been the last"
  • also, during the Man's brief trip to a better-protected far future, after some painful trials, he eventually "caught some waves of the world to come. He went through a brand new planet. Paris rebuilt, ten thousand incomprehensible avenues"; while the time-traveling Man was wearing sunglasses, he had a "brief encounter" with a group of strange, expressionless, shadowy alienoid beings (with a third eye on their foreheads in the form of a medallion-object) who were awaiting his arrival; they were descendants of the survivors of his own age, who provided him with the technology to help regenerate, rebuild and save civilization; they gave him a "power unit strong enough to put all human industry back into motion," before the gates to the Future were then closed

The Man Wearing Sunglasses During A Trip to Far Future

Four Strange Alienoid Beings in the Future
  • after being transferred to another part of the camp, the Man knew that his time was limited; although he was offered a place in the Future, he chose to return to the Past: "He knew that his jailers would not spare him. He had been a tool in their hands, his childhood image had been used as bait to condition him. He had lived up to their expectations, he had played his part. Now he only waited to be liquidated with, somewhere inside him, the memory of a twice-lived fragment of time. And deep in this limbo, he received a message from the people of the world to come. They too traveled through Time, and more easily. Now they were there, ready to accept him as one of their own. But he had a different request: rather than this pacified future, he wanted to be returned to the world of his childhood and to this woman who was perhaps waiting for him"
  • as a reward for saving the world, the Man was sent back to his past - to a haunting childhood memory on the airport jetee-platform on a warm pre-war Sunday afternoon; in a "confused way," he expected to see himself as the child he had been on the jetty platform watching the airplanes; but first of all, he wanted to see the Woman's face at the end of the jetty
  • in the evocative, paradoxical plot twist conclusion (as the images sped up), history repeated itself; as he desperately ran forward toward the awaiting Woman at the end of the jetty, he was shot dead (and frozen in mid-air) by one of his subterranean captors; it was a realization (and his pre-determined Fate) that he could not escape his temporal bonds and escape to the idyllic past of his untrustworthy memories:
    • "He ran toward her. And when he recognized the man who had trailed him since the underground camp, he understood there was no way to escape Time, and that this moment he had been granted to watch as a child, which had never ceased to obsess him, was the moment of his own death"
  • he discovered that he was the dying man he saw as a child, who was killed by a man from the post-apocalyptic "present"

The Face of The Woman (Helene Chatelain) on the Airport's Viewing Platform

The Haunting Boyhood Memory of a Sudden Death of a Man on an Airport Jetty That Was Also Viewed by a Woman

Views of the Post-Apocalyptic Hellscape of Paris After WWIII

The Head "Dr. Frankenstein" Experimenter (Jacques Ledoux) - A Mad Scientist

Painful Time-Travel Experiments on The Man

Meeting The Woman (Helene Chatelain) on the 30th Day of the Time-Travel Trial

Entering a Garden Together

The Couple

The Man Pointing Out to the Woman a Giant Redwood Tree's Ring Circles, Some Representing the Future

The Woman Awakened and Looked Into the Camera - The Only Moving Image in the Entire Film

Together with the Woman In a Museum of Timeless Animals

A Return to the Man's Childhood's Haunting Memory - With a Plot Twist Revelation


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