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 director Chris Marker's landmark, eloquent, short, philosophical sci-fi French featurette film - composed entirely of B/W still photograph frames and voice-over narration - the "photo-novel" was set after WWIII, about a group of scientists in bombed-out Paris who attempted to send a man back in time to his life before the devastating war - [Note: the influential film was remade as Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995), and was similar in plot to Jacob's Ladder (1990) and The Jacket (2005), and with some homage paid to Last Year in Marienbad (1961, Fr.) and Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)]

  • the opening title cards: (voice-over by Narrator (Jean Negroni)) "It's the story of a man marked by an image of his childhood. The violent scene which upset him, and whose meaning he was to grasp only years later, happened on the main pier at Orly Paris Airport sometime before the outbreak of World War Three"
  • the film's brief post-title credits prologue: a vague, haunted and fateful pre-war boyhood memory at the Orly Airport on a Sunday with parents, watching the departing planes - a young boy remembered the face of a Woman (Helene Chatelain) who was horrified when a Man (Davos Hanich) fell dead running toward her on the airport's pier (jetty) or rooftop viewing platform
  • the confounding plot: after a nuclear global holocaust (WW III) that hit Paris, with many photos of the vast devastation ("Above ground, in Paris as in most of the world, everything was rotten with radioactivity. The victors stood guard over a kingdom of rats"); surviving underground mad scientists (commanders or jailers) led by a "Dr. Frankenstein" Experimenter (Jacques Ledoux) who conducted time-travel experiments on "guinea pigs" in a network of caves, proposed to send to the past an unnamed prisoner-volunteer (Davos Hanich), the one who had the childhood pre-war memory, to help rescue the present by finding food, medicine, and energy ("This man was selected only because he was glued to an image of his past")
  • during the time travel to the pre-war past, the volunteer met a Woman (Helene Chatelain) "on the 30th day" - and eventually developed a relationship of trust and love with her: ("This time, she is near him. He says something. She doesn't mind, she answers. They have no memories, no plans. Time builds itself painlessly around them. As landmarks, they have the very taste of the moment they live, the scribbling on the walls"); while looking at the cut slice of a giant sequoia tree, he showed her the time from the future that he had come from by pointing to one of the tree ring circles
  • the dreamy narration: "...he would meet her at different times. She welcomes him in a simple way. She calls him her ghost. One day, she seems frightened. One day, she leans over him. As for him, he never knows whether he moves towards her, whether he is driven, whether he has made it up, or whether he is only dreaming"
  • around the 50th day, they visited a museum filled with dead "ageless animals" (stuffed, immobile or taxidermied giraffes, elephants, a rhino, zebras, hippos, a whale, various wildcats, etc.) - "Now they have hit the bulls-eye. Thrown at the right moment, he may stay there and move without trouble. The girl seems also to be tamed. She welcomes, 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 vanishes"
  • the film's memorable sole moment when the Woman, in a single, startling and effective moving image, dreamily opened her eyes from sleep and looked directly at the camera
  • also, during a brief trip to the far future ("the world to come...Paris rebuilt") while wearing sunglasses, he met with a group of strange, shadowy beings (with a third eye) who provided technology (a "power plant strong enough to put all human industry in motion again") to help regenerate and save his civilization
Return to Childhood Memory - and Plot Twist Revelation
  • in the evocative, paradoxical plot twist conclusion, he made his last return to his past childhood memory on the airport jetee-platform: "He ran towards her. And when he recognized the man who had trailed him since the camp, he knew there was no way out of time, and he knew that this haunted moment he had been granted to see as a child 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 Haunting Boyhood Memory of a Sudden Death on Airport Jetty Viewed by a Woman

Global Holocaust

Woman (Helene Chatelain)

The Man - Time Traveler Volunteer (Davos Hanich)

Giant Sequoia Tree's Ring Circles

Woman Awakening and Looking Into Camera

The Man Wearing Sunglasses During Trip to Far Future


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