la jette–a response??

Seeing as I have come into this class late (I apologize) (work ran long b/c the golf carts were down), I’m a little lost as to some of the context for La Jette. In a way though, I’m almost glad? I feel like I’m just as lost as the man, and entered into his history without a solid “beginning” around which to fix this story.

Disaster is a creature of not just memory, but the mind. Just as Tarkovsky conceptualizes the present as sand slipping away, time is only namable when we are not experiencing it. There is no “present” disaster, only the disasters of the past, and those (inevitably) to come in the future. It’s almost like some great cosmic joke–our past was known disaster, the future is  unknown destruction. The present becomes a safe space, the limbo between known and unknown, something impossible to permanently grasp. Perhaps that’s why people are always striving to “live in the moment”? Perhaps that’s why it’s impossible to escape the existential dread that seems coded into every cell?

The protagonist in this film seems to be, at least in part, one of Cohen’s zombies as well?? He’s dead in the past, and dead in the present, and rejects the future.

Reaction to La Jetee

I feel kind of sleepy after watching La Jetee. The black and white photographs, especially the ones inside the lab, were shown over and over again. This in combination with the monotonous voice of the narrator overshadowed my interest in the more complicated elements of the plot. I think the most interesting part of the movie was the single instance of recorded film. The woman from the past sleeps late, there are bird sounds getting louder, she wakes up shifts slightly and blinks. I think this moment of intimacy and vulnerability sets up the decision he makes at the conclusion of the film to return to the past rather than go to the future. The theme of harkening back to a pastoral childhood has been prominent in other eco disaster narratives we have read, such as The Road. Like The Road, La Jetee’s main character is unnamed. In some ways this opens his experience to the reader because he could be anyone. However, because the main character is a man and his experiences as a test subject are reminiscent of experiments done on Jewish people during the Holocaust the ability to empathize with this character is not, and should not, be available to everyone. Overall, I found the drama heavy handed. The heartbeat, the very long photo series of the man and woman in a museum, and the witnessing of his future death by a childhood self was just so much that it was almost predictable.

When Time is Unreliable

While memory can be unreliable, photographs capture moments perfectly. They do not change, they preserve moments as they were, keeping those moments forever. Photographs are what memory can not be: reliable, static, material. La Jetée tells a tale of time travel through only photographs (the deviation from this is something to think about, the only point where there is video is the woman lying in bed). The movie plays out like a photo album, the man bringing up memories and inserting himself into them, the passage of time twisted and manipulated.

He ends up in a memory from his childhood, where he saw a man die, and has a sudden realization that he is that man. In that moment, time does not work as it should. This memory from his childhood loops around and suddenly becomes his reality. By playing with time travel, he disturbs all concepts of time. Is his memory unreliable? We know that photographs don’t lie. How, then did he witness his own death? The photographic mode of storytelling makes it seem like everything is existing in one time period, in one static moment where the photo is captured. There doesn’t feel like there is much movement, only a series of jumps back and forth to unknown, nonlinear times. As much as the storyline and events distort time, the mode of storytelling does as well, creating a quite confusing film for the viewer.

La Jetee

12 Monkeys was a ripoff.

Flat history of black and white photographs that briefly move like sea anemones when you touch them.

Anyway, La Jetee frames everything in a disaster, or really, it delineates everything by disaster. It could be a story of past, present, and future, but the only way to really show the present is as a disaster. The present is far more disastrous. I cannot feel that my remembered past or imagined future has left or will leave me aside. Past and future can only be considered by their relation to me. But the present is the moving picture, it’s here, it’s there, it’s gone. The present does not care for me. It marches me to some cold, dark future that I design. That is what I see in La Jetee the flashing photographic passage of time, that pulls me along. And though the past may be stable, may be built around me, it is in no way habitable. It is static and lifeless and more hostile than even the most disastrous present.

La Jetee: Folding of Past and Present

La Jetee is a movie without movement, telling a story of recollection through many still images. As La Jetee’s protagonist travels through time, he is in a constant state of recollection, the moment-to-nebulous-moment interactions he has with the past and the future mirroring the frame-to-tenuous-frame craft of the film itself. The tragedies he considers are numerous and folding – his own life (torn by war, marred by death), his severance from a dreamlike past-life (severed forever), the dubious progress of humanity beyond World War III. His own life leads to his entrance into the dream-past life, the dream-past life flings him into the future, and the future enables him to intersect with his own original life. His death, scarring himself in childhood, is the image that lets him time travel – his time travel is the means by which he finds death. Eduardo Cadava views the medium of photography as something inherently tied with death and the mortal, creating physical recollections of moments stuck forever in the amber of the past. While Cadava speaks about photography as a remembrance of the soon-to-be-departed, the photography of this film depicts that-which-has-always-departed. The past of La Jetee‘s prisoner is something he lives through as liquid present, but which was always fixed as memory.

Chernobyl Comparison

“Disaster ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact.”

Writing the Disaster, Maurice Blanchot (3)

La Jetée is staged in a world decimated by the ecological disasters of World War III. Like most the world, Paris has been destroyed and all living inhabitant are either the subterranean “winners” or prisoners of war. The disaster has destroyed the city but many humans still live. I can’t help but wonder if it would be like the Chernobyl aftermath; radioactivity killing thousands over time, people fleeing, and eventually nature overcoming their homes. Though all of the villages around Chernobyl evacuated non-human nature was left to the radiation’s devices and managed to pull through. Even though the disaster ruined human’s way of life, vegetation continued intact and even animals including horses and boars roamed the area safely. Would the same be for Paris in the war’s wake?

The Preservation of Disaster

In La Jetee, the protagonist is forced by his captors to travel back in time,with the hopes of figuring out a way to stop the upcoming global disaster from happening. In his travels he meets a woman, who he proceeds to meet at a variety of points in her life, striving to unravel the causal relationship between the past, present, and future. Their final encounter is at a museum of “natural” history, a place consisting of display upon display of taxidermied animals, animals pinned by plaques describing their prior existence. Humanity has a museum containing thousands of dead animals propped up in a parody of life, their death cut away, their empty cavities stuffed with the desire to have a history without forgetfulness. This Sisyphean task cannot be completed, no matter the finesse in the act, as “the present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight only in its recollection” (Tarkovsky 58).

Such then does the film execute this concept with its cinematography, a collection of black and white photographs that capture an essence of history and nostalgia while at the same time rebuffing the viewer form experiencing the moving life of the past. The photographs are not the same as the actual past, yet visually they still leave everything intact.This is disaster, the inability to access a past experience to aid the future, stuck only with crude constructs and the fading photographs of memory.

Là, j’étais (I was there)

étais: first-person imperfect tense of ‘to be’, where the past action may still be going on:

  • Conveying a state of being in the past
  • A habit
  • A continuing action

((((not my original thought, I read this somewhere, but I thought it would be interesting to share)))

**marqué: marked, the action of marking has already taken place (already taken place? in a constant time loop?)

A question of reality and falsehood:

  • we are simultaneously presented images of scenes as they progress (walks through the park, time machine testing, museum visit), along with images we would associate with the words of the narrator not necessarily happening in real time
    • lack of identities: “the girl,” “the prisoner”
  • fake/taxonomized (?) animals, lies about the necklace, question of reality– entire environment of falsehood and potential falsehood

Diegetic VS nondiegetic sound:

  • narration VS whispers (whispers not bothered to be translated, the presence of the sound as important on its own– difficult to make out, mystery, unattainability of information?)


(just some thoughts as I was watching the film)

Reality vs. Illusion in La Jetee

In La Jetee, the main character has a strong mental image of his past that works as a gateway into the past and future. However, there is one moment, during his trips to the past, when the narrator remarks that the man had no idea whether he was truly going into the past, being made to see these images, or hallucinating all of his experiences while being experimented on. He knew that his mental image of the woman’s face was very strong, but he didn’t know if it was real, even before the experiments began.

Presumably, by the end of the movie, it’s established that he truly was time-traveling, but was he really? All of his real-world feedback came from his jailers, so there was no real moment that established with certainty his time-traveling escapades. Even his last trip to the past was susceptible to his circumstances, hallucinating his death was the one he had witnessed as a child while he waited for his own execution.

An alternative theory to the man actually traveling through time might be his jailers experiments were not honestly to travel through time, but rather to manipulate what the man saw in his dreams. The experiences they give him could have been in line with their original story so as to keep the man placated, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t influencing his experiences. Plenty of uses can come from this, from controlling their prisoners to giving themselves pleasant experiences to counter the desolation outside. Whatever the truth is, the main story isn’t entirely trustworthy, especially under the man’s circumstances.