La Jetée

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La Jetée
La Jetee Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Chris Marker
Produced by Anatole Dauman
Screenplay by Chris Marker
Starring Hélène Chatelain
Davos Hanich
Jacques Ledoux
Narrated by Jean Négroni
Music by Trevor Duncan
Cinematography Chris Marker
Edited by Jean Ravel
Argos Films
Distributed by Argos Films
Release dates
  • 16 February 1962 (1962-02-16) (France)
Running time
28 minutes
Country France
Language French

La Jetée (French pronunciation: ​[la ʒəte]) ("The Jetty," here referring to an outdoor viewing pier at an airport), is a 1962 French science fiction featurette by Chris Marker. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. It is 28 minutes long and shot in black and white. It won the Prix Jean Vigo for short film.

The 1995 science fiction film 12 Monkeys was inspired by and borrows several concepts directly from La Jetée.

Plot summary[edit]

A man (Davos Hanich) is a prisoner in the aftermath of World War III in post-apocalyptic Paris where survivors live underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. Scientists research time travel, hoping to send test subjects to different time periods "to call past and future to the rescue of the present". They have difficulty finding subjects who can mentally withstand the shock of time travel. The scientists eventually settle upon the prisoner; his key to the past is a vague but obsessive memory from his pre-war childhood of a woman (Hélène Chatelain) he had seen on the observation platform ("the jetty") at Orly Airport shortly before witnessing a startling incident there. He had not understood exactly what happened but knew he had seen a man die.

After several attempts, he reaches the pre-war period. He meets the woman from his memory, and they develop a romantic relationship. After his successful passages to the past, the experimenters attempt to send him into the far future. In a brief meeting with the technologically advanced people of the future, he is given a power unit sufficient to regenerate his own destroyed society.

Upon his return, with his mission accomplished, he discerns that he is to be executed by his jailers. He is contacted by the people of the future, who offer to help him escape to their time permanently; but he asks instead to be returned to the pre-war time of his childhood, hoping to find the woman again. He is returned to the past, placed on the jetty at the airport, and it occurs to him that the child version of himself is probably also there at the same time. But he is more concerned with locating the woman and he quickly spots her. However, as he rushes to her, he notices an agent of his jailers who has followed him and realizes the agent is about to kill him. In his final moments, he comes to understand that the incident he witnessed as a child, which has haunted him ever since, was his own death.


Carol Mavor, in a book on postwar French fiction, Black and Blue, describes La Jetée as taking "place in a no-place (u-topia) in no-time (u-chronia)" which she connects to the time and place of the fairy tale. She goes on by saying "even the sound of the title resonates with the fairy-tale surprise of finding oneself in another world: La Jetée evokes 'là j'étais' (there I was)". By "u-topia", Mavor does not refer to "utopia" as the word is commonly; she also describes an ambiguity of dystopia/utopia in the film, separately: "It is dystopia with the hope of utopia, or is it utopia cut by the threat of dystopia."[1]

Tor Books blogger Jake Hinkson summed up his interpretation in the title of an essay about the film, "There's No Escape Out of Time". He elaborated:

What [the main character] finds ... is that the past is never as simple as we wish it to be. To return to it is to realize that we never understood it. He also finds–and here it is impossible to miss Marker's message for his viewers–a person cannot escape from their own time, anyway. Try as we might to lose ourselves, we will always be dragged back into the world, into the here and now. Ultimately, there is no escape from the present.

Hinkson also addresses the symbolic use of imagery: "The Man is blindfolded with some kind of padded device and he sees images. The Man is chosen for this assignment because ... he has maintained a sharp mind because of his attachment to certain images. Thus a film told through the use of still photos becomes about looking at images." He further observes that Marker himself did not refer to La Jetée as a film, but as photo novel.[2]

The FilmsLie blog[3][self-published source] suggests that:

La Jetee tells the story of a man who sees his own death as a child without realizing it. He lives his life (presumably), only to find out the moment that has marked his entire life is the memory of his own death. From a philosophical point of view, La Jetee is an existentialist tale of doomed existence, inevitability, and predetermined death. And what better way to express this idea than by using lifeless photographs to tell the story of a life that is only perceived as such? If the main character is trapped in a time loop and sees his death as a child, what reasons does he have to believe he has actually existed?



La Jetée is constructed almost entirely from optically printed photographs playing out as a photomontage of varying rhythm. It contains only one brief shot (of the woman mentioned above sleeping and suddenly waking up) originating on a motion-picture camera, this due to the fact that Marker could only afford to hire one for an afternoon. The stills were taken with a Pentax Spotmatic[4] and the motion-picture segment was shot with a 35mm Arriflex.[5] The film has no dialogue aside from small sections of muttering in German and people talking in an airport terminal. The story is told by a voice-over narrator. The scene in which the hero and the woman look at a cut-away trunk of a tree is a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo which Marker also references in his 1983 film Sans soleil.[6]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995) was inspired by and takes several concepts directly from La Jetée (acknowledging this debt in the opening credits). In 2015, the SyFy Channel released a television show also titled 12 Monkeys that is "based on La Jetée" (as by the closing credits). In 1996, Zone Books released a book which reproduced the film's original images along with the script in both English and French;[7] re-released in 2008, it is now out of print.[8] The 2003 short film, La puppé, is both an homage to and a parody of La Jetée.[9] The video for Sigue Sigue Sputnik's 1989 single "Dancerama" is also an homage to La Jetée.[10] The film is one of the influences in the video for David Bowie's "Jump They Say" (1993).[11] The music video for Isis's "In Fiction", from 2004's Panopticon, drew comparisons with La Jetée.[12] The song "Last Night at the Jetty" by Panda Bear has lyrics inspired by the themes of the film.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) also takes inspiration in the relationship between the woman and the time traveller.[13][14] In 2010, Time ranked La Jetée first in its list of "Top 10 time-travel movies".[15] Kode9 (music, script) in collaboration with Ms. Haptic (narration, script), Marcel Weber (aka MFO) (images, script) and Lucy Benson (images, script) created an homage to La Jetée in 2011, for the Unsound Festival.[16][17] The plot of the homage centers around the woman instead of the man and is a "reimagining" rather than a "remix" in that it features a completely new, original script that further develops the narrative whilst remaining true to the original plot. The two stories function in harmony with one another. The images and music of "Her Ghost" are almost exclusively sourced from the original film, however they are significantly reworked so as to create an original piece. A live performance of "Her Ghost" was part of the Chris Marker retrospective at Centre Pompidou in Paris 2013. In 2012, in correspondence with the Sight & Sound Poll, the British Film Institute deemed La Jetée as the 50th greatest film of all time.[18]

Home media release[edit]

In Region 2, the film is available with English subtitles in the La Jetée/Sans soleil digipack released by Arte Video. In Region 1, the Criterion Collection has released a La Jetée/Sans soleil combination DVD / Blu-ray, which features the option of hearing the English or French narration.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mavor, Carol (2012). Black and Blue: The Bruising Passion of Camera Lucida, La Jetée, Sans soleil, and Hiroshima mon amour. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-8223-5271-6. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  2. ^ Hinkson, Jake (3 November 2014). "There's No Escape Out of Time: La Jetée". Tor Books/Macmillan. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Atanassov, Stefan (11 April 2014). "Chris Marker's La Jetée Analysis: Mortality and the Illusion of Time". Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  4. ^ "Entretien avec Antoine Bonfanti, Cadrage 2004". Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  5. ^ "De l'autre côté du miroir" (in French). Archived from the original on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2008. 
  6. ^ "On Vertigo", special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD of La Jetée and Sans soleil. The same scene also appears in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys.
  7. ^ Marker, Chris (1992). La Jetée. New York: Zone Books. ISBN 978-0-942299-67-0.
  8. ^ "The MIT Press". Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  9. ^ "Independent Lens . SHORT, NOT SWEET . La Puppé". PBS. Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  10. ^ "Sigue Sigue Sputnikworld:singles". 2002-12-09. Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  11. ^ "David Bowie's 'Jump They Say'", special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD of La Jetée and Sans soleil
  12. ^ "Isis: Isis: Clearing the Eye [DVD]". PopMatters. Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  13. ^ Michael_Henley (2011-04-03). "La Jetée (1962) – Time-Traveling Film Critic". Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  14. ^ "Movies: La Jetée". Tim Lepczyk. 2011-01-28. Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  15. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (2010-03-18). "'La Jetee,' 1962 | Top 10 Time-Travel Movies". Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  16. ^ "Kode 9, MFO & Ms Haptic present 'Her Ghost'". MUTEK. 2013-12-11. Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  17. ^ "‘Her Ghost’ kode9, MFO, Ms Haptic, Lucy Benson". lucy benson. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  18. ^ "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound September 2012 issue. British Film Institute. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-19. 

External links[edit]