Just like we look to the past for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column dedicated to the great science fiction of the past, today’s column is dedicated to another time-traveling story.
But a fair bit of warning before we begin. If you don’t like your science fiction to be a bit more esoteric, and your classic idea of a French black and white surrealistic film, ‘La Jetée’ may not be the film for you. While it’s only 24 minutes long, it is shot exclusively in still frames while a man narrates the scenes.
For those who are a bit more adventurous, let’s jump right in, shall we?
‘La Jetée’ is a bit of a science fiction twofer. It firstly deals with the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, and then it deals with time travel.
In the not distant future, humans have avoided nuclear fall out by hiding in the catacombs that honeycomb through Paris. To save their present, scientists research a way to send humans to the past and future. Unfortunately, most do not survive the shock of changing timelines, except for one prisoner who has a strange memory involve a woman on a jetty and the confusing death of a man.
This prisoner is successfully able to travel to the past, where he falls in love with the woman in his memory. The scientists then send him to the future where he brings back the knowledge to save their society…
But since he’s a prisoner, he still has to live out his sentence. He escapes to his past, but he is followed by his captors. It is at the very end that realizes that the man who witnessed dying when he was a child was, in fact, himself.
The premise of ‘La Jetée’ may seem cliched to discerning time travel lovers. Every story that involves multiple timelines usually seems to involve someone future affecting their past and present in paradoxical ways. What makes ‘La jetée’ unique, however, is that his own death does not instigate the path his life takes, but rather is a manifestation of his ability to withstand time travel.
All in all, ‘ La Jetée’ is a sci-fi classic and well worth the 24-minute watch time, even if the photos are much grainier than our HD-obsessed culture would prefer these days. It’s a great time travel story and evokes a certain emotional je-ne-sais-quoi that made French cinema so prominent. And if that doesn’t convince you, the popular sci-fi movie ’12 Monkeys’ was inspired by the film.