Grab your popcorn and settle in, because I’m giving you plenty to watch in this post.
There’s a lot to be said about cause and effect when we’re looking at time travel. For this post, the cause we’ll be focusing on is one small film. Specifically, the 28-minute, black and white, French film La Jetée, released in 1962. Whilst not the first time travel film, it’s certainly one of the earlier ones. And because it’s so short and, in my opinion, so important and enjoyable, I’m going to insist you watch it before you read on. Yes, really. You can find it on assorted paid services online, but I’m going to embed a copy I found on Vimeo and hope it doesn’t get taken down before you watch it. (If you speak French or Spanish, you can do a web search and find plenty of other copies posted online that are in French and—in some cases—have Spanish subtitles.)
Because of the impact of this film, you can search the internet and find many an essay on it and, in most of those, you’ll find mentions of the effects of this cause, aka the visual offspring of La Jetée. And, having drawn your attention to this film, I want to call out some of those offspring.
The most obvious to you will be the 1995 film 12 Monkeys. And it’s unabashed in that case, even acknowledging this heavy influence in the opening credits. Most striking to you may well be the method of time travel that both seem to share, and that cramped and gritty space from which the time traveller sets out on his journey.
(You can also then argue that the TV programme with the same name and trying to make something of the same story ought to be listed as another ripple out from this cause, but the 12 Monkeys TV programme keeps making me wish we’d be done with Time Travel month so that I never feel like I have to watch it again. I’d apologise to SyFy for that, but I feel that the viewers—and the original film—are the ones owed an apology from them.)
You might also, especially once you’ve drawn the 12 Monkeys connection, have thought of the 2011 film Source Code. (Bonus Bowie connection: Source Code is directed by Bowie’s son, a talent in his own right, Duncan Jones.) Though it’s time travel cause was far less dramatic, as was the amount the traveller journeyed back, he starts from a space that reminds us clearly of that in La Jetée and 12 Monkeys. Arguably, the theme of people without control of their own destinies being sent back to change the destiny of all humankind is also a link here, and one which I might find fascinating to discuss if I weren’t interested in getting to what’s coming later in this post.
Assorted writers have noted that they see the influence of La Jetée in many other films. Oft-noted are things like Total Recall (the 1990 original), The Terminator, and The Matrix. (For at least a couple of those, it is the image of a woman for whom someone is searching that is the catalyst for the story.) But the connections branch out and include films less likely to have been seen by the general modern population. Films like Alphaville; Je t’aime, je t’aime; The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; and 2046. (I haven’t seen all of these, so you’ll have to see and agree—or disagree—for yourself.)
Like any important film, it’s spawned at least one homage (Her Ghost, you can see the trailer here or watch this embed…I really hope to see this someday)
…and at least one parody (La Puppé, which you can watch here or embedded below).
Now, before we get to the stuff that I am most pleased to include, I want to point out that La Jetée has also influenced books (or so claimed the blog that tells me Time Traveller’s Wife took cues from it…I haven’t read it…) and music (like Last Night at the Jetty by Panda Bear). I’m sure there’s other stuff I could point out, but once we get to the next bit, regular readers will suspect that we’ve finally reached the real reason I’m writing this post…
Though their lyrics aren’t necessarily about La Jetée, the film has inspired music videos for some songs, not just other films. For example, you can see the clear influence in the video for Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Dancerama.
Or in the video for Jump They Say by David Bowie.
Yes, that’s right, I fit David Bowie into another month in a completely legitimate way. Plus, whilst we’re on the topic, I feel constrained to note that someone made a film that’s something of an extended music video homage to David Bowie and that uses time travel as one of its main vehicles to move the plot forward (though, sadly, there is no actual David Bowie appearance in it). The film is called Dave and its Bowie-ish protagonist ingests Chronomycin (“For convenient time travel”) to take care of business. Watch it here or embedded below!
Sometimes, when we look at time travel and see how worried people can get about changing the smallest thing, it can look silly. I step on a butterfly and destroy life as I know it? Really? But pause one moment…See how much one really short French film has impacted things and tell me that the small things don’t change the course of history. We’d be irresponsible traveller’s if we didn’t tell you about the butterfly known as La Jetée.