Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

LA JETÉE (1962)

Short film, short review. Chris Marker’s La jetée is the story of a man (Davos Hanich) in a post-apocalyptic world who is forced to be part of a time travel experiment to seek out help for a society that’s crumbling. Only those with traumatic memories can successfully break the time barrier; all other test subjects come out the other side dead from shock. Told primarily in still images, it’s a surprisingly romantic film for such a dark premise.

Ah, l’amour.

The fact that the whole story is a slide show helps some of the cheesier props and sets, like, say, a time machine that’s pretty much just a hammock and a bra on the face. Despite being only 28 minutes long, a lot of very interesting science fiction concepts are woven into the story, leading up to a conclusion that feels intensely smart for 1962. It’s no wonder this cool little movie inspired the likes of David Bowie and Terry Gilliam.

Now, here’s where we reach our dilemma. Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys is heavily based on La jetée, but it’s not entirely a remake. Both contain plot points that are spoiled by watching the other. If you’ve seen neither, which to start with? Friend, I have no definitive answer. This is the trouble with remaking a twist ending. I personally saw Monkeys first and enjoyed the ride all the way through, but it cheapened my experience of La jetée. However, Twelve Monkeys is a more complex story, so you may be annoyed that certain details along the way are already known to you from watching La jetée. Choose your own path, but I think I prefer Gilliam first, Marker second. Unravel the giant mystery, then jump back and enjoy the smaller one that inspired it.

Twelve Monkeys (1995)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.