La Jetee: The Grumpiest Monkey Watches the Inspiration for 12 Monkeys

La Jetee
Directed by Chris Marker
Starring Davos Hanich and Hélène Chatelain

“La Jeteé” is a 1962 black and white short film that is best known for being the inspiration for the 1995 Terry Gilliam film “12 Monkeys.”

“12 Monkeys,” for those of you not familiar with the film, is the story of a man from a bleak post-apocalyptic future (Bruce Willis) who is sent back in time to stop the release of a devastating virus that wiped out most of mankind in the 1990s and sent the rest scurrying underground.

While traveling through the past, Willis’ character meets a sympathetic psychiatric (Madeline Stowe) and an eccentric animal rights activist (Brad Pitt), both of whom may play a pivotal role in creating the future world that Willis inhabits.

“La Jeteé” is also the story of a man from a post-apocalyptic future who travels through time, meets a woman in the past, and tries to find answers. This 28 minute black and white film tells the story almost entirely through still images, with a voice-over narration providing the plot points.

Your Monkey has always been a big fan of “12 Monkeys.” It manages to be both a rousing sci-fi thriller and an interesting thought piece on time travel, fate, and inevitability.

So the big questions your Monkey Movie Fan had in sitting down with “La Jeteé” were:

  1. How and why did this 1962 film inspire Terry Gilliam to make 12 Monkeys more than 30 years later?
  2. What elements from the original made it into the remake? What was changed?
  3. Which is the better film?

So how does “La Jeteé” compare to “12 Monkeys”?

Well, the framework for Gilliam’s film is all there in Marker’s earlier work. In fact, “La Jeteé” almost seems like a storyboard draft for “12 Monkeys.”

We have all the same major plot points. And instead of seeing them play out in live action, we see them as a series of photographs.

Marker’s work is more spare from a storytelling standpoint as well He doesn’t tell us much about the man, or the woman, or the worlds in which they live. He doesn’t delve into the emotions of his characters, but lets us fill in the blanks.

The use of black and white still photography for the vast majority of the film creates an interesting effect. Much like a time traveler, we feel like we are just getting brief glimpses of another world, rather than actually living in it.

But in this Monkey’s humble opinion, Gilliam’s movie is much more well rounded. We have more characters, a more detailed plot, and overall a more satisfying viewing experience. He took the shell that Marker created with “La Jeteé” and filled it in with a much more emotionally resonant film.

So is “La Jeteé” worth seeing?

It is if you are a fan of “12 Monkeys.” It’s interesting to see what another artist does with the same basic story framework. At a paltry 28 minutes, it’s not too big of a time investment.

And it is available on DVD from Netflix in a Criterion Collection edition that includes a second film. So you get two shows for the price of one!*

Here is the trailer from “La Jeteé”:

* Unfortunately, that second film is an interminably long travelogue about a photographer’s journeys in Africa and Japan. You may want to avoid it like the apocalyptic plague in “12 Monkeys.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s