La Jetée: A Reaction

I watched Ways of Seeing and La Jetée back to back. First John Berger brings my attention to the differences in observing a painting in a gallery or private collection, to its reproduction on a television screen. The camera first presents the whole painting, then zooms and darts around, bringing to light small details much like a practiced observer would. A face here, a gesture there, some implement of significance. I try to recall the surroundings, but I see these details out of context.

Then I am thrust into the fever dream of La Jetée. I am exposed to a science fiction narrative through an intimate view. Objects cloud my vision. I see a photograph long enough for it to register before it is yanked away. It is said that life is a tragedy in close-up but comedy in long-shot, but in this case it is ethereal. All along, the narrator proceeds breathlessly as other voices mutter in unfamiliar languages. Given our protagonist is unstuck in time, the phrase “fever dream” is quite literal.

La Jetée tells a story of consequentialism and doom. Humanity is shattered by its own hand. Our main character, a prisoner, is useful because of a confusing episode in his past, one that defines him. However he too is doomed, for the memory of his childhood is simultaneously his end. Much like unexposed film, he exists in potential, as the observer, actor and reactor. But in potentia, has he really existed at all?

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