Image Versus Imagination: Memory’s Theatre of Cruelty in Chris Marker’s La Jetée
Abstract: While the 1962 French science fiction film La Jetée presents a straightforward narrative premise, it nonetheless details the story of a man who “becomes a human projectile to be pro-jeté through time,” as Paul Sandro claims. Incriminating the audience in a theatre of cruelty, the film moves through the past and future via the mental time-travel of the protagonist in a series of stills, which appear independent from the consciousness of the agent. In the course of events, the protagonist builds a cognitive map out of this chaotic sequence of memories that allows him to then create new spaces of thought. The first mention of the “theatre of cruelty” by Antonin Artaud in 1935, considered pain and terror to be the most important elements of any kind of play or film. The protagonist's situation of constantly chasing his own ghost and restoring his memory corresponds to these conditions and thus opens up new venues of considering cruelty, and in extension trauma, as an important third element in Chris Marker's film. His film La Jetée created a filmic embodiment of this interplay in both the redemptive yet productive powers of memory and the cyclical notion of time as it manifests itself in the mind of the protagonist and viewer.