The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The best time travel movie ever made

with 24 comments

“In honor of Looper, what is the best time travel movie ever made?”

This question was tossed out by Matt Singer at Criticwire in this week’s survey.

The first film I got to think of was 12 Monkeys. I’ve seen it a couple of time and even if I know the twist by now, I still love the melancholy, the visuals, the heartbreaking story and its take on a future dystopian society.

But then I remembered that I had been told about a French short film from 1962, La jetée, which was supposed to be the source of inspiration of 12 Monkeys. Shouldn’t I give that one at least a chance before I gave my answer?

My answer was yes, so I went along and watched it. And am I glad that I did!

I won’t say too much about the story, more than that it’s about a man who is sent away on journeys in time in order to try to find a way to help saving the present. It took me into the future and into the past, it told me a love story and brought me thrills and chills and images that won’t leave me anytime soon.

The film is only 28 minutes long and it consists of black and white still images, music and a narrative voice. It doesn’t sound like something that holds up against a modern big budget production. But it does.

Just look at the photos! They’re so good that each one is a piece of art that would qualify for a photo exhibition. The score is mesmerizing and the voiceover text is like poetry.

However it’s more than just the esthetics that speaks to me. The film has the single quality that I think is the one I appreciate most of all in time travel movies: It messes with your mind until the walls of reality start to crumble and for a sweet moment of joy and horror you’re hit by the wave of sense of wonder.

I’m still a fan of 12 Monkeys. But it doesn’t beat the original.

La jetée (Chris Marker, FR, 1962) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

September 25, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in La jetée

24 Responses

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  1. Glad to see La Jetee getting some love. This movie blew me away when I first saw it over a decade ago.

    Dave Enkosky

    September 25, 2012 at 1:39 am

    • I won’t forget it anytime soon either. And I’d be happy to watch it again. It’s really quite something. And the length of it is very inviting.


      September 25, 2012 at 7:53 am

  2. Great post 🙂


    September 25, 2012 at 2:38 am

  3. La Jetée really is something else. You have to have a really special mind to come up with something like that, AND execute it on film.

    As of now, it’s the only Marker film I’ve seen but I want to see so many more.


    September 25, 2012 at 4:37 am

    • Same here. I’ve seen Sans Soleil recommended. I’m definitely up for more Marker now.


      September 25, 2012 at 7:53 am

  4. Haven’t seen this one… for me the best time travel movie has to be Time Crimes!

  5. “La Jetee” is a wondrous experience- the closest a film can come to true poetry. Marker is an outstanding talent, and I would recommend seeing any or all of his other films, but particularly “Sans Sloiel” and “Matta 85”. And you can truly understand why Terry Gilliam used “La Jetee” as his inspiration for 12 Monkeys.

    Karl Kaefer

    September 25, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    • Poetry indeed. In a good way. I mean – it’s still a story! I really want to see more of his films. And I still love 12 Monkeys. I think he made good use of the ideas.


      September 25, 2012 at 5:03 pm

  6. When I read the opening question to your post Jessica, 12 Monkeys was the first film that sprung to mind. I love it but I’ve yet to see La Jetee. I remember reading the script years ago but I forget most of it now. Must hunt it down. Nice one Jessica.

    Mark Walker

    September 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    • We often think the same way. I really think you need to hunt this down. I’m pretty certain you’ll love it the way I do. Glad if I can give you the push!


      September 25, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      • And given me the push you have! If you say it’s better than 12Monkeys and you’re a fan of that already, then I’m sold. It’s on my list.

        Mark Walker

        September 25, 2012 at 5:13 pm

  7. Such a wonderful film. Perfect blend of creativity, atmosphere, and storytelling. The first time I saw it, I was under the influence, and that one moment, I won’t spoil it, but you know what I’m talking about, had me totally freaked out.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    September 25, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    • I can imagine! My next project now is to see if I can get my local film club to show it on a big screen. It’s certainly a film I want to return to – even if I know the twists and turns now.,


      September 25, 2012 at 10:55 pm

  8. Been a while since I saw Twelve Monkeys, for some reason I don’t remember much about it. I think Somewhere In Time and Frequency (which I just saw recently) are some of my fave time travel movies. Timeline is more of a guilty pleasure just for Andre Marek 😉


    September 25, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    • There are so many time travel movies that I apparently need to check out! I’ve never heard of either Somewhere in Time or Frequency. And I haven’t seen Timeline either.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:47 pm

      • Oh, you do need to see more time travel movies! I talk about Somewhere in Time a lot it seems, in fact it’s one of my top 5 favorite Christopher Reeve movies I just posted 🙂


        September 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm

  9. Have not seen La jetée, but will try to check it out. Time Travel is one of my favorite subjects in movies so I’m looking forward to seeing Looper. Other favorites are Timecrimes, Triangle and of course the Back to the Future movies. You should also try to get your hands on Shuffle, which I reviewed this week.

    Really have to rewatch 12 Monkeys, it has been way too long since I last watched that.


    September 26, 2012 at 10:52 am

    • I haven’t seen either Triangle or Shuffle. I need to check those out. As you know I’m a fan of sci-fi and time travel movies.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:40 pm

  10. No love for Back to the Future? It still is an amazing movie. And of course Donnie Darko.

    It reminds me that I still have to see Time Bandits and The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey. One day 🙂


    September 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    • I need to be honest here. It’s been years and years and years since last time I watched Back to the Future. I don’t remember it well enough to talk about it in a meaningful way. I need to revisit it. Donnie Darko is my “need to check out” list. Time Bandits is a favorite! The Navigator: A medieval Odyssey is a film I had never heard of until you mentioned it here. Looks interesting!


      September 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm

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