“This is the story of a man marked by an image of his childhood.” So begins Chris Marker’s 1962 elliptical 27-minute time-travel adventure, “La Jetée,” a narrated montage of black-and-white still photographs about a man who leaves his irradiated, post–World War III present and leaps into the past and future, hoping to bring back food and energy that will allow humankind to survive the dark years. He was picked because successful time travel depends on the traveler’s ability to focus on emotionally resonant images—our hero obsesses over memories of a beautiful young woman he glimpsed at an airport on the day that an unidentified stranger was shot dead there by police. When the hero travels into the past, he falls in love with his dream woman; complications, as they say, ensue. If you’ve seen “La Jetée” or Terry Gilliam’s 1996 remake, Twelve Monkeys, you know the film’s final, devastating twist. If not, I won’t spoil it here, except to say that the story ends where it begins and that its plot is a pretext for Marker to examine the impermanence of experience and the fragility—sometimes falsity—of remembered images, the shards we cling to as we journey from abyss to abyss.
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