Time Travel: JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME and LA JETÈE
Can you imagine reliving the last year of your life through a series of events and moments within a minute of time? Sounds bizarre and unimaginable but that’s the beauty and mystery behind the concept of time and in Alain Resnais’s 1968 film JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME (I Love You, I Love You)
It’s a choppy escapade where the main character (Claude Rich) travels throughout some strange, defining moments in his life paralleling a relationship with his former girlfriend. The pacing is like undergoing a bout of whiplash but following the narrative is half the fun. It’s like peeking into a surreal layer of a person’s life and trying to stitch pieces of it’s intensity back together again. Yes, this does sound like that movie ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND however, this was made several decades prior and in my opinion exquisitely refined.
If there’s any two genres combined in a film that I love, it’s in science fiction and romance. After a failed suicide attempt, Claude Ridder (played by Claude Rich) is approached by scientists who express serious interest in using him as a test subject for their baked potato looking time machine. No seriously the time machine looks like funky looking baked potato. The scientists have used test rats in their experiments however, rats cannot talk so in using their first human test subject Claude has nothing to lose or perhaps nothing to live for since the death of his girlfriend which is the one subject that resurfaces over and over again. This is where Claude brings his past into the present sandwiched between a love/hate relationship with Catrine (played by Olga Georges-Picot). As Claude’s traveling through these moments, he simultaneously is brought back to consciousness for a brief period then travels on which worries the scientists monitoring the experiment. He goes beyond the minute into something deeper, perhaps more troubling given the calamity of Claude’s life which we learn in the hints behind his suicide given in snippets of an unchronological sequence. It’s wild and genius and absolutely heartbreaking when he explains to an unknown character of how Catrine died.
The sequence finishes at the moment Claude proclaims suicide and what’s intriguing to me is Resnais’s choice of music which happens to be a snippet of Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso”. My favorite jazz musician! Why does he choose Thelonious? Why? I love it even though I can’t fathom a hypothesis to the reason.
This was my first Resnais film, a rather peculiar yet prominent in its philosophical pureness. Personally, I feel like this film anoints the notion I should always be in the moment versus floating into some abstract thought of over analyzing something that is or isn’t. The past is an interesting thing to analyze because so many of us often reflect on the things we wish we could have change. I think it’s an intrinsic thing on most of us but what’s also intriguing is Resnais’s representation of time as if its fractions of a puzzle to a picture we can’t quite see. It’s an incredible analogy for how life unfolds itself because no one can predict the future nor live their life fully planned out.
In tying the theme of time travel, I have to make a brief mention of another French director Chris Marker’s 1962 LA JETÈE which oozes of vividly enriching black and white stills of a man also used as an instrument for time travel in a post apocalyptic world where radioactivity has destroyed everything except the victors and other survivors hanging out while living underground. What I found apparent in both of Resnais and Marker’s films was the chorus soundtrack all eluding to an eeriness we can’t quite avoid. It’s as if this shadow of a memory lingering in the subconscious whether its fear, guilt, desire, it’s presence always manifests in someway.
Aside from the soundtrack there’s the quest to reconnect to the past as it’s stated in the opening of LA JETÈE, “This is a story of a man marked by an image of his childhood.” Similarly, in JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME Claude’s memory of Catrine smiling on her death bed is the image that marks him which leads me to suspect his purpose for attempting suicide. Even after Catrine’s passing he’s free to live on, but he can’t. He loved her despite her inability to be happy. It’s tragic just as the time traveler in LA JETÈE trying to return to a moment in time marked also by a woman’s face in her reaction to an outcome that cannot be altered. LA JETÈE was released in 1963, prior to Resnais’s film, however it’s deeply apocalyptic and stark but also playful in it’s picturesque stills while the pacing is demonstrated by a voice over narrating in its entirety. I think it’s safe to say LA JETÈE opened the doors and inspired an array of science fiction films such as 12 MONKEYS and perhaps even PRIMER.
Both of these films are masterpieces in their own way that shine a poetic thread about how time is relative and the experiences that shape a person’s life. No matter how we try to study time, we’re often caught in a realm of contemplation. The could haves, should haves, and would haves will always haunt us to an extent until that funny realization hits you maybe it doesn’t matter. Or in other words as Alan Watts said, “The future is a concept, it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as tomorrow. There will never be, because TIME is always NOW.”