Nostalgia and La Jetée

Karla Huebner


This essay contemplates Chris Marker’s film La Jetée (1962) via Svetlana Boym’s conceptualization of “restorative” versus “reflective” nostalgia. It looks in part at the film’s presentation of the protagonist’s restorative nostalgia, but unlike previous examinations of nostalgia’s role in La Jetée, this essay foregrounds the viewer’s own experience of a reflective nostalgia for the film. The author considers her personal and subjective, and historically specific, encounters with La Jetée in relation to how the film may produce a similar nostalgia in others through its storytelling and unusual combination of photographic and cinematic form. Drawing also on Réda Bensmaïa’s semiotic and psychoanalytic analysis of the film’s “pictogrammatic” quality, the essay further considers the possible roles of trauma and masochism in the film and for its viewers, and relates the experience of watching La Jetée to that of watching An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (also 1962). The essay therefore situates both films in the context of historically situated yet ever-changing lived experience.


film; cinema; Chris Marker; memory; nostalgia; trauma; lived experience; repetition

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