Birds in Sans Soleil: The Symbolic Emu

It goes without saying that emus are cool birds. They have the strongest legs of any bird, able to tear wire fences with them, they are close relatives to ostriches, and they are native to Australia. Why, however, are they so important to Chris Marker in his essay film Sans Soleil? He must have mentioned emus five times, and only after the third people start to ask what’s up with this guy and his weird obsession with one of the world’s largest birds?

For one thing, the way Marker, or rather the French female narrator, mentioned emus ties into the whole idea of the film. The film is about memory and remembering things. Each time she mentions emus she asks “Oh, and did I tell you that there are emus in the Isle de’ France?” It’s almost as if the man writing the letters cannot remember what he wrote, or he does not trust the reader’s memory and must constantly remind them of this fascinating fact.

Another fun fact about the emu is its close relation to dinosaurs. Birds, as we all know, are the closest thing we have to modern day dinosaurs. The emu, being one of the largest, most powerful birds, is the closest of the closest. This makes the emu a testament to time; the dinosaur that still lives, if you will. This beast has beaten out time itself, another big issue in Chris Marker’s essay film.

Last, but certainly not least, and definitely my favorite part, is the mythology of the emu. It is said, in Australian mythology, that before there was sun Bralgah threw an emu egg into the sky where it burst into flame and became the sun. This is the most interesting bit because of the name of the film. Whether or not it was Chris Marker’s intention, it’s clear that without the emu the world would be Sans Soleil; Sunless.

Works Cited

Montero, David. “Film also ages: time and images in Chris Marker’s Sans soleil.” Studies in French Cinema 6.2 (2006): 107-115. Film & Television Literature Index. EBSCO. Web. 31 Mar. 2011.

Dixon, Roland Burrage. Oceanic Mythology. [S.l.]: Rowman & Littlefield, 1964. Print.

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