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12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam's 1995 science fiction film starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt.

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Twelve Monkeys, should I be laughing?

  • May 2, 2011
  • by
"There is no right or wrong, only popular opinion."

Twelve Monkeys
, five billion people are dead, but how is it caused by the Twelve Monkeys. A better question, who are the Twelve Monkeys? Long ago I attempted this movie, and I was left gobsmacked. Terry Gilliam had yet again created a truly bizarre movie, different from his other works, in fact different from all previous works. Upon my second viewing, yet again I remain undecided on this movie. I cannot tell if this is a comedy, dark comedy or with the lack of the better word, serious. We are hinted comedy at first; it almost mocks itself in every way, from the performances, characters and the story itself. The performances at time seem purposely ridiculous, or cliché. The characters never seem to hit a serious tone, which never seems to be a flaw of this movie, yet another reason this movie falls into the category of film I like to think as a clever blend of many categories, much like Donnie Darko or Eraserhead.

The plot follows James Cole (Bruce Willis) is an odd post-apocalyptic dystopian society living under the surface of the planet (Earth). The way of the actual way of life is not shown, nor are we told what year it is. With an indeterminable repetitive dream Cole, which continuously occurs throughout the movie, we are thrown straight into the action. Taken for involuntary voluntary work, he is sent back into time, to understand the cause of their way of life. A virus caused the death of five billion people and the condemnation to live under the surface. Cole is not sent to stop the virus, but find the "how, what, when, why, who". They send him to the wrong time, and of course being a man from the future, they take him to a mental institution, yet this is the very beginning of a very odd and muddled plot, including Dr. Raily (Madeleine Stowe).
This plot is nothing new to the common science fiction, perhaps one of the most common types of story found in science fiction. Yet this one has a very odd twist, it never takes itself seriously, and always remains a constant mystery. It continuously jumps back and forth non-stop, really leaving you confuse as the whole conspiracy theory is jumbled and baffling.
It takes much inspiration from Vertigo, which is even shown in the movie.

The acting is another aspect too difficult to fully grasp. Bruce Willis creates an odd character that at times is funny and mysterious. Although Willis is almost mocked by the movie around him the whole time, creating such a surreal affect. It's rather strange and frustrating how he never fully explains himself. An example would be when he is dropped in the middle of a war in WW1, but never cares to explain that situation and the co-star Madeleine Stowe has to find that out on her own, so at times his counter-productiveness does get on my nerves. Madeleine Stowe does a reasonable performance, although she is like a Jodie Foster from Silence of the Lambs at first, soon becomes more of a cliché non-believer, turned believer. Brad Pitt continues to amaze me, said to be one of the most attractive men according to the endless women's magazines (sad exploitations of celebrities and their sex lives to amuse the bored housewife, that's right I said it). You would imagine Brad Pitt to be a 'trophy actor', placed to merely look good in an action, but it is of course quite the opposite. Brad Pitt happens to be a fine actor, much showcased in Fight Club. In Twelve Monkeys his over-acting fits perfectly with the sardonic tone of this movie, and his ramblings are such a joyful listen, much like Jules Winfield's (Samuel L. Jackson) tone ultimate coolness.

The direction is much like most of Terry Gilliam's work, strange and at times unappealing. He never really was one of visual feast, but portrayed odd visuals, which some incorrectly describe as visual feasts. In a nutshell his movies aren't really kind on the eyes, Twelve Monkeys is no exception, at times he gives us an imaginative dystopian world, but simply casts all the potential 'advertisement time' for this movies crazy story. Which is some cases just doesn't work, but Twelve Monkeys has provided one of the most interesting movie experiences. This is a success in creating a memorable experience which Gilliam can so often do, but of course when he fails, it's quite an unpleasant one; Dr. Parnassus.

Overall, Twelve Monkeys has many flaws, and manages to be one of the strangest movies I have come by. It always leaves me baffled, if this is a comedy or a dark comedy, and yes of course it could be serious! Whatever this is, it is a mix of everything, certainly creating an uncomfortable viewing, and the plot is not great towards the end, but it creates an experience like no other, and is now essential viewing. The ending is guaranteed to leave you frustrated and disappointed, as the scene itself is the most bizarre of all, such a serious scene manages to be so funny, but you soon realise it how humbling the experience you have just undertook.

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May 04, 2011
In 12 Monkeys, they send Jose back to Cole to give him a gun. They must have intended that he kill someone, most likely the lab assistant carrying the virus; they must have intended that by doing so he would prevent the plague which wiped out the world. Of course, he failed to do so; but that does not alter the fact that those in the future attempted to change the past. It's just like what they were trying to do with Fudge 44. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jac2-XMGd1w
May 04, 2011
It makes you wonder how they figured that one out? I mean all the people in the future knew was that it wasn't the Twelve Monkeys.
May 02, 2011
Last time I saw this was when the dvd came out; I've recently acquired the Bluray and I've been thinking of re-watching it some time soon. Great job with this review, I especially enjoyed your observations. Oh, btw, for some reason this review isn't showing up in Movie Hype (but the topic is there) I will let the tech team know. Welcome again to the site! I so want to read your review on THE MECHANIC since I haven't seen that one yet...
May 02, 2011
well maybe im doing something wrong, dont get too stressed, i just want to enter the lunch awards when it comes around, and thanks for the hospitlity, being rank #1 must keep you busy
May 02, 2011
I will be merging those topics so don't worry. You did everything right but sometimes, there are some glitches especially in a site this size! :)
More 12 Monkeys reviews
review by . July 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
12 Monkeys is not only my favorite time traveling movie, but one of my favorite movies in general. It has a solid, fun and smart story, solid acting and a great feel to it.      James Cole (Willis) is a prisoner in the future where everyone lives in some sort of underground steam punk bunker after a virus killed 5 billion people in 1996 driving humanity below. It's not made clear what kind of government there is left, if any, but Cole is confronted by a group of scientists …
Quick Tip by . August 01, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Awesome looking movie with cool art direction, story and characters. Bruce Willis must save the world from a killer virus. I need to see this again.
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
Best movie ever! I am always interested what the off camera activities of the characters of the film and learn new secrets about the film so many times watching it.
review by . December 23, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Teaser poster
From his days with Monty Python to his visionary epic Brazil, Terry Gilliam has never been an ordinary filmmaker. His unique sense of style and his trademark absurdist humor can be found in all of his films. In 1995, he cemented his reputation as one of the most unconventional directors in America with his brilliant science fiction film, 12 Monkeys. 12 Monkeys is an apocalyptic, romantic, time travel adventure inspired by the French film, La Jetée, which was written by Chris Marker. …
review by . March 06, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Despite the cheesy special effects and some unnecessarily silly scenes that greatly detract from the movie, 12 Monkeys is a very good science fiction movie.      Set in the year 2035, a plague has wiped out much of the human race and they are forced to live deep underground. Scientists of the era send criminals back in time, using imperfect time machine technology, to try to discover the origins of the virus so they can bring a sample back to the future to find a cure, and take …
review by . February 08, 2004
Pros: Something different for a change.     Cons: Aw, I don't like the end. =P     The Bottom Line: A lil old though it may be, it's a pretty good change from the stuff that's around these days.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. What to watch, what to watch. Hey look, Bruce Willis movies. 12 Monkeys huh? Ok, cool.      It actually wasn't until about midway through the movie …
review by . January 13, 2002
Pros: Acting & directing     Cons: A bit confusing at times     The Bottom Line: Intriguing concept and I really don't think you ever 'get' all the plots involved        Just call me late to supper. Seldom do I catch a movie when released, and I had pretty much written this one off considering the reviews given. However, a recent bout with the flu and a Bruce Willis weekend on Showtime dropped this one in my lap. I'm not a big …
About the reviewer
Zachary Fernandez ()
Ranked #381
I'm a 15 year old ametuer critic, who lives in Perth, Australia.
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About this movie


12 Monkeys
is a 1995 science fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam, inspired by Chris Marker's 1962 short film La Jetée, and starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Plummer.

After Universal Studios acquired the rights to remake La Jetée as a full-length film, David and Janet Peoples were hired to write the script. Under Terry Gilliam's direction, Universal granted the filmmakers a $29.5 million budget, and filming lasted from February to May 1995. The film was shot mostly in Philadelphia and Baltimore, where the story was set.

The film was released to critical praise and grossed approximately $168 million worldwide. Brad Pitt was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and won a Golden Globe for his performance. The film also won and was nominated for various categories at the Saturn Awards.
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