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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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Beware the Army of the 12 Monkeys

  • Dec 23, 2008
Rating:
+5
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. However, Gilliam's film is entirely his own, a stunning masterpiece of contemporary cinema, and one of the most cleverly bizarre films ever made. The screenplay was written by David and Janet Peoples, who inject the story with an intimate humanistic quality, juxtaposing romance with an eerie atmosphere of impending disaster.
Bruce Willis


In the year 2035, James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a prisoner in a subterranean stronghold where the last survivors of a cataclysmic virus are held up. Their world is monitored by a panel of scientists who use the prisoners for mysterious experiments. Cole is selected to go up onto the Earth's desolate surface and collect life forms for the scientists to study. Upon his return to the underground prison, Cole is told that he's a candidate for an experiment, which if it were successful he would be given a full pardon. He is sent back in time to discover the source of the virus, but he arrives in the wrong year. After getting into a fight with police officers, Cole is sent to a rundown insane asylum where he befriends a psychiatrist named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). He also meets a host of mentally dysfunctional patients, including a paranoid schizophrenic named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who spends most of his time watching cartoons, harassing other patients, and ranting about government conspiracies. Jeffrey helps Cole in an escape attempt, which ends with Cole being caught by the mental hospital's guards and being put into an isolation room, heavily restrained. He mysteriously disappears from the hospital and arrives back in the future. There, the scientists tell him that despite his failure he has been exceptionally useful. They ask him if he would be willing to go back and further investigate the 12 Monkeys... and Jeffrey Goines who may be involved with their formation. However Cole is sent, not only to the wrong time but the wrong place. He lands in Southern France, in the middle of WWI. He's shot in the leg before he vanishes into time.
Meanwhile, Kathryn Railly has been giving lectures on abnormal psychology and the theoretical "Cassandra complex", which states that some people suffer a mental disorder that makes them believe that they are clairvoyant, and knowledgeable of future catastrophes. After one of her lectures, she's ambushed by a strange man who wants her to drive him to Philadelphia. It's Cole and he's traced the origin of the virus to Jeffrey Goines and his billionaire virologist father. Kathryn convinces Cole that he's delusional, but then Cole's story is proven to be true when she discovers that the bullet she removed from his leg dates back to the first quarter of the 20th century. Now she must uncover the truth and help Cole to stop the spread of the virus, but nothing is what it appears to be.


Bruce Willis as Cole and Brad Pitt as Goines
The entire cast is superb. Bruce Willis delivers one of his most nuanced performances as Cole, creating a strong yet vulnerable man who must overcome his own fears of madness in order to save humanity. Madeleine Stowe gives a fascinating performance of a sane woman, who must call into question all of her long held beliefs, and face the insanity of the world around her. But the most memorable character is Jeffrey Goines, who is brought to by Brad Pitt in one of his most remarkable performances ever. He succeeds in making Goines sympathetic, funny, and completely manic. Not only does show off his underutilized versatility as an actor, Brad Pitt also gives us, the audience, access to the off kilter world in which the entire film unfolds.

Willis and Stowe
As for Gilliam's direction, 12 Monkeys proves that he's capable of making films that are not only humorous, but stark and profound as well. Ironically, the film's greatest flaw is also its greatest strength. As an audience, we are never explicitly told how the story ends. Sure, there are implications within the film, but there are so many different interpretations that one single idea feels constricting and limiting. Terry Gilliam's brilliance is that he doesn't dictate his story to the viewers; rather he allows them to discover its subtleties and secrets on their own, and then draw their own conclusions. It makes the film even more interesting to watch with a group of friends and everyone's perception of the ending is contrary. It's this idea of open interpretation that makes 12 Monkeys so timeless.
Teaser poster

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October 21, 2010
Excellent review good Count, I love this flick.
October 21, 2010
Yeah, this one is downright brilliant. All in all, Gilliam has a mixed record when it comes to his films, but this one stands on its own as the best.
 
December 30, 2008
Well thought out review. I would have liked better closure at the end of this film than what was handed me. If the virus was stopped (which is not clear, thus no spoiler) wouldn't the group that wanted the virus stopped just disappear? Time travel gives me a headache but enjoyable nevertheless.
February 13, 2010
They didn't want to stop the virus because they couldn't. They wanted to get a cure for it so they would not have to live underground anymore.
February 13, 2010
True. I need to rewatch this. Thanks for the write-up.
February 13, 2010
No, that theory presents two paradoxes. First of all, if they hadn't sent Cole back in time, the virus wouldn't have been released at all. Secondly, if the scientists were trying to prevent the spread of the virus, then how come the female scientist at the end of the film is there on the plane to "ensure" that the virus is spread?!
February 13, 2010
Spoiler: But Count, I thought her appearance at the end was to prevent the virus, not ensure its spread. Hmm, I definitely need to rewatch this.
February 13, 2010
Nope. If she had been able to prevent the spread of the virus, then in the future Cole would not have needed to be sent back in time and therefore the whole chain of events would never have happened. The key to understanding the film is that Cole has memories from when he was a child seeing his own death. This reveals that what you have is an endless cycle and therefore the virus was spread because of him.
February 13, 2010
Oh, I get it. Yeah, I need a rewatch.
February 13, 2010
It's kind of one of those catch-22 time travel stories, like "The Terminator" and "Planet of the Apes" where what happens at the end causes what happens in the beginning.
 
December 24, 2008
Nice work, Count. Love this film although it take me two viewings to fully appreciate it.
 
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More 12 Monkeys reviews
review by . May 02, 2011
"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 …
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 . 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 …
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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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