12 Monkeys (1995)

A dystopian, asylumic sci-fi race against time & mankind-death by simiiforme virus capitalizing on late-1900’s fascination with time-travel & psychology – boasting Da Vincian plot-design, prophetic set-pieces, and epic Brad Pitt-led performances. 8.7/10.

Plot Synopsis: Traveling back in time isn’t simple, as James Cole (Bruce Willis) learns the hard way. Imprisoned in the 2030s, James is recruited for a mission that will send him back to the 1990s. Once there, he’s supposed to gather information about a nascent plague that’s about to exterminate the vast majority of the world’s population. But, aside from the manic Jeffrey (Brad Pitt), he gets little in the way of cooperation, not least from medical gatekeepers like Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe).

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Review

A Time-Travel Pandemic Movie?

After The Limitless Imagination Of Brazil, Director Gilliam Turns His Scope To Simiiforme Viruses – And The Caging Of Mankind

A virus infects the world, and humanity is at risk: A plot that has been done countless times, to mostly-lackluster results. Time-travel movies: an equally, if not more disappointing collection, spare the proverbial masculine charm of a Schwarzenegger or DeLorean-outfitted Marty McFly. What if there was a film that combined them? Boasting a star-studded cast, enthusiastic and homage-heavy directorial effort, and plenty of kooky sci-fi B-movie charms, 12 Monkeys is here to try it out – and the genre was expanded. A dystopian, asylumic sci-fi/thriller piece on a race against time to prevent mankind’s eradication by simiiforme virus that capitalizes on late-1900’s fascination with time-travel and the mysteries of psychology, 12 Monkeys boasts one of the great Da Vincian plot puzzles requisite of multiple viewings to fully piece together its multi-interpretive complexity, prophetic set-design, capricious commentary on weighty themes from consumerism to scientific ethics to animal rights to reality vs. fantasy and fate, & mythic star-powered performances led by an early-Brad Pitt in one of his most virtuosic performances.

The Cinematography & Stakes

An Instant Pronunciation Of 5,000,000,000+ Dead By Its Viral Antagonist And A Dystopian World Of Cold Reclamation By Nature

The stakes are amongst the highest and most immediate of any disaster movie, from the opening line of text on the screen letting us know this unspeakably-deadly virus has killed 5/6 of ALL human beings on the planet – over 5,000,000,000+. This instantaneously draws intrigue and fantastic investment from the viewer and something other films like Contagion, great as they are, failed to capitalize on (after all, this is a movie: a death-toll of 28M and <1% of the population overall is far less of a concern we should care about than EVERYONE). The forcing of the few survivors to cages underground while animals the virus doesn’t infect are able to reclaim the world they once owned is a poetic reversal of the subjugation we’ve put the Earth through as mankind – and sets a bleak dystopian scene for the film’s weighty themes. Nature, dystopia, animal rights, time-travel, memory, ethics, science, insanity, and technology are amongst the themes woven into 12 Monkey’s dazzling sci-fi screenplay.

A Screenplay Tackling Weighty Themes

Memory, Time, Technology, Animal Rights, Capitalism, Environmentalism, Psychology, Consumerism, Sociology, Morality, & The Ethics Of Science

The film’s title alone evokes an empathy for the simiian creatures we use as lab subjects but only differ from us in DNA by ~3%. The environmentalist concerns of the film’s mysterious antagonist are hard to argue against, of course besides the way he decided to fix it – how mankind has decimated the planet in mere seconds on the world clock out of selfishness, greed, and arrogance. The film’s set pieces are some of the best sci-fi has ever seen: kooky, unforgettably-weird/twisted, and morose cage-like set pieces put us in the position of its titular animal, brought to life with an individualistic tonal grating and visual style that is as irrevocable and batsh*t-crazy as its performances. The performances are painstakingly-laid out by a cast of Hollywood A-listers it’s honestly surprising put this much investment in the project. Bruce Willis gives a fine central protagonist – one of his best efforts – as Cole, putting effort down to even the physicality and drool-heavy disorientation of a character thrown across time and realities.

The Performances & Characterization

A Dichotomy Of Quirky Characters Brought To Life By A Star-Powered Cast Of Hollywood’s A-List, Led By An Oscar-Nominated Pitt Talent Showcase

Madeleine Stowe plays nicely off the macho sci-fi anti-heroicism as psychiatrist-questioning-her-own-sanity and love-interest Dr. Railly. Christopher Plummer is, well, Christopher Plummer elevating by presence alone as award-winning virologist and means-to-a-pandemic Dr. Goines as if the cast wasn’t already stacked enough, but the real star of the show is Brad Pitt. A one-of-a-kind environmentalist, animal-rights activist, and anti-corporatism nut-case thrown into the asylum lock-and-key but dropping truth-bombs about sociological and psychological topics that make us question who’s really the sane one, Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines is one of the best characters and performances of his mythic resumé and entire CAREER – no surprise he was nominated for an Academy Award for it he sacrilegiously lost with this pedigree a display of duality exposition going from fruitcake to classic supervillain back to nutcase so convincingly and captivating with his every word. Finally, the scientists – led by Carol Florence’s Jones – portray a mysterious aura that’s critical to the movie, leading to that jaw-dropper of a finale plot-twist throwing the entire film’s events into multi-interpretive readability.

A Mind-Blowing Finale Plot-Twist

One Of The Great Da Vincian Plot Puzzles Requisite Of Multiple Viewings To Piece Together Its Multi-Interpretive Complexity

such an elaborate plot design every piece multi-interpretive and referential to other parts of the plot and characters /// myth of cassandra – damned to know the future agony of foreknowledge but impotence to do anything about it /// characterization great tough macho protagonist badass willis vs skeptical doctor girl vs loony drugged-up mental patient pitt /// even the name monkeys evokes biggest lab animal we’ve mistreated since similar dna differs <1% reversal bioterror group want to return natural order man commentative //// one of the great films you can’t tell what is reality what is fantasy what is sanity what is insanity /// ending pure cinematic beauty drama epic mystery mind-blowing plot-twist fake-out someone we never expected villain chilling we next to and respect the balls to not give happy ending or save plot but subvert time travel clichés and leave future intact pandemic still happens 5,000,000,000 die. references to la jetee in characters being huaunted by visions of their own death, hitchcock vertigo birds animal reclamation, woody woodpecker time tunnel, marx brothers monkey business. multi-interpretive. feels blade runner-esque and brazil by same director. highlights madness and doom. metaphor for jesus cole. one of the craziest theories – and the only one that really makes sense upon further analysis of context.. is that the scientists WANTED the virus to be released and sent cole back not to stop the virus or events but to START it and set events into motion would explain the ambiguous directions of jose and scientist’s presence in the seat next to guy on plane and bizarre comment about ‘insurance’ perhaps speaking literally about being there to insure plan goes correctly and virus released. also would explain how they built entire underground infrastructure – if virus spreads that quickly 14 days as is claimed once in film and deadly enough to kill 99% of population then would take years to build it. willis questions reality becomes putty in hands vision changes. poetic reversal cole cassandra complex start then question sanity now dr railly tries to convince him from future. multi-interpretive final word insurance is it coincidence or fate she was there beside him or was she sent back too? was insurance meant to mean that she is there to kill him to insure he doesn’t infect rest of world even though philly airport opened vial. james cole life tragic time loop centered around own death. virus presented not in exposition but in aftermath unlike other contagion movies. reference vertigo how trauma affects memory and vice-versa exactly paralleled in 12 monkeys

scientists presented visually as panel of figures physically separated behind barrier mysterious eyes covered sunglasses inside when eyes windows to soul and final shot is of the eyes pure blue reflected of sky /// towering and looking down mysterious. also odd why if able to time travel reinvent life odd why wrong year unless on purpose. but why would they want to relase virus and kill others? maybe power to rebuild mankind in their image? problem why would they not have a cure vaccine or antidote for themselves though why would they want to live underground with few survivors like rats?

The Set Pieces & Atmospherics

An Overbearing Air Of Mystery & Experimentalism Trying To Learn & Save Humanity.. Right?

PHENOMENAL set pieces cold dark winter feels like arctic tundra but downtown nyc/chicago turns a normal sight of city streets into a dystopian battleground of reclamation by nature and ruins and pure sci-fi underground blade runner-esque eyes labs hazmat /// exceptional cinematography with wowable shots like the lion roaring atop the concrete jungle and hyper-cleanliness of gloves and hazmat suits and chemical showers in quarantine ///

A Tragic Time-Loop & PLANdemic?

Was Cole Always Condemned To Die? And The Multi-Interpretability Of The ‘Insurance’ In That Final Scene – Complicity? Murder? A New Age?

Flaws

The Drug Of Ambiguity & A Goofy Accordion Theme I Cannot Hate Enough For Its Atonality

Cons: the main orchestral theme is WAY too goofy to be taken seriously – accordion and feels almost like a joke that’s tonally-incongruent with its premise of a world decimated by a virus claiming 5 Billion lives and shrouds what is and could’ve been further an immaculate thriller/mystery film /// does self-indulge a lot on batsh*t crazy and even dangerous ideas like germs/microorganisms not being real – ironic in a film where 5,000,000,000+ people die at their hands later-on – that does cloud its smart and idiosyncratic social commentary into ridiculousness /// 12 monkeys needed a better name not scary // end is a little too wacky animals stampeding through downtown /// doesn’t even say what happens after if they cure later, why chose bruce, and how there multiple times?

Conclusion

Back To The Future x Vertigo x Terminator x La Jetée In A Pandemic Jacket

One Of The Most Idiosyncratic Products I’ve Ever Witnessed On Viral Outbreaks, Psychology, & Time Travel – Appealing To The Mind & The Senses

A dystopian, asylumic sci-fi/thriller piece on a race against time to prevent mankind’s eradication by simiiforme virus that capitalizes on late-1900’s fascination with time-travel and the mysteries of psychology, 12 Monkeys boasts one of the great Da Vincian plot puzzles requisite of multiple viewings to fully piece together its multi-interpretive complexity, prophetic set-design, capricious commentary on weighty themes from consumerism to scientific ethics to animal rights to reality vs. fantasy and fate, & mythic star-powered performances led by an early-Brad Pitt in one of his most virtuosic performances.

Official CLC Score: 8.7/10