Inspired by Chris Marker's acclaimed short film La Jetée (which is included on the DVD Short 2: Dreams), 12 Monkeys combines intricate, intelligent storytelling with the uniquely imaginative vision of director Terry Gilli... more »am. The story opens in the wintry wasteland of the year 2035, where a virulent plague has forced humans to live in a squalid, oppressively regimented underground. Bruce Willis plays a societal outcast who is given the opportunity to erase his criminal record by "volunteering" to time-travel into the past to obtain a pure sample of the deadly virus that will help future scientists to develop a cure. But in bouncing from 1918 to the early and mid-1990s, he undergoes an ordeal that forces him to question his own perceptions of reality. Caught between the dangers of the past and the devastation of the future, he encounters a psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe) who is initially convinced he's insane, and a wacky mental patient (Brad Pitt in a twitchy Oscar-nominated role) with links to a radical group that may have unleashed the deadly virus. Equal parts mystery, tragedy, psychological thriller, and apocalyptic drama, 12 Monkeys ranks as one of the best science fiction films of the '90s, boosted by Gilliam's visual ingenuity and one of the finest performances of Willis's career. --Jeff Shannon« less
"When I saw "12 Monkeys" in the theaters, I thought to myself, "This is one of the greatest films of the past ten years." Despite working with a script written by others and under some stringent studio restrictions, Terry Gilliam more than managed to infuse the story with his trademark approach to movie-making.I had some reservations going in about the choice of Brad Pitt to play the role of a mentally unbalanced eco-terroist, but Pitt did a marvelous job and really made the character his own. (Viewers who like Pitt in "12 Monkeys" would probably do well to check out his performance in "Fight Club". Tyler Durden is what Jeffery Goins could be if he were less manic.) Bruce Willis and Madeline Stowe also turn in terrific performances, especially Willis for whom this was one of his first non-action films. Fans of the old "Batman" TV show will be amused to see Frank Gorshin (the Riddler) as the chief psychiatrist at the mental institution were much of the early part of the film takes place. Christopher Plummer is not given much screen time, but he does an excellent job with what little he has.As for the story itself, even though many people try to claim that it is about the line between sanity and madness(in the vein of Gilliam's "The Fisher King"), I just do not see it as such. I never doubted Cole's sanity, the future world was too real to make me think that it was a figment of Cole's imagination. And if one did have that impression at first, there was too much revealed early in the film to sustain that belief. I prefer to view the story as an extremely intricate "whodunit", where the viewer actually receives most of the information relevant to the conclusion by about half-way through the film, but in such a jumbled and contradictory manner that the true outcome remains obscure until the last 15 minutes. But of course, this being a Gilliam picture, even after the conclusion is revealed, a final twist is thrown to the viewer. (Note: to appreciate the twist, pay attention to the future scientists. I've known some people who didn't watch closely and they didn't understand the twist as a result.)Setting aside the film, and considering the DVD, Universal did an excellent job with this release. The documentary "The Hamster Factor" offers some great insights into both "12 Monkeys" and the movie industry in general. And the commentary track with Gilliam and the producer is very good for understanding the process of movie-making, as well as how specific scenes were set up. My only disappointment came with the "Production Notes" feature. If you watch the documentary and listen to the commentary track, the production notes really just repeat what you've previously learned."
N. Schoenfeld | Woodside, CA USA | 06/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Good Science Fiction (weather a book, a movie, tv, whatever) has the power to make us look at ourselves as a society. The events in this movie metaphorically mimic events in our everyday lives. Even though we have not yet discovered time travel, all of the other events in this movie could happen, which is absolutely frightening. This is a dark movie, not for everyone, which has a deep high-minded script and plot (it may take a few watchings to fully understand this one.) The cinematography, directing, and acting are wonderful. Bruce Willis proves that he can do other movies besides his normal action type. He also proved it later in The 6th Sense, but I think this is one of his best performences. As for Brad Pitt, it is his best performance. It's so real that by the end, you'll think he's crazy.Another important thing to note is to buy the DVD, but not the DTS one. The non-DTS version has an insightful long documentary on the making of the film, the DTS version does not have this. Plus the Dolby Digital sound is excellent in itself.Most Highly Reccomended."
A film fascinating, fun and frustrating
Sanpete | in Utah | 02/01/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"12 Monkeys is a convoluted tale of time travel, insanity, apocalypse, and who-done-it, with some romance thrown in. What I enjoyed most about it was the twisting and ambiguous path it followed, which was fresh and well thought out, to a point.
Bruce Willis plays Cole, a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic future recruited to do some dangerous time-travel work in the past for a group of very odd scientists. The goal of the work only becomes apparent later, and by then there is confusion about whether Cole is really on the mission he thinks he is or is just deluded. Brad Pitt has a major supporting role hamming it up as another who may or may not be insane.
Ultimately, while I don't think the film does full justice to its premises and possibilities, it does well enough to be entertaining and thought provoking. Director Terry Gilliam's surrealism adds much. The acting is very good on the whole, itself rather surreal in some of the supporting roles. There is some violence showing how disturbed Willis's character is, not bad for an R-rated movie. It's definitely worth seeing to judge for yourself what it's really about.
I want to comment on the things you think about after the film is over, to see how well it holds up. I'll have to go into details you may not want to know about if you haven't seen the film yet, thus the spoiler alert. If you'd like to know what my general conclusions are, without any spoilers, just skip to the last couple paragraphs headed "In Sum."
There are many points designed to suggest that parts of the film are delusions, but they're balanced by points seeming to show the opposite. There is the over-the-top strangeness of the future (the video ball, serenading scientists, etc.), the obvious parallels between the psych ward and the future prison (similar panels of doctors/scientists, the two guards, etc), the voice that calls Cole "Bob" (moving around as if in his head, though it seems to belong to the wino too), the music in the ruined department store (apparently a premonition (or something) of the time Cole is there in 1996), the lion and bear (again paralleled in 1996, unlikely denizens of a wintry abandoned Philadelphia).
But then Cole's disappearances, the French that Cole himself doesn't understand in WWI (yes, it's real French), the photo of Cole from WWI (though nearly impossibly convenient), the WWI bullet, Cole's knowledge of the boy in the well prank, all seem to settle things conclusively against delusion. That is, unless we're to imagine that not only the future but the whole film is delusions, of Cole (or Bob) and/or Railly, in line with her own fears and the comment by the virus culprit (Morse) that Railly might be succumbing to her Cassandra syndrome. Confusing? That's what Gilliam was aiming for.
In a way, the view that the whole film is largely delusion seems the most coherent overall interpretation, in that it can explain away all failures of logic. But it has trouble explaining how good the logic is. The film, strange and muddled as it is, really does seem far too lucid and coherent to be primarily be a string of delusions.
The End, Time Travel
The ending has stirred much debate. The woman sitting next to the culprit on the plane is one of the scientists from the future. She is presumably there to do exactly what Cole said the scientists planned to do, gather a sample of the virus from before it mutated. According to Cole, the scientists didn't send him to change the past, which he says is impossible. He was sent to gather information, which he did. We must assume that the sample is gathered and that this enables humanity in the future to return to the surface of the planet. It doesn't help the 5 billion killed.
That appears to be the basic sense of the ending, but it has its own loose ends. Why was Cole given the gun, if not to try to change the past? (Jose's line that it's too bad they didn't get the information sooner makes no sense to me in the context of time travel.) The scientist introduces herself on the plane saying, "I'm in insurance," which is a great line if she's a backup for Cole, in case he fails to stop the spread of the virus. But that too implies he could have changed the past. Even getting a sample of the virus seems to change the past. Trying to figure out the point of all of this is further complicated by the the fact that we are shown the virus being released by the culprit when it was being inspected at the airport. By the time Cole tried to shoot him it was already too late. This adds to the pathos, and the confusion.
Some views of time travel allow the past (and future) to change. It could work this way. Young Cole goes to the airport, there is no shooting, he survives the virus, and is eventually sent back, where he is shot, witnessed by young Cole, who survives the virus and is eventually sent back, where he remembers the shooting and gets shot (the scene we see near the end of the film). This would allow one more twist in the film, one suspected by some optimistic viewers. Railly, recognizing the boy Cole, would tell the boy to remember that the culprit wasn't the 12 monkeys gang but Dr. Goine's assistant. Then Cole could conceivably grow up and loop back one more time, this time preventing the virus from ever being released, and getting the girl. There is no hint of this, however. Had the filmmakers wanted to hint at the possibility, they easily could have (by having Railly whisper something in the boy Cole's ear, for example).
All in all, the film is stimulating and fun but ultimately more frustrating than it might have been. I like a film that provokes thought, but I tend to prefer one that rewards it with additional insights and clarity. That only goes so far here, and then things seem impossible, muddled or otherwise unsatisfying. There is a certain postmodern sensibility that prefers just this kind of lack of clarity and incomplete logic. I don't know if that was intended here or just came about accidentally (I suspect some of each), but if that sensibility is your thing, you should love this film.
The DVD anamorphic video and 5.1 audio quality are fine. There is commentary track with director Gilliam and producer Charles Roven, and a full-length making-of documentary. Both are interesting and worth the time, but don't expect answers to the puzzles the film leaves, other than a hint or two expressed as personal opinion."
Excellent, except for some nits to pick.
Sanpete | 11/07/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie intrigues, stimulates thought, and fully provokes attention. I want to address the various criticisms. First, the movie does drag somewhat, especially at the asylum, yet all this is forgivable because virtually every fact exposed in that segment serves as foundation for the rest of the film. Second, the romance is depicted awkwardly and is indeed unconvincing, but not entirely unbelievable; hence, this is a small flaw, especially in a movie not intended as a romance. Third, the ending is strange, and not entirely logical. I believe this resulted from Gilliam's own indecision and ambivalence: It's nearly impossible to have an ending that is deliberately subtle and unexplained, and leaves the audience debating, and yet remain logical and coherent. The woman on the plane - the scientist - is there to get a sample (if I understood the director's comments), yet she is exposing herself to the virus. In the beginning, Cole was told that a break in his suit would bar him from returning from the surface, presumably because he would be carrying the virus. How then is the scientist supposed to go back if she has been similarly exposed? There are a few possibilities, but they are embarrassingly far-fetched. Convoluted? Yes, but this movie has substance, unlike so many "hits" that should shame their directors, producers and other garbage men. The DVD (Collectors Edition) is very well done. The commentary augments the experience a lot, and the "Making of..." is interesting. The video quality is good, though not the best possible for a DVD. Unlike most DVD purchasers, I tend to be parsimonious in my ratings. A 4.5 would be the most accurate because of the few minor flaws in this package."
From time to time.
Greg Hughes | 12/17/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the film "The Terminator" we were told the future was not set. In "12 Monkeys" we're told we can't change what's already happened. This is a really clever film by Terry Gilliam about time travel and the danger it presents if we interfere with history.In the 21st century, only one per cent of the human race remains. They live in shelters underground. A deadly virus is in the atmosphere, making the surface of the planet uninhabitable to humans. The animals roam free, amid the crumbling ruins of our cities. Beneath the city of Philadelphia, a group of scientists send James Cole (Bruce Willis) on a reconnaiscence. When he is on the surface he finds a red logo of monkeys circling a big "12". Beneath the logo is the caption: "We did it!" James is then sent back in time to find the source of the virus. He links the virus to the Army of the 12 Monkeys, a fanatical group of animal rights activists. Once he can track them down, a scientist from the future can come back to our time, study the virus, go back to the future and make a cure. But things dont go according to plan...This film examines the danger of messing around with time. We can unwittingly be responsible for things that we try to prevent. Actions always count. "12 Monkeys" has an allegorical flavour. The scientists in the future have found the secret of time travel but they still haven't beaten the virus. In our time we can send people into space but we still haven't found a cure for AIDS or the common cold. You have to pay more attention to this film than you would with your normal action film. Much of the film is cryptic and ambiguous. If you like this film I recommend you read the John Wyndham short story "Consider Her Ways". It was written in 1956 and involves a virus that killed all the men. When the main character tries to stop this from happening, she unwittingly causes the very thing she was trying to prevent. You'll find this story in the book "Consider Her Ways and Others"."