12 Monkeys (1995)

The Future is History.

Last August i discovered Chris Marker’s 1962 La Jetée, a science-fiction short created through a series of black and white, still photographs and woven together by a narration. The 28 minute short was a display of utter brilliance and become an acknowledged sci-fi classics. When i read that it was later adapted into feature length film i was so intrigued by how they gonna expand the narration. More importantly if it made it into a better film or not.

In a future world devastated by disease, a convict James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to gather information about the origin of man-made virus that was released in 1996. The virus wiped out most of the human population on the planet and force the survivors to live underground. He must looked for clues and find the 12 Monkeys, a rouge environmentalist group responsible for releasing the lethal virus.
Time travel is always a fascinating subjects. The premise of correcting past mistakes to fix the future is always an appealing concept to me. 12 Monkeys uses this exact premise, intertwined with themes of death and madness, as well as dreams and perceptions, truth and false memories. Which appeared most recently in Rian Johnson’s similarly time-travel themed Looper (2012), which also featured Bruce Willis as the lead. Like Looper, 12 Monkeys play with non-linear timeline, Gilliam obviously handle the story with such finesse that the story unravel with ease, when this type of approach can easily went astray and ended up confusing the audience. The post-apocalyptic future is so odd and off, leaning towards tech-noir fused with steam punk look instead of the usual sleek minimalistic future the recent sci-fi films are so fond of. It was a reminiscent of what i saw in La Jetée and more.
Both Willis and Brad Pitt stood out in their respective roles. Willis as the lead who started out as strong and confident hero, later become confused and vulnerable, as he lost his grip in what is real and reality started to blur. Leaving me expecting for a further exploration to his psychological descent to madness. Pitt simply brilliant in his scenes in the mental institution. He twitches, jerks, and stammers with a glimmers of insanity sparked by intelligence beneath it all. A role that give him his first Academy Awards nomination for supporting actor category as well as his first Golden Globe win in the same category.
I might not be familiar with Gilliam works yet (although Brazil had been in my watchlist forever) and i’ve only seen The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus (which is way too bizarre, even for my taste). But i think he did a great job in directing and deliver a fluid story considering the strength of the source material. I still prefer the La Jetée. I might’ve wished for a darker, colder, and bleaker story after all. But 12 Monkeys remains as a very thought-provoking film and should be a consider a landmark in sci-fi genre and its time travel sub genre.

I’d like to think, maybe there’s no such thing as changing the future after all.

12M0012 Monkeys (1995)

GENRE Science Fiction
DIRECTOR Terry Gilliam | PRODUCER Charles Roven | WRITER David Peoples, Janet Peoples | MUSIC Paul Buckmaster | CINEMATOGRAPHER Roger Pratt | EDITOR Mick Audsley | STUDIO Atlas Entertainment, Classico | DISTRIBUTOR Universal Pictures | COUNTRY United States | BUDGET $29.5 million | RUNNING TIME 127 minutes | RATING R for violence and language throughout | RELEASE December 29, 1995
STARRING Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer

Screen captures taken from Blu-Ray.comIMDb 


TV movie adaptation of 12 Monkeys will be released in 2014 with Aaron Stanford will be taking the role of James Cole. There’s also a rumored TV series adapted by Syfy Network.


4 thoughts on “12 Monkeys (1995)

  1. Agreed, at least on this film. Haven’t seen the short (didn’t even know 12 Monkeys was based on a short), but this is a good film with quality characters and strong performances from the three principle leads.

    • You should watch the short that inspire this film if you could James! :) Maybe a rental near you have the Criterion disc for Chris Marker’s La Jetée and Sans Soleil :)

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