For the record, Twelve Monkeys was suggested to me as a rewatch to tie in with the Groundhog Day theme, however, there is no way that Twelve Monkeys is a Groundhog Day film. No ifs, buts, or maybes… it’s a time travel film rather than a time loop film. But, having got it cued up and ready to roll, it seems rude not to watch it.
Besides, I fell in love with his filmmaking style with Brazil, so it’s not like it’s a chore or anything!
Twelve Monkeys is set, initially, in 2035. The Earth has been ravaged by an unspecified disease, forcing the few survivors to, quite literally, go underground. Good grief, I hope we’re not still in lockdown until then!
Our hero, James Cole (Bruce Willis), is a prisoner who is earning remission by going above ground, to get biological samples to try and develop a cure. Then he is offered full parole if he agrees to be sent back in time to try and prevent the Army Of The Twelve Monkeys from releasing the virus in the first place… or bring back a fresh sample of the virus. Either will do.
Science Ain’t An Exact Science With These Clowns
Anyway, as is the way with cutting edge science, especially when it’s done using the ramshackle steampunk equipment that Terry Gilliam excels in, things go wrong.
Cole is supposed to go back to 1996, just before the virus gets out. Unfortunately, he ends up back in 1990 and none of his contacts or verifications are in place. With everyone thinking he’s a dangerous lunatic, he gets committed. While he’s locked away he meets Jeffery Goines (Brad Pitt), who ends up setting up the Army Of The Twelve Monkeys, thanks to talking to James… if anyone wants to get in touch with Alanis Morissette…
Quite wisely the how’s and why’s of the time travelling process are pretty much ignored, but there are obviously ways of bringing James back, and they subsequently do. Back he goes again, but this time he manages to end up naked in a WWI trench and gets shot, before he finally ends up in 1996, where (or when!) he should have been the first time around.
Now, rather than carrying on and ruining it for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet I’ll stop there, but not before I say that there still twists and turns to come, and despite what I said earlier, there is the merest suggestion of a loop.
All I See Are Dead People
Now you may think I’ve got my films muddled, but that is actually a line delivered by Bruce Willis in Twelve Monkeys! Here’s hoping the predicted humanity shattering plague isn’t similarly accurate.
Now despite this not really being eligible for the Groundhog Day round up, I was glad of the excuse to watch it again. Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt are both excellent. Apparently both actors worked for comparatively low rates in order to work with Terry Gilliam.
In effect, Willis worked for free, only getting paid after release and when the returns started. Pitt was a relative unknown when the film was shot but, as is often the case with Gilliam’s films, there was a long delay between shooting and release. Long enough for Interview With The Vampire, Legends Of The Fall, and Se7en to be released, boosting his star status. Incidentally, Brad Pitt looks very much like the deranged person he’s playing thanks to some wonky contact lenses and Gilliam taking his cigarettes away during shooting! Also providing sterling service are the always brilliant David Morse and the woefully underused Simon Jones.
What I do need to do is try and find a way to see La Jetée, the 1962 released French short film that inspired Twelve Monkeys. While it shares the main plot points, it’s done in a way that is totally different. It’s a series of black and white photos put together as a photomontage. I can’t help but wonder, given his early days working with animation, what Terry Gilliam would have made of a remake along those lines. I’m sure it’d be well worth a look!
Movie Grade: A
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