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'12 Monkeys': Terror in 2035
Jeffrey Goines is a young man with many bats in his belfry. Goines befriends fellow mental patient James Cole, a time-traveling detective from 2035 who is mistaken for a madman when he travels back to 1990.
Cole, a prisoner volunteered for the trip by a cabal of chilly scientists, was bound for 1996, the year a mutating virus killed off 99 percent of the Earth's population. Cole does manage to find some clues to the source of the virus and the mysterious Army of the 12 Monkeys, the terrorist group thought responsible for unleashing it.
Unfortunately, all this warping back and forth through the ages leaves Cole wondering if his
psychiatrist isn't right about his delusional diagnosis. Eventually,
Cole makes a believer of the psychiatrist, an expert in linking prophecy and madness.
Together the pair work to solve the mystery of the 12 monkeys, thus providing a better future
for humankind in the years after 2035. -- Rita Kempley
Gilliam's Barrel of 'Monkeys' Shines
By Desson Howe
When Cole is stuck in solitary confinement, he's whisked back to 2035 by the scientists. After an intense round of interrogation, the committee re-dispatches him to 1996, the year the virus is supposed to have struck.
Kidnapping Railly (who's still wondering what happened to Cole six years earlier), Cole attempts to honor his mission. His investigations lead him to a symbol for a strange, mysterious organization known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. Throughout his ordeals, Cole is haunted by a childhood memory, in which a man darts through panicked crowds at an airport, running away from an unseen pursuer. That recurring flashback becomes increasingly significant as the story progresses.
Director Gilliam, whose impressive resume includes "Brazil," "Time Bandits," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" and "The Fisher King," may not have written the script (his usual preference), but he's still very much in his element. In conjunction with set designer Jeffrey Beecroft and cinematographer Roger Pratt (director of photography for "Brazil" and "Batman"), he intermixes Gothic with high tech, old with new, and Orwell with a tad of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (the British comedy series for which Gilliam was animator).
Although he's great at building worlds of his own, Gilliam was never one for subtle fine-touching. His Baltimore asylum is a ward full of central casting "loonies" who stare catatonically ahead or speak of travel to fictional planets. When Cole falls in love with the fresh air of 1996 and goes bananas for Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"—as that world looks headed for disaster—the irony is way over the top. After Cole is forced to kidnap her, Railly goes rather abruptly from professional psychiatrist to slightly nutty romantic runaway. ("I'm in trouble here," she says. "I'm losing my faith.") The finale is not quite as mind-blowing as the film leads you to expect. And must we always have a dwarf walking through a scene to contribute to its surrealistic "weirdness"?
In a movie in which time travel is used to rectify the past, it's too bad scriptwriters David and Janet Peoples didn't go through the time/space tunnel to work on that first draft again. But Willis and Pitts's performances, Gilliam's atmospherics and an exhilarating momentum easily outweigh such trifling flaws. And who can forget a movie in which lions and brown bears prowl a ravaged, deserted, snow-driven Manhattan?
12 MONKEYS (R) — Contains dire visions of the future, violence, profanity and sexual situations.
‘12 Monkeys’: Infectious Sci-Fi
By Rita Kempley
A virulent plague has forced humankind underground in the mesmerizing "12 Monkeys," a densely plotted, visually dynamic post-apocalyptic thriller. Director Terry Gilliam revisits topics he explored in "Brazil" and "The Fisher King": terrorism, time travel, physical confinement, ancient prophecy, the tyranny of science, and the narrow divide between sanity and madness. It is, to say the very least, an intricate and demanding film.
Viewers unaccustomed to the conventions of the sci-fi genre and the method to Gilliam's madness may find themselves lost: He has a tendency both to leap through time and space, and to crosscut between internal and external landscapes. But aficionados of the futuristic will revel in the narrative's cyclical inventiveness. Alas, the picture may be destined to become a cult classic rather than a box office blockbuster despite the broad appeal of stars Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt.
But Pitt, who buoyed the somber thriller "Seven," may do the same for "12 Monkeys." Here he plays the cross-eyed, charismatic Jeffrey Goines, a young man with many bats in his belfry. The son of a renowned virologist (Christopher Plummer), Goines befriends fellow mental patient James Cole (Willis), a time-traveling detective from 2035 who is mistaken for a madman when he travels back to 1990.
Cole, a prisoner volunteered for the trip by a cabal of chilly scientists, was bound for 1996, the year a mutating virus killed off 99 percent of the Earth's population. But his clunky time machine is no more foolproof than the invasive ductwork of "Brazil." Cole does, however, manage to find some clues to the source of the virus and the mysterious Army of the 12 Monkeys, the terrorist group thought responsible for unleashing it.
Unfortunately, all this warping back and forth through the ages leaves Cole wondering if his psychiatrist, Dr. Kathryn Railly (Stowe), isn't right about his delusional diagnosis. Like 1962's "La Jetee," the French art film that inspired it, the screenplay by David Peoples ("Unforgiven") and his wife, Janet, is purposefully ambiguous about the hero's state of mind. Not only is he drugged, it's also entirely possible that he's dreaming. Certainly there's a hallucinatory quality about the subterranean shambles from which he claims to have emerged.
Eventually, Cole makes a believer of the lucid-seeming Dr. Railly, an expert in linking prophecy and madness. Together the pair work to solve the mystery of the 12 monkeys, thus providing a better future for humankind in the years after 2035. Unfortunately, the past cannot be altered and happy endings, like Einstein's theories, are relative.
Jim Cameron's 1984 "The Terminator" was every bit as fatalistic about mankind's survival as this film is, and yet it seems that "12 Monkeys" truly reflects our time. We're not afraid of holocausts wrought by computers or nuclear weapons; Ebola, AIDS and other emerging, rapidly mutating viruses have replaced those bugaboos in our nightmares.
Here as in "Outbreak," monkey business relates to man's careless and ongoing destruction of the ecosystem, and at times, "12 Monkeys" is all too blatantly a pulpit for contemporary causes of postmodern malaise. At least the writers have the good sense to use Pitt's wonderfully twitchy Jeffrey as their mouthpiece.
Dr. Railly laments that "psychiatry is the new religion," but she is the one who has lost her faith. Until she hooks up with Cole, she has also lost the ability to appreciate the world around her. Cole sticks his head out the car window like a dog and joyously gulps in the polluted Eastern Seaboard air. He begs her to turn up the radio, the better to relish Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill."
Willis brings both an explosive physicality and a compelling vulnerability to the battered, eternally bewildered Cole. Stowe, well cast as the sympathetic doctor, brightens the gloom of the story and reminds us that even in Sodom, some are worth saving.
12 Monkeys is rated R for violence and profanity.