Willis, Madeline Stowe, and Brad Pitt
Screenplay by David Peoples and Janet Peoples
Based on the French film Le Jetee by Chris Marker
Directed by Terry Gilliam
WARNING: Cranky is an animation fiend. 12 Monkeys director
Terry Gilliam made his name as the American member of Monty Python's Flying
Circus -- the guy who did all the outrageous animations for that television
series. Cranky is a big fan. OK, you're warned. Python is the past, Monkeys
is the future. So let's look to the future....
Your life is a living hell.
It is, perhaps, a nightmare from which you cannot awake. Five billion people have
died on the surface of the Earth from some kind of virus; the survivors hide underground.
Primitive time travel technology will allow you to move back in time, to gather
information that could lead to a vaccine or a cure. But the Law being what it
is, you cannot change the Past to affect the Future.
Then again, you might be totally
crackers insane, out of your mind.
Welcome to the world of 12
Bruce Willis plays Cole,
the Traveler. He must seek out the origins of the "Army of 12 Monkeys"
for it is believed that this army brought about the destruction of the world.
Cole's memories of life before the virus come to him in fragmented dreams. They
must be dreams. If they were memories, well, why is his shrink in them?
That would be Madeline Stowe,
as Dr. Kathryn Railly. She first met Cole in 1990, treating the drooling, disoriented,
superhumanly strong man in an institution for the insane. At that time, he escaped
from a straight jacket while locked in a room with no possible means to escape.
When they next meet, in 1996, she may convince him that he is insane. He may convince
her that he is telling the truth. Or his desperation may suck her into his insanity,
to the point that she develops feelings for her patient.
Or all three.
The third player in our story
is Jeffrey Goines, Cole's companion in the nut house, played by Brad Pitt.
His father is rich and powerful, and works with biological viruses. That's all
I need to say. Except that Pitt's performance is completely over the top. It is
visually insane. Pitt is almost monkey-like in his movements, and you would well
believe that the man is having the time of his life with this part.
12 Monkeys is a Terry
Gilliam film, which means nothing is simple. The future bears a resemblance
to the techno-gadget-dominated settings of Gilliam's Brazil. As in that
movie, the escape from an oppressive present could yield a (potentially) rosy
future. Sorry. I'm writing in symbolic, comparative terms that only a Gilliam
nut would comprehend. Or maybe a film student, I apologize. There is humor buried
in the horror buried in the insanity. There are layers and layers of tiny story
points that seem to have nothing to do with each other, but have everything to
do with each other. There are visual clues buried in advertisements on the sides
of buses, in four color slicks pasted on the sides of abandoned buildings, and
in department store promotional displays. The production detail is extraordinary,
and that alone merits multiple viewings of the film. If you're into that type
12 Monkeys was well written
by David Peoples and Janet Peoples, almost to the point of excess.
But what a glorious excess. It is a brilliant template to work from. This is not
a Die Hard- Bruce Willis action type of movie. Everything that is hinted
at will happen at some point in the movie, but there is so much of it that, like
Cole, you may very well find yourself totally discombobulated. There is too much
buried here to get it all in one viewing, which is typical of Gilliam's work.
It worked against him in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He pulled
back, and found great success, with The Fisher King. I can only guess that
12 Monkeys is an attempt to find a balance between visual detail and story
detail. But it is almost too much. During the first hour, you will sit and think
to yourself, "What the **** is going on?"
During the second hour, you
should be able to begin to pick apart the mystery. And by the time the movie ends
you will either walk out of the theater thinking, "Yep, just like they said
it would end..." Or you'll be terribly disappointed that the movie does not
tinker with time, as so many other time travel movies have.
Everything is laid out clear
as crystal from the first minute, and it is not until the very last minute that
it all makes perfect sense. That's a dangerously fine line to tread.
There was scattered booing in
the theater where I saw 12 Monkeys. This came, I believe, from the people
expecting Die Hard 4. The dozen or so patrons I spoke with afterwards all
enjoyed the film but, to a point, were disappointed with the ending. All for different
reasons. But, of this dozen, all associated Gilliam with his film Brazil,
rather than with his hit The Fisher King. Make of it what you will.
On average, a first run movie
ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for 12
Monkeys, he would have paid . . .
And that being said, I will
repeat: The script is brilliant, when all is said and done. The visuals are great.
And I will see this thing again -- indeed like most of Gilliam's films, I'll buy
a copy when the laserdisk comes out. But I would not have immediately reentered
the theater on another ticket.
12 Monkeys is, in turn,
inspired by the film La Jetee written by Chris Marker. Anyone out
there who would like to make a comparison is hereby invited to.