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'12 Monkeys 1995' Twelve Monkey's, Two Mental Patients and a Lone Time Traveler, Walk into a Bar... 23/09/2016

Figure 1: 'Twelve Monkeys (1995)' Film Introduction
This film review will focus on the film 'Twelve Monkeys (1995)', the story is set in the year 2035, where humanity has been brought to the edge of extinction by a deadly virus of unknown origin. With a team of scientists and our main character, James Cole is sent into the past to gather information. However James and his companion Kathryn Railly soon discover that what they set out to do cannot be changed.

The film was released in 1995, was directed by Terry Gilliam and produced by Charles Roven. The cinematography was done by Roger Pratt and the score for 'Twelve Monkeys (1995)' was created by Paul Buckmaster. This film was based heavily on another film made in 1962 called 'La Jetee', the logic being the same which is that a man is sent into the past to stop a great catastrophe from happening. The method used to send James into the past is via severe drugging and neuroscience, same as La Jetee.

La Jetee was also reviewed on this blog a while back, the response from the film was that "The film works as a film, however, due to the way it has been made you would think that this film was made by a college student with an extremely limited budget and very little time." Whilst some decisions on the film artistically and symbolically were very good, it still seemed like it was somewhat of a shadow of something else it 'could' be, and that is what 'Twelve Monkeys' really is in a nutshell.

You can really see how La Jetee influenced this film, Terry Gilliam makes no secret of this and references the film in the opening sequence stating "Inspired by the film 'La Jetee' written by Chris Marker." (Twelve Monkeys. 1995)

It almost took the film of La Jettee, fixed it up, gave it a bit of color, sound, symbolism, and acting, and the film played out decently, almost what La Jettee should have been. "Terry Gilliam may be the most gifted cinematic surrealist since Luis Buñuel and, while his newest film fits more squarely into the category of science fiction than that of fantasy, his quirky, disquieting, and thoroughly unique vision is on full display once again." (M Savlov. 1996)

Figure 2: The outside world
The art design for the film mainly in the beginning is super strong and really shows what has not only happened to humanity but how everyone has had to adapt to their narrative challenge in a short space of time. The suit that James wears is designed to be protective, but at the same time show how he is very vulnerable. The outside plastic layer of the suit allowing you to see into the actual undersuit, which even then we see layers upon layers being put onto a single man before embarking outside still feels not fully protected, almost like someone with Mysophobia.

James fears of contamination are conveyed through the suit really well, the design choices for a sort of hybrid between Sci-Fi and Steampunk slapped together technology works quite well and is quite nice to look at.

Right from the start of the film some of the symbolism in the set designs are really quite genius, the most significant of all of them are the monkey cages and the interrogation room. The monkey cages (or prison cells) portray the humans almost as animals, like some sort of mass animal farm. The prisoners act very aggressively when inside the cages almost giving the whole area a maddened atmosphere, which sets the stage pretty much for the whole film.

The second set, the interrogation room is themed about being bizarre. There is the huge spherical contraption which looks like it came from another world and behind it is six mysterious scientists dressed in pure white labcoats. The whole first sequence of the film is pretty much an animal testing lab, but instead of using monkeys, rats or rabbits, they use humans. It really shows at the very start how the scientists are playing gods, giving a feeling of intimidation, fear and being a part of something greater.

The snowy landscape of the abandoned city also is really good at making the viewer think about what happened here which made the city so desolate. It is mentioned at the start of the film that "5 Billion people will die from a deadly virus in 1997, the survivors will abandon the surface of the planet, once again animals will rule the world". 

Most weapons of destruction would be associated with bombs, bullets, and blades, so for there to be some sort of weapon that destroys all humans without creating any kind of trace that it even existed is quite terrifying. A weapon that has the same destructive properties as the meteorite that wiped out
the dinosaurs millions of years ago, but it cannot even be seen by the naked eye.

Figure 3: James Cole & Jeffery Goines
The music for twelve monkeys is probably one of the film's highlights, composed by Paul Buckmaster the main theme for the film is something unique, really selling the insanity of the film. The soundtrack, unfortunately, makes one of the film most glaring problems much more apparent, the story's plot. From a narrative perspective, there isn't anything wrong with the film but the plot is a bit jumbled, which is much more apparent when paired with the soundtrack, because the soundtrack almost compliments the film's jumbledness. The plot of the story is a little hard to understand unless you've taken some time to understand it but it doesn't really kill the film, but makes you struggle to immersive yourself in this insane world.

The characters in the film are very well executed, Bruce Willis as James Cole and Brad Pitt as Jeffery Goines, in particular are extremely well done. Bruce's character James Cole is sold really well as someone who is genuinely freaked out by what's happening to him, having this edgy, mad side to James makes him seem almost mental with a slight amount of sanity inside him. He may also be the main character of the film but the focus is not always on him, events are set in motion by him and that translates over really well into all of the characters.

Brad Pitt, on the other hand, gets to play as the mental patient Jeffery Goines, and is absolutely exceptional, literally acting like he's seriously mental. "Brad Pitt plays Jeffrey, and he is excellent. His star power undimmed by a bad haircut and jittery mannerisms, he manages to infuse his character with a weirdly charismatic charm, even when Jeffrey sounds most like an ecological terrorist. Better still, Pitt's attention-grabbing talent for mesmerizing through wild-eyed ranting is used here to nicely ambiguous effect." (J Leydon. 1996). 

His character has an unpredictability factor to him which makes him not only hilarious to watch but really quite terrifying. Being awkwardly close to people and just acting generally obsessive in most situations makes Jeffery turn from mental patient from the start of the film into the films terrifying wild card by the end of it, and although the plot twist may not have let Jeffery's character shine as much as was expected of him, his character is the perfect diversion for the film's real villain.

Figure 4: Madeline Stowe
Madeleine Stowes character Kathryn Railly is the only real character who has some glaring problems, the main issue being is the relationship build-up with James Cole. From the very start her character is very strong, but then as the story begins to pick up for no reason she turns from the strong female character into a stereotypical clingy damsel in distress with a hint of madness. It's quite hard to understand how Kathryn goes from these two states with the short amount of time she spends with one man. It's a shame because her character was built so strongly from the start but just collapsed towards the end.

Overall this film is a very good watch, but should definitely be seen after you have seen 'La Jettee' for some seriously nice comparisons. To see how a film can directly influence new media is super interesting to watch and is an experience that no-one should really miss out on. "The movie is not, however, a straightforward action thriller."( R Ebert. 1996) Whilst the film can be confusing it has super interesting characters, brilliant set design, and a soundtrack which can't really be forgotten. This film is an old generation remade for a modern audience and it shines very well despite its flaws.


Leydon, J. (1996) ‘Monkey shines’.
(Accessed on 23 September 2016)

Savlov, M. (1996) Film review: Twelve monkeys. 
(Accessed on 23 September 2016)

Ebert, R (1996) 12 Monkeys
(Accessed on 23 September 2016)


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