12 Monkeys (1995)

12 monkeys poster 1995 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking, Willis and Pitt

Stowe’s character feels a bit shoehorned in at points

Movie Info

Movie Name: 12 Monkeys

Studio: Universal Studios

Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s): December 8, 1995 (Premiere)/December 27, 1995 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

12 monkeys animal headquarters message

What is the source of the virus?

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is crazy…or he could be from the future.  When Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) questions Cole in 1990, he tells of a world of 2035 where humanity lives underground due to a plague and animals rule the surface.  Cole disappears and reappears to Dr. Railly in 1996 with claims that he’s returned from the future again to try to research the release of the virus by the Army of the 12 Monkeys.  Cole discovers that he might have inadvertently might have a deeper tie to the virus through a former patient at the asylum named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who has his own plans for the future.  The 12 Monkeys are coming, but what will it mean for humanity?

Directed by Terry Gilliam, 12 Monkeys is a science-fiction thriller mystery.  The film is a loose and expanded adaptation of the French experimental 1962 short film La Jetée by Chris Marker.  The film was released to positive reviews and received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Pitt) and Best Costume Design.

12 monkeys brad pitt insane

“I’m seeing Oscar noms, James!”

12 Monkeys was one of those films that everyone talked about.  It had a lot of buzz surrounding its release, but I didn’t get to see it until after it reached VHS (college was rough on movie viewing).  The film is creative and different and was a nice showcase for Willis and Pitt to demonstrate range that they hadn’t done often at this point.  Due to plot points, a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

The movie is puzzle box, but it doesn’t seem like that complex of a puzzle box in many ways.  The film opens with Willis’s character’s dream of an airport and a man being gunned down.  This dream plagues him through the movie and (of course) is eventually revealed to be something he saw as a child.  It feels like as the viewer, you are supposed to be aware of this much sooner than Willis’s character and as a result you know Willis is headed toward doom.  In a movie where there is nothing random, every action has consequences, and the timeline is immutable.  It is a train wreck in slow motion, but in a way, Stowe’s character should have known better.  It is revealed however that the future is also working against Cole who they realize could potentially jeopardize the timeline…Cole cannot escape the time loop.

12 monkeys future bruce willis

Guys…couldn’t you just talk to me?

Willis was in the height of Bruce Willis action movies when he made 12 Monkeys12 Monkeys however was a much more brooding and darker character than many of his previous roles.  The character feels a lot like many of the roles he played after 12 Monkeys, but it felt different for him at the time.  Likewise, Brad Pitt had exploded as the heartthrob when 12 Monkeys was released, but he too shows a different side as the manic Goines.  Madeleine Stowe’s doctor falls too easily into a Stockholm syndrome situation (written off as a “feeling” about Willis), but I prefer when they have more of a patient doctor relationship that feels like the film They Might Be Giants.  Other actors appearing include Christopher Plummer, David Morse, Frank Gorshin, and Christopher Meloni.

12 monkeys brad pitt christopher plummer

All the good sons kidnap their dads

The movie is rather visually compelling and similar in many ways to Gilliam’s other science-fiction films.  The movie has a lot of thematic and visual similarities to Brazil regarding mental health and unflinching futures…plus accidents and coincidences shaping things.  The view of the future could as easily been the world of Brazil or even Time Bandits…it has that Gilliam style.

12 Monkeys is an interesting trip that likes to fold in on itself.  Scenes like the ties to Vertigo create parallels in the film (and also was referenced in La Jetée in the tree scene).  Gilliam gets his monkey references in heavy and in that sense creates the odd humor that laces much of his work while still being a horrifying view of the future.  In a way, the whole movie is a comedy of errors, and the errors damn the human race because of Willis’s involvement in many ways…which is the biggest joke of all.

Related Links:

La Jetée (1962)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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