Terry Gilliam Science Fiction Classic

An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Twelve Monkeys (1995)

PUBLISHED: 08:25 10 February 2018

Bruce Willis in the movie of the same name on the trail of The Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGram

Movies that tell a good story and have engaging personalities provide that all-important re-watch importance necessary for a wonderful movie. Arts editor Andrew Clarke introduces a series of idiosyncratic ideas for films That Might entertain if You’re in the mood for something different

Bruce Willis with Madeline Stowe in the science fiction classic Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGramBruce Willis with Madeline Stowe in the science fiction classic Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGram

Twelve Monkeys; dir: Terry Gilliam; starring: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt Christopher Plummer, David Morse. Cert: 15 (1995)

After you are aware of the lineage of this classic movie you can envision the trailer without any terrific difficulty. Cue the profound, gravely-voiced American narrator: “From the manager of Time Bandits and The Life of Brian and the authors of Blade Runner, comes a movie that turns time in on itself….See Bruce Willis as you’ve not seen him earlier as a man on the run across the centuries battling a virus that could ruin the Earth….”

All of that is true but instead reduces a complicated and nuanced picture into a series of stock clichés.

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt with director Terry Gilliam on the set of Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGramBruce Willis and Brad Pitt with manager Terry Gilliam on the pair of Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGram

Twelve Monkeys is likely Terry Gilliam’s most complicated film and it is definitely his masterpiece. He seamlessly combines a dystopian drama with a quirky, at times humorous, off-the-wall, delivery that just Terry Gilliam can visualise.

This is a intricate film which demands that you pay attention but that involvement is nicely rewarded with a perspective of the future that’s chillingly plausible. It also provides Bruce Willis a rare opportunity to throw his wise-cracking, devil-may-care action persona and gets to play it straight — or as straight as you get into a Terry Gilliam movie.

Bruce plays with James Cole, a convict out of the long run, 2015 to be precise, a future in which humankind has been laid waste by a virulent plague. At the introduction of this movie we see Cole living with a handful of additional human survivors in a subterranean refuge put together out of scrap and trash found in the wreckage of buildings.

Bruce Willis with Madeline Stowe in the science fiction classic Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGramBruce Willis with Madeline Stowe in the science fiction classic Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGram

It’s less surreal than Brazil, significantly less crowded compared to Blade Runner, but it shares a similar dismal vision of their future with both of these movies.

In 2035, the few surviving people scrape a make do and repair dwelling in the underground tunnels and cellars of nyc. It’s not safe out on the roads. Most of the populace could be d**d (we know that 5 billion people have died) has enabled the wildlife to reclaim the roads including some of the more ferocious inhabitants of Central Park Zoo.

It becomes clear this isn’t a natural plague, it has been published by a terrorist team and Cole has been selected to journey back into the past, discover who developed the virus and prevent it from being set up in the long run.

Bruce Willis with Brad Pitt in the science fiction classic Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGramBruce Willis with Brad Pitt in the science fiction classic Twelve Monkeys. Photo PolyGram

Unsurprisingly time travel isn’t an specific science and they have a couple of tries to get it right before landing in 1990, the year it is believed that work first began on the virus.

This is science fiction with no space ships and lights that are flashing. This is a movie about ideas however, Terry Gilliam provides the movie an almost operatic sense with its expansive urban landscapes, huge regions of desolation and enormous skyrise tower blocks.

Although the visuals are striking, this is really a movie about character and it is the characters and the story which arouses this movie ahead. At 130 minutes it is a very long movie but it never feels as though it is dragging. Everything is tight and sharp and we’re engrossed through the operating time.

Bruce Willis’s James Cole arrives at 1990 battered and bruised and is immediately sectioned and put in a secure unit since he is babbling about being from the future. Here he meets two important individuals — Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), his psychiatrist, and fellow inmate Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). It turns out that youthful Goines dad, played with suave callousness by Christopher Plummer, may be the man growing the virus in his labs.

Cole should get access to this virus before it mutates that it did in 1996 as it jumped from animals to people. He also stages a daring escape and reappears in 1996 and pleads with the stunned and perplexed Dr Railly to help him track 12 reptiles carrying the first virus in an antidote can be found.

It goes without mentioning that Willis’ James Cole is a charmer, so that she agrees to help him but it quickly becomes apparent that these scientists are not engaged in pure research as many bad men are intent on protecting them out of history.

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Brad Pitt plays with a smaller but pivotal role as the odd psychological patient and offers some wonderful off the wall moments that make Gilliam’s movies so interesting. It become more interesting when we discover he an animal rights activist.

The movie isn’t a action thriller. Nor can it be that a life threatening science fiction psychologist. Rather it is a thoughtful look at what happens as soon as the achievements of science outstrip our abilities to control what we have created and what happens when our ethics and morals become lost in the confusion.