Twelve Monkeys, directed by Terray Gilliam, is a dystopian science-fiction film set in the year 2035. Most of humanity has perished; only 1% of the population remain underneath the surface where they are shielded from the deadly effects of a virus that had plagued the earth several decades ago. James Cole (Bruce Willis), a convict in an underground research and residence facility, is sent back into the past to gather information about the man-made virus. His journey leads him to meet characters such as Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), an academic with a past connection to Cole and Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a schizophrenic inmate at a psych ward.
I’ll be upfront: this film drove me crazy. Yet I must watch it again at some point to truly grasp what the hell was going on. There were far too many unanswered questions in this movie for my liking and not enough context given to the actual virus that the characters were so desperate to learn more about. My main frustration with this movie was that it failed to explain its dynamics of time travel:
- Do the actions of the past directly affect the future in the same timeline or is an alternate timeline created?
- Does travelling through time distort one’s consciousness?
- Can someone be randomly snatched out of a time period and placed into another without any restrictions? What is the technology enabling this to happen?
The virus was also never really explained well. It was lazily used as a placeholder to allow other things to happen in the film. I really hate it when films do this; if your movie it set in a post-apocolyptic future, please give the audience some context as to how we arrived in such a scenario. Some questions about the virus I would’ve liked answers to included:
- How did the remaining 1% of humans manage to survive?
- What are the symptoms of this disease and how is it transmitted from person to person?
- The film recurrently uses insects for some purpose. Is this in anyway linked to the virus?
Onto some of the more technical aspects of Twelve Monkeys. The camerawork was wildly inconsistent and disappointing. In particular scenes, the hand-held like movements of the camera combined with the poor lighting felt like I was watching a low-budget sitcom. The acting was also a let-down. Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis felt like they were yearning for some sort of recognition; way too much overacting. The choice of music also felt odd at times. Gilliam makes use of nuevo tango, which is a sort of evolution of tango that incorporates orchestral string instruments and a bandoneón. The choice of music would’ve been appropriate for a film set in 1960s France, NOT in a post-apocalyptic flick set in the mean streets of Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Lets talk about the positives now, and to be honest – there weren’t too many. Though the plot lacked substance in certain areas and did feel like a wild and disorganized goose chase; the ending did subvert my expectations. It certainly wasn’t a conventional conclusion where “the good guy won” but nonetheless I admired the film’s bravery for concluding on a note that I did not expect. I also admired the subliminal messaging about environmentalism and corporate greed sprinkled throughout the plot. It was certainly ahead of its time.
But that’s about everything positive that I can say about Twelve Monkeys. Overall, it was an underwhelming movie for me because of its ridiculously over-the-top performances, unanswered questions, mediocre style of filming and poor choice of music.