tek's rating: ¼

12 Monkeys (R)
A.V. Club; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Universal; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu

This came out in 1995. I think at some point I must have seen it on TV or video or something, though I couldn't say exactly when... anytime from the mid 90s to early 00s. But I didn't remember anything about it at all, except that I don't think I really liked it much. Still, I thought I should see it again someday, so I finally did, in 2014. And this time I ended up liking it better than I did the first time, though it took awhile to get into it. And even then, it's more that I liked the ideas contained in the movie than that I actually enjoyed watching it. (Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it at all, because I did, just not as much as I might have hoped.) It does have some neat time travel paradoxes or whatever. And it's interesting that for part of the film, I wasn't 100% certain whether what seemed to be going on was really going on, or if the main character was just insane. From the beginning, it seemed most likely to be really happening, and I could imagine some viewers never questioning it... which personally I think would be less fun than questioning. But, to each their own. Anyway, I do want to mention that before I started watching the movie this time around, I was thinking there was a good chance I'd put my review under "weird" instead of "science fiction," and that thought persisted even longer than it took me to start liking the movie. But ultimately, I'd say the latter category fits slightly better.

Anyway, Bruce Willis plays a guy named James Cole, who is a prisoner living in a post-apocalyptic future. Wikipedia says it's 2035, but I never saw or heard a year in the movie. That sounds about right, though, because the character had been a young boy in 1996, when most of the movie is set. It was in late 1996 that a virus had killed five billion people, leaving the remnants of the human race to move underground. Cole is offered a pardon for his crimes in exchange for "volunteering" to be sent back to 1996, to look for information about "the Army of the Twelve Monkeys," who were believed to be responsible for unleashing the virus. It's made clear that the past can't be changed, so the mission isn't to stop the virus, but to find a pure form of it that scientists could use to create a cure, which would allow humanity to return to the surface.

On his first trip to the past, he's accidentally sent to 1990, and ends up getting arrested, and sent to a mental institution. Apparently, the time travel process messes with one's head so much that even someone like Cole, who's been chosen because of having a "strong mind," turns into a raving, drooling lunatic. At least initially. By the time he'd started to regain some composure, he was talking about being from the future, which of course didn't make him seem any saner. He meets a psychiatrist named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), who was interested in his case because she had a sense of having seen him before. (Throughout the film, I kept thinking he'd later go back further in time and meet her in passing, but that never happened. It wasn't until after the movie was over that I realized why she'd had that feeling about him, though I should have figured it out while watching the movie.) He also meets an inmate at the asylum named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), who's obviously (and rather amusingly) nuts. At one point, Jeffrey tries to help him escape, but Cole ends up getting captured again, and then mysteriously vanishes.

He finds himself back in his own time, but soon gets sent back to the past, this time to 1996. Dr. Railly is now famous, having had a book published. After giving a lecture, she's kidnapped by Cole, who forces her to help him look for the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, which turns out to be led by Jeffrey, who's now out of the asylum, and working for his father, a virologist (Christopher Plummer). Eventually, Cole returns to his own time, but by then, Railly had convinced him that he was insane, and the future he remembered had never happened. He desperately wanted to believe that, anyway. So he convinces the scientists to send him back to the past, planning to find Railly again so she could help him get well. Ironically, by the time he returns, she had come to believe everything he'd been saying was true, so she tries to help him evade the police.

And I guess that's all I want to say about the plot. The movie definitely has some interesting ideas, and it's all pretty dramatic and tragic and whatnot. And everyone does a decent job of acting. Yes, it's a good movie, but still... I'm just not sure if I'm ever going to want to see it again.


science fiction index