Jessie’s Saturday Night Fright Flick: Terry Gilliam’s TWELVE MONKEYS



Movie junkie Jessie Robbins picks a fright flick for a Saturday night.


When I was in college, or rather, one of the few times I made a brief appearance at an institute of post-secondary education, one of the classes I made a point to attend was Philosophy.  One day our professor set up a projector and we were all losing our minds at the thought of watching what we thought was a “movie”, when in reality it was more of a narration set to photographs. That film was a little short called LA JETEE (1962).  The movie was about a man from the future, sent back to find out the cause of a virus that wipes out most of the population and while on his journey, he falls in love. The film moved me pretty deeply; the prof armed us with a transcription of the narration of the film, just a few pages long, and we were to write a report. I HATE writing about movies (obvious sarcasm).  When I went home that weekend I read the narration to my mom, and when I neared the end I suddenly burst into tears like a child, moved by the sadness experienced by the main character, the way he saw the world as so beautiful.

A few years later TWELVE MONKEYS came on the TV.  I was pretty excited because while not knowing much about the film, I had heard great things about it.  Suddenly across the screen flashed “Based on the film LA JETEE written by Chris Marker”, and I sighed.  I knew the ending to this film already.  Already knowing how the story ends, however, sometimes doesn’t make for a crappy film watching experience.  Shout out to the girl who blurted out the entire plot to THE REVENANT while I sat waiting for my veggie burger.

In 1999 a virus wiped out most of the population of the earth forcing the survivors to move underground, and desperately try to find a cure for the virus by sending prisoners up above (in hazmat suits) to collect specimens to study.  Bruce Willis plays James Cole, one of the convicts, who gets recruited into a strange new technique the scientists are trying.  They want to send him back in time, find the disease, and bring it back, so that they can make a cure, all Cole knows is that something called The Army of the 12 Monkeys is behind it.

Brad Pitt also stars in this Terry Gilliam psychological thriller as probably the creepiest character he has ever played, a loud, twitchy and skew-eyed patient in an insane asylum.  Not cute.  It might be one of his most versatile roles, he completely shed the handsome leading man charisma and adopted a completely irredeemable character.

Madeleine Stowe plays Dr. Kathryn Railly, who first meets Cole in the insane asylum he originally finds himself in after his initial time-travel adventure. Railly gets pulled into things and struggles with the logic behind what Cole claims to be true.

James Cole is a tragic character, trying to free himself from the bowels of his future underground hell while attempting to unravel the mystery of The Army of the 12 Monkeys, he reaches out to the beauty of the world he had to leave behind, the air, the music. Willis does a great job at capturing his emotional frailty and longing. Doesn’t matter that Bruce Willis kind of reminds me of my dad so of course any time Bruce Willis is sad, I’m sad.

I love the score as well, a running line of accordion music that gives the film a lighter vibe, in a dark, strange world. And the world is strange. Cole’s future is a dream-like reality filled with strange people, strange contraptions and even stranger chairs. True to Gilliam form.  It is also ripe with symbolism and references so pay attention.

All in all TWELVE MONKEYS is a twisted thrill ride, and I apologize to anybody who was about to watch LA JETEE and has seen TWELVE MONKEYS. Or is about the watch TWELVE MONKEYS and has seen LA JETEE. Whatever. Curl up with some popcorn and a friend who doesn’t talk through movies and let your mind be boggled!


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Weekend: Oct. 24, 2019, Oct. 27, 2019

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