Saturday, December 29, 2012
Based on the short film La jetee by Chris Marker, 12 Monkeys is the story about a convicted criminal living in a post-apocalyptic world as he’s sent back in time to find information about a virus that is already plaguing the world as he later deals with trouble. Directed by Terry Gilliam and screenplay by David and Janet Peoples, the film is an exploration into the world of time-travel and chaos as a man deals with his past while doing whatever he can to save the future. Starring Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, David Morse, and Christopher Plummer. 12 Monkeys is a stylish yet mesmerizing sci-fi film from Terry Gilliam.
In a post-apocalyptic future where 1% of the world had survived a plague that had wiped out the human race, James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a convicted criminal who volunteers to take part in a time-travel experiment to retrieve information about the source of the virus that started the plague. In return, Cole would receive a pardon for his work as he is sent back to the period of 1996-1997 where the virus started. Yet, he finds himself in 1990 as he is sent to a psychiatric ward where he meets a crazed young man named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). At the hospital, he’s being examined where Cole learns that it’s 1990 while making claims to his doctors about a virus that is going to spread that is going to cause a plague. After an escape attempt with help from Goines, Cole returns back to the future where he reveals what went wrong.
The scientists send Cole back in time where he finally makes it to 1996 where he kidnaps a psychiatrist named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) who was Cole’s doctor at the hospital six years earlier as they drive from Baltimore to Philadelphia. Cole has discovered that Goines is the founder of an underground army known as the Twelve Monkeys as he hopes to confront Cole as he tries to search for him. Cole finally learns where Goines is as he is the son of a revered scientist (Christopher Plummer) where Cole finally confronts Goines only for things to become more confusing. After returning back to the future to reveal what he learned, Cole begins to doubt about everything he’s been through.
Back in 1996, Railly begins to review her diagnosis about Cole where she makes some startling discoveries that has her realizing what’s really going on. After convincing the scientists to send him back to 1996, he returns to 1996 where Railly meets him trying to tell him that a plague is really going to happen. Upon realizing what will happen, the two make a discovery about what is going on as Cole does whatever it takes to stop the plague from happening.
The film is essentially the story of a man going back in time to try and find out who started a plague that would nearly wipe out civilization while he deals with all sorts of things that has him confused about his mission. A lot of which has him encountering all sorts of people including a crazed man who would eventually lead an underground army that might’ve started the plague and a psychiatrist who would eventually piece out all of the things that he’s saying. During these missions and encounters, he also deals with recurring dreams where he sees a young boy witnessing a murder. Since it is inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La jetee about a man living in a post-apocalyptic world where he goes back in time and has a recurring dream about a boy (Joseph Melito) witnessing a man die. The film expands Marker’s short film into something far grander.
The screenplay definitely uses the basic elements of Marker’s short while adding more stakes to the story as well as a lot of ambiguity. Notably in the character of Jeffrey Goines who is this very crazy young man that the film’s protagonist meets where their encounter would have Goines come up with something big that would later drive the plot. Yet, Goines ends up becoming more abstract in his ambitions whether no one really knows what he’s up to and maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing as it’s up to James Cole to find out. Cole is a man who definitely has no idea what he’s doing as he seemed content to collect insects for samples to scientists while hoping to get a decent life. By taking part in this experiment, he becomes more confused about what is real as he eventually starts to realize what is going on.
Adding to Cole’s journey who would eventually play to his fate about whether it’s true or not is Kathryn Railly who doubts everything Cole says at first. Even as she would become some best-selling novelist who has a lot of theories about certain things only to realize that something could actually happen. Yet, she faces her own persecution from doctors and police when they believe that she has gone crazy. The screenplay not only succeeds in creating characters that are engaging as well as scenes that play out to the suspense of the film. It also features some small stories and dialogue relating to a missing boy that would play to what Cole knows and Railly’s realization about what is going on.
Terry Gilliam’s direction is definitely stylish for the way he presents the film as not just a sci-fi film but also something that feels modern where Gilliam was able to work around with his budget limitations. For the scenes in the future, Gilliam creates something that is filled with ruins as it’s set in Philadelphia and Baltimore where it seems like a world that is ravaged and animals are there to roam freely. While there is a bit of visual effects for a few scenes involving animals, it is set mostly in a world where it is grim and troubled as there’s a lot of strange things that play up to a future that is still trying to figure out its technology and its purpose.
For the scenes set in the 1990s, Gilliam keeps things simple in terms of the presentation though he goes for very stylistic slanted camera angles to help tell the story. A lot of which it to play up Cole’s view of the world where he has no idea where he is. Gilliam also employs lots of close-ups and medium shots to help tell the story while utilizing a few moments that pays homage to La jetee in the recurring dream sequences. Gilliam also uses wandering cameras to play up the suspense and drama that heightens things including the film’s climatic finale that captures the true spirit of Chris Marker’s famed short. Overall, Gilliam creates a truly marvelous and exhilarating film that does more in what is expected in a sci-fi film.
Cinematographer Roger Pratt does brilliant work with the film‘s vibrant yet stylish look from the somewhat grimy look of the futuristic scenes to more straightforward yet ethereal lighting schemes for the scenes set in the 1990s. Editor Mick Audsley does excellent work with the editing from the stylish montages of the dream scenes to the more rhythmic cuts for the film‘s suspenseful moments. Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, along with set decorator Crispian Sallis and art director William Ladd Skinner, does spectacular work with the set pieces from some of the decayed places set in the 1990s that Cole and Railly encounter to the more grimy look of the futuristic scenes with its TV ball.
Costume designer Julie Weiss does nice work with the costumes by keeping things straightforward for the most part though the character of Railly gets to wear the more stylish clothes throughout the film. Hair and makeup designer Christine Beveridge does terrific work with the look of the characters such as Jeffrey Goines‘ mid-90s look as well as other looks that were inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Sound editor Peter Joly does superb work with the sound work from the haunting atmosphere of the futuristic set pieces to the more chaotic sounds of the scenes in the 1990s. The film’s music by Paul Buckmaster is wonderful for its low-key yet soaring orchestral score to play out the drama as well as some playful themes for the Jeffrey Goines character. The rest of the soundtrack features music from Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, B.J. Cole, Tom Waits, and a score piece from Bernard Herrmann.
The casting by Margery Simkin is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Matt Ross and Lisa Gay Hamilton as a couple of activists, Carol Florence as a scientist who monitors Cole’s reports, Jon Seda as a fellow inmate of Cole, Christopher Meloni as a police lieutenant who interrogates Railly after her kidnapping, Joseph Melito as the boy in Cole’s dream, and David Morse as the assistant to Dr. Goines. Christopher Plummer is pretty good in a small role as Goines’ father who is bewildered by his son’s eccentric activities.
Brad Pitt is brilliant as Jeffrey Goines as a man who is extremely unpredictable and abstract as someone who is very outgoing as well as displaying a physicality that is just eerie to watch as it’s definitely one of Pitt’s great performances. Madeleine Stowe is wonderful as Kathryn Railly as a psychiatrist who tries to understand what Cole is doing only to piece up things that would raise lots of questions into what Cole is up to. Finally, there’s Bruce Willis in a remarkable performance as James Cole as a man seeking to find a way to a decent life only to take part in an experiment that has him confused as well as vulnerable as it’s definitely one of Willis’ finest performances.
12 Monkeys is a phenomenal film from Terry Gilliam that features top-notch performances from Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt. The film is definitely not just a great tribute to Chris Marker’s La jetee but also one of Gilliam’s most fully-realized and engaging films. It’s also one of Gilliam’s more accessible films in terms of its imagery as well as injecting small bits of humor into a story that is very bleak. In the end, 12 Monkeys is a triumphant film from Terry Gilliam.
Terry Gilliam Films: Jabberwocky - Time Bandits - Brazil - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - The Fisher King - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - The Brothers Grimm - (Tideland) - The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - (The Zero Theorem) - (The Auteurs #38: Terry Gilliam)
Related: La Jetee
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