Posted by: ckckred | April 25, 2013

12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam's sci-fi picture is an easier watch than Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi picture is an easier watch than Brazil

I’ve never been a big fan of director Terry Gilliam.  While I do love his work with Monty Python, I always feel alienated by his movies.  Brazil was too weird and over-the-top for me to get into.  12 Monkeys, on the other hand, is a much easier watch and is a film I admire much more.

The film is about a man named James Cole (Bruce Willis), who lives underground in 1996 with others as a deadly epidemic leaves the surface of the Earth inhabitable.  Cole is sent on a mission to travel back in time to 1990 to find out was caused the deadly epidemic.  Afterward, he’s thrown into jail and assigned a psychiatrist named Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), as telling people you’re from the future doesn’t make them believe you’re sane.  Later, Cole escapes from jail and meets Railly again in 1996 in order to find twelve monkeys who have the virus that would eventually start the epidemic.

Part of my complaint about Brazil was that it was too confusing and hard to follow.  12 Monkeys is much simpler and I found it far more compelling.  Gilliam co-wrote the script with David Peoples, who did the screenplay for Blade Runner.  Like Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys boasts an array of mind-blowing visuals that still seem revolutionary in today’s CGI filled world.

The performances also deserve praise, particularly Brad Pitt as an animal activist who may cause the spread of the virus.  Willis is also strong as Cole, putting his tough guy persona in good use.

Gilliam has created a truly engaging piece of cinema.  It’s darkly humorous, but isn’t a true comedy.  It succeeds on the levels of visual storytelling and is an exciting and riveting picture.



  1. Have not seen this movie in years and can only remember parts of it, but I did like it.

    • I hadn’t seen it for years until recently and it was as good as I remembered. It’s really enjoyable and a second viewing improved the experience. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Nicely put. This is actually my favourite (non-Python) Gilliam film. Crossing fingers for The Zero Theorum.

    • Thanks! This would be my favorite non-Python Gilliam movie as well. I hope The Zero Theorum will turn out well.

  3. I love this film!

    • I love it too. Pitt was really great.

  4. Nice write-up. Great movie and awesome performance by Brad Pitt.

    • Thanks! Pitt deserved an Oscar nomination for his role.

  5. Brad Pitt was pretty psycho in this, loved it.

    • Pitt was great, I feel he should have gotten an Oscar nomination. Thanks for commenting.

  6. This is a film that I’ve needed to revisit for a whole now.

    • It really improved after seeing it again. I feel like I should watch Brazil again to see if I enjoy it more as well. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Excellent post!! Great movie!!

  8. Agreed! 🙂

  9. Still confused by the ending, but still can’t forget about this whole movie. Nor can I forget about Brad Pitt in a crazy role that he suits right away. Good review.

    • Thanks! Pitt was great in his role.

  10. Twelve Monkeys is Gilliam’s best film, but there are others, including Brazil, that I have really enjoyed that he directed: The Brothers Grimm (with Heath Ledger), The Fisher King, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas are all great movies.

    Brazil is certainly Gilliam’s most Kafkaesque film, but the basic plot device has been used as early as 1890 in literature and recently in Repo Men with Jude Law (a movie that was generally panned but that I enjoyed): At some crucial point in the action the character is incapacitated and the rest of the movie is a dream that never happened.

    This kind of plot device comes from literature where you do not find out until the end that most of the book’s action didn’t take place except in the mind of the protagonist. It can seem a cop out, but not in the hands of good writers. The most famous example is Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1890); the entire story of William Golding’s Pincher Martin (1956) takes place in the mind of a drowning man. This kind of sequence was also used to great effect in The Last Temptation of Christ where the last part of the movie (when Jesus leads a ‘normal life’) was really just a momentary thought (i.e. temptation) in the mind of Jesus while he is on the cross. The movie Jacob’s Ladder takes its cue from Bierce’s short story and takes place in the mind of a mortally wounded man dying in Vietnam.

    Given the long history of the hallucinatory action sequence in literature and film, I don’t see Brazil as overly complicated, but I do think it takes more than one viewing to appreciate. Once the plot device is revealed, Brazil is certainly less complex than Lost Highway and movies that play with the concept of identity or movies like Existenz and Inception that question what is real.
    As for Twelve Monkeys, Gilliam is using a time loop structure, which he does to great effect. All of the performances are great (with the exception of Stowe who I never cared much for), especially David Morse.

    • I think 12 Monkeys would be my favorite Gilliam movie as well. I owe Brazil a rewatch, as I didn’t know too much about the film before, plus I accidentally saw the theatrical version rather than the director’s cut. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Love this film, man. One of my favourite science fiction films. You rightfully point out Pitt and Willis’ performances. The two of them were brilliant.

    • It really is an amazing movie and both Pitt and Willis are in top form. Thanks for commenting.

  12. One of my all time favourite films 😀

    • It really is an amazing movie.

      • Brad Pitt has never acted so good, Oscar worthy if the Oscars meant anything to me 😀

  13. Haven’t seen this in forever but I remember loving it.

    • I hadn’t seen in in a while as well, but I loved it even more than the first time. Thanks for commenting.

  14. I think I’d refer to Brazil as “complex” as opposed to confusing. LOL I like that one a lot too.

    Youre right though, 12 Monkeys IS much more straight forward. One of Brad Pitt’s early shining roles. Definitely humorous, but as you say… not a comedy!

    • I owe Brazil a rewatch. I saw the theatrical cut and was meaning to see the director’s cut.

      12 Monkeys is a pretty great movie. I think Pitt’s role was Oscar worthy and it is one of his best. I admire how Gilliam pulls off dark humor in his films, even though 12 Monkeys isn’t a straight up comedy. Thanks for commenting.

  15. In my top 3 favorite science fictions! Brad Pitt did his best acting job in this film. Great post.

    • Thanks! It’s a great sci fi movie.

  16. One of my favorite Sci-Fi films 🙂 I must have watched this twenty times. Say what did you think of Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

    • This is one of my favorite sci-fi pictures as well and I’ve seen this about five times at least. I enjoyed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, though I know most people dislike it. Thanks for commenting.

      • Really I thought everyone loved it as much as I did. Almost made me want to try ether. 😉

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