Twelve Monkeys

1995 / TV

SF elements

time travel; apocalypse; plagues


[Bruce Willis]

In 1997 five billion people died in a virus plague. Now, over 30 years later, the remnants of humanity are living in an underground nightmare world, and the scientists want to find out more about the virus. So they "volunteer" convict James Cole [Bruce Willis] to travel back in time to 1996 to learn about what happened. [Evidently the invention of time travel requires the collapse of civilisation -- it happened in Terminator , too.] But he ends up in 1990, confined in an asylum as a madman, helped only by a fellow patient, the manic paranoid Goines [a superb Brad Pitt] and psychiatrist Dr Railly [Madeline Stowe]. Eventually he escapes, is sent to the correct 1996, and teams up again with Dr Stowe, who becomes convinced he is not actually mad just as he begins to believe he is .

[in the asylum] Inspired by the short film La Jetée , this is a classic time travel fantasy/horror. Even though the protagonist knows the past is fixed, and the tragedy will happen, he still struggles to change things.

Director Terry Gilliam's hand seems most obvious in the bizarre nightmarish future scenes; the scenes in the present are suitably grungy and peopled with good secondary characters. [Stowe and Willis] However, many different logical roles are compressed into the main characters, resulting in several massive coincidences to keep the plot going -- but more realism here would simply have quadrupled the size of the main cast to little added advantage. The whole time loop plot is rather straightforward [critics who call it "convoluted" haven't experienced enough SF] and meshes together quite well.

And finally, in the spirit of "everything I know I learned from SF", here's another piece of advice for the When I Am The Hero list: "When I find myself decades in the past, the last people I will try to convince that I really am from the future is a panel of psychiatrists. Instead I will tell them what they want to hear, get released, and then continue with my mission."

Rating: 3

[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]


James Cole ..... Bruce Willis
Jeffrey Goines ..... Brad Pitt
Dr Kathryn Railly ..... Madeline Stowe
Dr Goines ..... Christopher Plummer
Dr Fletcher ..... Frank Gorshin
Dr Peters ..... David Morse

reviewed 4 September 1999