''There's the television. It's all right there - all right there. Look, listen, kneel, pray. Commercials! We're not productive anymore. We don't make things anymore. It's all automated. What are we *for* then? We're consumers, Jim. Yeah. Okay, okay. Buy a lot of stuff, you're a good citizen. But if you don't buy a lot of stuff, if you don't, what are you then, I ask you? What? Mentally *ill*. Fact, Jim, fact - if you don't buy things - toilet paper, new cars, computerized yo-yos, electrically-operated sexual devices, stereo systems with brain-implanted headphones, screwdrivers with miniature built-in radar devices, voice-activated computers...''
In a future world devastated by disease, a convict, James Cole is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of humanity on the planet.
Bruce Willis: James Cole
Madeleine Stowe: Kathryn Railly
Brad Pitt: Jeffrey Goines
Terry Gilliam's twisted tale of a virus/illness destroying all but a handful of people across the Planet, forcing them to move beneath the surface while one man is sent back in time to gather information about the causes of said illness.
Haunting, mesmerizing, and highly stylized film that also boasts one of Bruce Willis' best performances ever.
What sets 12 Monkeys apart from most time-travel/sci-fi films is that Bruce's character actually has to cope with the psychological effects of time-travel, that is, not knowing what reality is actually happening, the place that the time-traveler comes from or goes to is in question.
Also, the film recognizes that things that have past cannot be altered and that the prevention of a cataclysmic event, in this case the release of said virus, cannot be stopped or changed. As Willis asserts "It's already happened," while he's in a mental hospital, the major dilemma the film trudges into is not a trite, overdone plot to save the world; instead it's Willis' inner struggle to simply survive himself. It's a fresh, innovative concept, and it works beautifully thanks to a well written script by Peoples and Gilliam's unique brand of dementia.
Besides this, 12 Monkey's storytelling is totally non-linear and instead opts to distort and bend the way the story is told skillfully incorporating a bevy of different time sequences: flashbacks, dreams, memories, the present, the past, the future, and even a scene that is lifted out of Hitchcock's Vertigo. All serve to envelop the viewer into its disturbing cacophony of madness and futility.
Visually, Terry Gilliam is a master of desolate umbrage and shadow rivaling Tim Burton in his strikingly despondent scenery and imagery. With cold, wide, and immersing cinematography, Gilliam plunges into the colourless surroundings and darkness of his characters. The scenes are often bathed in a strangely antiseptic, dead white and help serve as a contrast to the often veering-on-madness scenes and characters.Performance-wise, Brad Pitt steals most scenes, filling them with a loony, off-the-wall performance that deservedly earned him an Oscar nomination. As mentioned, Bruce Willis gives a mighty performance of his career, not reverting to his heroic cliches and cardboard hero roles and instead portraying Cole as a simple, poignant, tragic everyman. Equally good is Madeline Stowe as Willis' psychologist. She holds her own, injecting her character with both wild energy and strength as she collapses under the weight of what she comes to believe is a false religion.
Gilliam's expert, overwhelming, and complex handling of what could have been a routine action/sci-fi film, makes 12 Monkeys a compelling vision of a nightmarish, futuristic landscape that has not been since Gilliam's Brazil. Its rich, well-thought out, intricate storyline along with bravura performances from the entire cast and its brooding, bleak cinematography make it a masterpiece of madness that spirals into one hell of a looped paradox.
The future is history.