This is a reprint of my review which
was first published on Three Men on a Blog in August 2010, with a number of minor revisions. My original review can be found here.
Twelve Monkeys (USA, 1995)
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer
IMDb Top 250: #182 (6/10/13)
Just as Star Wars shifted the focus of science fiction from inner space to outer space, so there is a trend in the 1980s and 1990s for time travel films which are more concerned with the mechanics of time travel than its metaphysical implications. For all the intelligence of Back to the Future, its fascination with how a flux capacitor could actually work leads us to get distracted from the deeper impact had on the characters. Eventually this trend of effects over depth gave us the likes of Timecop, in which time travel is little more than an action gimmick.
Slaughterhouse-Five; both characters have some foreknowledge of their own deaths and some form of fatalistic contempt for the powers-that-be, whether they be generals or scientists.
Brazil and The Fisher King before it, Twelve Monkeys is a great examination of insanity and the thin line between madness and genius. But what makes this film clever is the way in which our perceptions of madness and sanity shift as the characters develop and more information about the apocalypse comes to light. There is a rich thread running throughout the film about the assumed status and logic of psychiatry, and how this status is used to manipulate people. This clearly hints back to the work of French philosopher Michael Foucault, whose work in Discipline and Punish explored the relationship between knowledge (e.g. the discipline of psychiatry) and power (the way individuals can be controlled through the received credibility of said discipline).
Blade Runner. This time round it is not a question of who is human and who is a replicant, but who is mad or sane. And as in Blade Runner, there is an appealing third possibility - namely that neither distinction matters because the lines between them are blurry, artificial constructs. Like Deckard and Rachael before them, Cole and Railly choose to abandon their intended paths and escape, not just from this dark world but from all concept of reality. Fantasy and reality blur into one in the final section: one moment they are in a cinema showing Vertigo and The Birds, the next Railly is a Hitchcockian blonde who appears as Cole's salvation.
Amusing Ourselves to Death.
The Green Mile.
I ranked Twelve Monkeys at #1 on my Top 10 Time Travel Films list for WhatCulture! You can read the article in full here.
NEXT FILM: Conspiracy (2001)