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Film Club: Twelve Monkeys

Friday 25 January 2013, 13:32

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

The Kermode Uncut Film Club is back with Terry Gilliam's brilliant sci-fi thriller Twelve Monkeys. Watch the intro and the film and let me know what you think.

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    Comment number 41.

    Such a great film. I saw it first when i was 10 and it blew me away. It makes such a great gateway to weirder and stranger cinema. It has striking and wonderful visuals, with a real offbeat vibe and anchored by a strong, brilliantly structured screenplay. All this and starring two of the most famous men on the planet.

    Brad Pitt got alot of praise for this film. However Bruce Willis provides the heart and soul with a performance that emphases Cole's innocence and sense of wonder, without it ever becoming so sentimental we lose sight of his more dangerous nature and possibly tenuous grasp on reality.

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    Comment number 42.

    "Heres the thing about 12 Monkeys..." This is the first film that started my understanding that a film can have multiple interpretations and its something Gilliam does brilliantly here.

    The real question is always - Is Bruce Willis' character Cole time travelling or is he "bonkers"?

    The paths Gilliam offers us are sometimes subtle - Cole in the future collecting 'samples' in a clear plastic protective suit - then seen drooling in a police cell naked but covered in a clear plastic rain coat... all in his mind? The method of time travel - laid on a table and passed through a circular aperture - then seen in the present at a Hospital getting an MRI scan - laid on a table passed through a circular aperture.

    These clues, especially in the first part of the film, were an awakening for me in how a film can be read - and are as good as any intellectual suggestion Nolan has put into the endings of Inception or Dark Knight Rises.

    12 Monkeys in an intelligent Sci-Fi film, open to interpretation, (to some extent - the last third of the film is much more leading), with one of Willis' career best performances. I remember reading a review that praised the film for finally giving Madeline Stowe a role to showcase her skills - and its true she has never been as engaging.

    La Jetee is one that can be discussed in black polo necks while sipping extra strong espresso or green tea. Well worth a watch if you can track it down.

    Looper - enjoyed it - but 12 Monkeys is by far the superior film - but equally enjoyable as entertainment.

    Good choice Dr K!!

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    Comment number 43.

    Strange coincidence, I watched this earlier this week!

    It's a good movie but it makes absolutely no sense, I don't know why people seem to get away with gigantic plot-holes as long as it's a time-travelling movie.

    *SPOILER* In my opinion it would have been better if the twist that apparently happened but then turned out to not be the real twist was the real twist, therefore eliminating the massive plot-hole.

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    Comment number 44.

    Fun fact: My tutor Tom actually banned me from writing about Terry Gilliam in my second year of University, since I had referenced him so much throughout my first. 12 Monkeys is one of my absolute favorites and watching it again sent thrills through me. It is a film that is emotional, cerebral and visceral. Bruce Willis' heartbreaking vulnerability is wonderful. But more than anything I think the film portrays the difficulty and feelings of powerlessness endured by the mentally ill, trapped in a system which is determined to see everything they do as further proof of madness.

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    Comment number 45.

    This is my second favourite Gilliamfilm (I just think The Fisher King is more powerful), and easily my favourite Bruce Willis film.

    There's a huge huge list of things that I like about it, at the top of which is the pallette. It's not perfect - the handful of scenes set in the future feel a bit overworked and overstylized to me, with a set design that reminds me too much of Brazil, which did that whole industrial claustrophobia thing much better. But apart from that, it is pretty much perfect.

    And the end still gets me. Even after multiple viewings, the last five minutes make that watery stuff come out of my eyes. Looper, though I enjoyed it, didn't manage to do that.

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    Comment number 46.

    I remember watching this on video with my parents when I was all of 12. It is one of those films that led me down the path of film obsession and was a gateway into the world of Gilliam. It's a great example of how a visionary director working within the right restraints can produce their most successful work. To create such a believable world from relatively low budget (considering the scale of production and calibre of cast) is a testament to what can be achieved with a visionary director without too much creative interference (a la Harvey Weinstein). Twelve Monkeys always leaves you wondering what could Terry have done with Watchmen and Harry Potter? We can but dream!

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    Comment number 47.

    12 Monkeys is one of the very few films to deal with the inherent paradoxes of time travel intelligently. In fact, until Looper, the only other time travel-themed film I can think of that deals with the paradoxes not only intelligently, but funnily, is Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (the breathtakingly brilliant joke about Keanu's dad's keys, that opens the film then resurfaces near the end). That one gag alone elevates the film far above just being a goofy comedy. Compared with the stinker that was TimeCop, with plot holes big enough to er... slip time through...

    But 12 Monkeys is superb. I particularly liked the last scene on the plane, where the "scientist" reveals her occupation, and you realise that, in the future, things weren't being run by a few scientists that (ever so conveniently) miraculously escaped, but by ordinary people trying to do the best they could with whoever and whatever they could salvage. Hence all the cobbled-together machinery, the inaccuracy and incompetence etc, which is exactly how things would really be after such a disaster.

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    Comment number 48.

    12 Monkeys is one of my favorite films. Like with most of my favorite directors, it borders between drama and comedy in ways that some may not understand. Gilliam is rooted in comedy, and all of his films that I've seen have a light touch of black comedy in order to make a statement about the characters involved. The scientists of the film always provided a comedic contrast to the dark experiences that James Cole experiences in the past, and the ending of the film is an anticlimax that brings to mind the ending Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with both endings indicating that the main characters have no control over how the story is supposed to end. Anti-existentialism almost, and in a sea of mundane "you can do whatever your mind sets on" films, it's good to see directors making films about people who fail in the end, because that feels a lot more meaningful to me.

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    Comment number 49.

    I love 12 Monkeys but as usual with TG, its unpolished. Its not quite perfect.

    Looper is enjoyable but I don't love it. Its untidy and sloppy.

    For me, forgotten gems like "Somewhere in Time", while far from Sci-fi in genre, show they are much more considerate to the paradoxian implications than 12 or Loop.

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    Comment number 50.

    A superb film for me because of a grate story that suited the director and good casting.
    Gilliam's hallucinogenic close up stile is obviously a grate match for the story, also his tendency not to have many set up shots is a perfect fit for the film, because you never get a solid sense of place (as in all Gilliam's work), skipping from seen to seen work's perfectly to help the confusion of whats real or not or even were and when.
    The condom inspired future (see the hamster factor doc) he creates presumably as a euphemism for protection agents the deadly virus works very well, in one part to disgust us of the future and the other to empathise with the caricatures and wish for a different outcome all the more, as to Bruce Willis, his ability to look completely perplexed at any moment and carry on regardless is used to it's fullness and the ensemble of brad's energy and insane bravado (used to grate effect later in fight club) and Madeleine Stowe's believability work's superbly.
    With a grate script that see's Gilliam's endless imagination tied down to an coherent plot (all be it confusing, it dose not meander and has few hole's) that has an ending which ties the film together, so easily can a film of this ilk give you a grate ride but leave you with more questions than answers (the Matrix).
    All in all a classic and one of Gilliam's finest.

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    Comment number 51.

    To be honest I am not a fan of Gilliam's films but I do like 12 Monkeys. Whilst not quite as eerie as La Jetee it certainly expands on those ideas very nicely. Gilliam shows more discipline both in style and narrative than he usually does, making this film work much better than his usual fare. That is not to say that the film doesn't have some problem. Firstly the film jostles between scenes that are beautifully constructed to very messy and somewhat rushed pieces. Whilst the acting of Willis is great and perhaps a career best, Brad Pitt's lauded performance does not appeal to me at ll as he hams up the screen in an over affected performance. All in all we end up with a really good, smart film that mostly succeeds.

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    Comment number 52.

    I brought this film the other day and I thought that it was an absolute masterpiece- I particularly liked Brad Pitt's performance. The plot was brilliant and I loved the references to Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' (one of my all time favourite films)- the scene in the cinema foyer was the best scenes in the whole film in my opinion. I had a feeling it was going to be a good film when the person in HMV from whom I brought it informed me that it was one of his favourite films. Even then it exceed my expectations. Thank you for the recommendation. My six pounds were well spent.

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    Comment number 53.

    I watched the intro a few days ago and have now finished watching Twelve Monkeys for the first time. For me, watching the film was rather a bizarre experience. I'm trying to think of another film that made me think of quite so many other films but I can't. I was thinking mainly of Vertigo and was and wasn't surprised to see Cole and Kathryn sitting in a cinema that was actually screening Vertigo towards the end of the film.

    Other films that I can remember coming to mind for all sorts of reasons were Metropolis, 2001, THX1138, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Blade Runner, Dark City, The Matrix, Akira, Super Mario Bros. Chungking Express, Happy Together, 2046, Minority Report and Bronson.

    Twelve Monkeys makes recent science fiction releases look and feel fairly shallow, even Looper which is getting so many mentions here.

    Looking forward to the next choice!

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    Comment number 54.

    great film...
    Bruce Willis has never been better and I feel he was very unlucky not to get a Best Actor nom at the Oscars for this performance that showed he was so much more than a man with a gun and a witty catchphrase.

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    Comment number 55.

    I have no shame in admitting Twelve Monkeys didn't hit me that hard the first time.

    But perhaps that's the genius of it, that it seeds enough there that when you see it again, new ideas and things blossom in front of you. I like that Bruce Willis does a decent job of acting - Bruce Willis more and more acts as Bruce Willis, so any film that actually demands he get his acting chops into gear is certainly worthy of note. I don't think it's as good as his role in The Sixth Sense - but it's damned close, swinging from contemptuous savagery to inspired tenderness with ease. And I barely recognised Brad Pitt. Dang... time hasn't been kind, has it?

    Perhaps my main issue with Twelve Monkeys is primarily down to the endings. I have an issue with multiple endings anyway - if you're going to tell a story, freaking well tell it please. I don't need or want to have to figure out which is more canon - I have enough of that with Silent Hill and Resident Evil games, thanks. I also think the eco-mentalist tones to it were eerily on point and yet a little half-baked at times; disjointed from the movie a little. Sometimes it also tries to say too much, without actually making much sense.

    But that's also part of its charm. I like the movie, I've seen it many times over the years on TV, and each time it's interesting. Certainly a deep, complex movie. But love? Mmhm. I'm not so sure. I guess it never has sunk its claws into me. Perhaps another more current viewing is in order.

    But definitely one of the 90's best surprises. It's a movie that kind of shouldn't work, y'know? And oddly, that's what makes it work... Terry Gilliam does the concept of mental illness really well, and for me, Twelve Monkeys is remarkably devoid of his usual wit. It's a more focused, intense kind of movie. Which works in context.

    I guess it also means I don't warm to it so readily. But hey, I don't dislike it. Far, far from it. I see why people love it. I understand it all. But it's that line from Pretty Woman, you know. about the Opera? Some people can grow to understand and appreciate it, but it will never become a part of their soul.

    That's me and Twelve Monkeys. I see everything people mention about it. But it's just... it's just not in my heart. And for that, I apologise.

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    Comment number 56.

    12 Monkeys has always been one of my favourite time travel movies, as it carries such an emotional weight that the mechanics - or doubts - of the plot simply melt away. It is heartbreaking. Back in 1996 I had a t-shirt with the Army of the Twelve Monkeys logo on it, and lo and behold, the day after I wore it I bumped into Terry Gilliam at the airport in Rome... and I was kicking myself for not having worn it that day! Mr Gilliam, it must be noted, was charming, welcoming, and signed by BA boarding pass - I had nothing else to spare. I think the way it takes La Jetee and subverts into something new is utterly fantastic, and it's a great, very entertaining film to boot.

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    Comment number 57.

    @ 12. The3rdMan - I have to agree. When it comes to the issue of time travel, look no further than Twelve Monkeys.

    I really liked Looper and although the two films are centered around the concept of time travel, they handle it in two completely different ways. Like many films before it - Source Code, Back to Future, Terminator 2 - Looper runs with the idea that the past can be changed, resulting in a lot of head scratching if you analyze the details. However, the strength of these films is that they KNOW this and rather than concentrate on different time strands or breaks in the space/time continuum etc they subsequently use time travel to enhance their narrative and put faith into other aspects of the film whether it be character development or action set-pieces.

    What I like about 12 Monkeys is that on the surface it seems like a complex interlocking narrative but at it's core is something rather simple: the past cannot be changed. Therefore, time travel is used to create an unimaginable emotional tragedy: a boy haunted by the memory of his own death. Off the top of my head, the only film I can think that uses time travel to a similar degree is The Prisoner of Azkaban.

    In short - Twelves Monkeys is one of my all time favourites and a great choice for the film club!

    P.S. For those of you interested in time travel, check out Primer. It will melt your brain...

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    Comment number 58.

    Best time travel movie ever. Best Bruce Willis movie ever. Second best Gilliam movie ever (hello, Fisher King?). Won't be moaning about this one, Doc.

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    Comment number 59.

    I saw this when it came out at the height of the BSE scare. The opening of this movie chilled me to the bone. The message about a global death toll really hit home. Anyway, the Movie , as it stands is up there with the best Sci Fi ever made. A Truly brilliant genre film, and great performances by Willis and Pitt. Proved that Willis was more than a dirty vest and a smirk. BTW LOOPER? Fabulous.

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    Comment number 60.

    I was only 12 when I watched this movie for the first time, and I had absolutely no idea in hell what was going on, but was still profoundly moved by the imagery of the movie. That horribly, gritty future in the opening scenes, the animals rummaging through the city, Madeleine Stowe running through the airport. Today it's one of my very favourite movies, and while the central plot is fascinating, I was always the most moved by that feeling of sadness and loss there is to the entire movie.

 

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

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